The secrets that admissions officers don’t want you to know

Here are the Common App essay prompts for 2021-2022.

For the first time in almost five years the Common App has introduced a new essay prompt:

Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  4. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

These colleges went to remote learning and still raised tuition

According to CNBC, until the coronavirus crisis, nothing had been able to slow the pace of annual college tuition increases.

Year after year, college costs edged higher, rising 3% to 5%, on average — outpacing inflation and family income.

However, in the midst of the pandemic, schools are under pressure to keep these increases in check. Several institutions said they would freeze tuition during the ongoing economic crisis, while a smaller number announced discounts or even more dramatic tuition cuts.

As a result, this year increases in tuition and fees were the lowest in three decades, according to the College Board — rising just 1% to 2% in 2020-21 at public and private colleges.

And yet, there were schools that raised their prices anyway, including some of the nation’s most elite institutions, with healthy enrollment numbers and solid endowments.

Stanford, Yale, Wellesley, Amherst, Brown, Dartmouth, Rice and Grinnell College all raised undergraduate tuition for 2020-2021 about 4% to 5%, even though classes are being taught largely online, according to a recent report by GoBankingRates. 

“There are no instructional cost savings for Grinnell to pass along to students who enroll online,” according to Grinnell’s website. “Consequently, we will not apply a universal discount to the cost of courses offered online.”

Harvard University and California Institute of Technology were fully remote in the fall and invited only a limited number of students on campus for the spring. However, tuition still increased roughly 4% at both institutions.

These days, tuition accounts for about half of a school’s revenue and providing a college education — even online — is only getting more expensive, according to Richard Arum, dean of the School of Education at the University of California, Irvine.

Paying for faculty is one of a school’s largest expenses and those outlays remain fixed, plus there are extra costs from software and technological upgrades as well as new public safety measures due to Covid-19.

Already, universities have announced revenue losses in the hundreds of millions.

Why Choosing The Right Major Is Key To Success

A college major is a subject area that students can specialize in and build job skills.

HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATES are often faced with two significant decisions that will shape their futures: which college to attend and what to study.

Similar to the vast number of colleges, options for a major are numerous and wide-ranging. The decision on what to study can have a lasting effect, shaping future work experiences, earnings and other choices connected to a profession. Because of the importance of the decision, some advisers urge students to pursue their passions.

“You have to enjoy what you’re majoring in. That is key,” says Erin Moriarty, dean of undergraduate admission at Loyola University Chicago.

Typically a bachelor’s degree requires four years of full-time study, with a portion of that coursework dedicated to the student’s chosen major. The number of credit hours required for a major in college can vary depending on the program. Students may also choose to double major in college, studying two disciplines simultaneously, which requires coursework for both.

Work on the college major can be spread across the four years if a student chooses his or her field early on, or it can be concentrated in the junior and senior years, experts say. According to admissions officials, either way is fine for most programs.

Moriarty says some academic programs may require coursework in the first year, citing education, nursing and engineering as examples of majors requiring instruction from the start.

It’s important for students to decide on a major by the end of their sophomore year, notes Brian Troyer, dean of undergraduate admissions at Marquette University in Wisconsin, because “the upper division coursework within a particular major is going to be pretty heavy during junior and senior year.”

The most popular college majors, based on National Center for Education Statistics data on degrees conferred in 2014-15, were “in the fields of business (364,000), health professions and related programs (216,000), social sciences and history (167,000), psychology (118,000), biological and biomedical sciences (110,000), engineering (98,000), visual and performing arts (96,000), and education (92,000).

College majors can be conventional, such as business, or off the beaten path. California State University—Fresno, for example, offers majors in viticulture and enology through its agriculture program, where students learn about grape cultivation, wine production and the industry.

In a region ripe for wine production, graduates work in vineyards cultivating grapevines, working in pest control or making wine, says Sonet Van Zyl, associate professor of viticulture at Fresno State.

“There are more job opportunities than there are people available,” Van Zyl says.

That shortage of workers sounds familiar to Tom Cortina, assistant dean for undergraduate education and teaching professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science.

“We, meaning academia, are not actually graduating enough computer scientists to fill all of the positions out there that are computing related. That’s how in demand (computer scientists) are,” Cortina says.

He adds that interest in the computer science major has spiked in the last decade. But even with an increase in the number of graduates, he says it isn’t enough to keep up with a booming industry. Cortina believes the need for workers in computer science will continue to grow. As it does, schools will need to produce more graduates to keep up with the already high demand.

Another field experts expect to grow is unmanned aerial systems, often referred to as drones.

“We’re coming up with new ways to use unmanned aircraft systems in everyday life all the time,” says Paul Snyder, assistant professor of aviation at the University of North Dakota. Snyder says uses for drones include agriculture, real estate, medicine, security and more.

Another in-demand major at the University of North Dakota is petroleum engineering, which fetches the highest median earnings among college majors, coming in at $136,000 annually, according to research from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

“Our graduates make a good amount starting out and move up quickly to make more,” says Bailey Bubach, a petroleum engineering instructor at UND.

While petroleum engineering comes in as the highest-paying major, social work is an example of a career track on the lower end of the scale. Georgetown research shows that entry-level psychology and social work graduates earn a median annual income of $28,000.

However, social work advocates say the field isn’t about the money. “It’s really hard work, but it’s incredibly satisfying. You get to help individuals and communities turn their lives around,” says Anna Scheyett, professor and dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Georgia, adding that the “rich and meaningful” career trumps money. Declare Major on College Applications Three current college students share insights on this necessary application decision.Caroline Duda July 3, 2017

Like her peers in other fields, she sees her industry as one that will continue to grow. “I wish I could say that we are going to become obsolete because social problems are going to go away, but I think we’re a growth profession,” Scheyett says.

To help students narrow down their college major options, some schools offer online quizzes. Loyola University Chicago has a 35 question online quiz to help students learn more about potential majors. Moriarty says it’s built around common questions admissions officers hear from applicants, and students can match with more than 50 different majors.

“The goal of (the quiz) isn’t to say that this should be your direct path, but to provide options based on someone’s interests, to get someone to think outside of the box and understand what majors are really out there,” Moriarty says.

Marquette offers a similar quiz, but instead of suggesting individual majors, it groups students into categories such as communicator, entrepreneur, helper, problem-solver and thinker. When a student completes the college major quiz, suggested disciplines are matched to their results.

Troyer says offering this range helps students think about what’s out there. “Framing it in this way helps them think a little more outside the label of a particular major that a university may have or not have and makes them think about who they want to become,” he says.

While admissions experts say it isn’t necessary for students to know their college majors until the end of their sophomore year, there are advantages to deciding early. Troyer says students can research programs in their majors to help them choose a college, which also allows them to take high school classes that will complement their future studies.

[Read: Find the Best College for Your Major.]

While selecting a college major is an important choice, admissions officials say students shouldn’t feel locked into a major they don’t enjoy or struggle with. Students who wish to change career tracks can do so in college, shifting into another major that better suits them.

Moriarty urges students to discuss the decision with their advisers as soon as they can.

“You need to have those conversations with your academic adviser,” Moriarty says. “A lot of times, if you change early enough it doesn’t affect your four-year plan. It depends on what you’re changing to and what you’ve taken, and that’s where academic advisers are so crucial.”

And for prospective students feeling the pressure to choose a major early, Moriarty says they shouldn’t worry about their choice being factored into admissions decisions.

“For us, it doesn’t hinder their application or chance for acceptance,” Moriarty says.

How We Can Help With Choosing The Right Career Path

For more than a decade, we have assisted hundreds of students find a career path that fits them. The tools we utilize have propelled 92% of our students to graduate their 4 years in 4 years! This in return saves parents money on college and for retirement. Also, the student is less stressed and more focused on their studies.

Is your student unsure about their career path?

Do you want a more efficient way to save for retirement while paying for your students college?

We can help! To make sure that your student succeeds in college and in career, schedule your First Consultation below.

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Josh Moody, Reporter

Josh Moody has covered college admissions and international education for U.S. News since …  READ MORE

Tags: educationcollegesstudentscollege majorscollege admissions

College Funding Mistakes

According to College Aid Pro, money worries can keep parents up at night. Paying for college can be scary stuff causing parental nightmares. We’ve collected some of the biggest mistakes families can make that can cause some scary financial struggles. Let’s try to turn those nightmares into sweet dreams.

Not having the parent money talk BEFORE starting the college search

We can’t all afford a Porsche, right? Why go out and test drive one if you are going to have your heart broken when you can’t afford the payments?! We feel strongly the same can be said about the college search.

Although we always mention that families rarely pay the full college sticker price, they still need to be aware of how much a college will cost them after all the available aid, savings, and strategies to pay for it.

Families need to sit down with their student before starting college visits to talk about what they can afford, what would need to be paid for with loans, their loan comfort level, and how they want to approach the search in a smart financial way.

Once everyone is on the same page financially, no one’s heart gets broken.

Being unaware of their Expected Family Contribution

Part of that parent money talk is knowing a family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is the amount the government expects a family to be responsible to pay towards college. This number may be a ridiculously high figure, but knowing it is the key to understanding whether a student is a need-based candidate or not. Their college search can hinge on this knowledge. Click here for a good estimated EFC calculator.

Not filing for financial aid (completing the FAFSA)

We’ve mentioned it before…billions of potential college grant dollars go unclaimed every year because people do not file the FAFSA. Even if a family does not think they’ll be eligible for need-based financial aid (because they know what their EFC is, right?!), fill out the FAFSA anyway.

Having a FAFSA on file is helpful in case something changes their financial situation in the future like illness or unemployment. Also, the FAFSA is required for federal student loans and some colleges require it for scholarship consideration.

Students earning too much money or having too much savings

What’s wrong with students earning too much money?! Shouldn’t they work to earn money towards college? Well, yes and no. Money earned by students or saved in the student’s name is assessed at a higher rate on the FAFSA.

Colleges expect dependent students to pay 20% of their earnings and savings towards their college costs. Parental assessment is only 5.6%…a big difference.

If a student is a borderline need-based financial aid candidate, earning too much money could push them out of eligibility for funds they might otherwise have qualified for.

Being unorganized

Closely following the act of filing the FAFSA is filing it on time. When financial aid money is gone, it is gone. If a family forgets to file on time, it could be too late to correct it later when they realize their mistake. We urge everyone to finish filing their FAFSA by November 1st and to file it every year their student is in school.

Student loans are part of the picture for most families. Once students become graduates, they need to stay organized and aware of their financial commitments. We’ve heard stories about students forgetting about the existence of some of their loans and missing payments along the way. This disorganization will put them into a big financial hole affecting their credit and condition.

Part of being organized includes staying on top of a graduate’s situation if making student loan payments becomes a struggle. Don’t wait to investigate consolidation, deferment, and other options until they are practically in default. Credit histories have been wrecked by waiting.

Being unfamiliar with a student’s scholarship terms and conditions

Academically talented students may be offered scholarships from their colleges. This news is great, but sometimes students forget the terms and conditions of their scholarships a year later.

Most colleges require scholarship students to maintain a certain GPA and minimum number of credit hours to keep their scholarship. If a student only takes 12 credit hours per semester, they may fail to meet their scholarship conditions. If their GPA drops below a 3.0 or 3.5 (depending on the school), suddenly their sophomore year costs more than they planned for.

Many scholarships are only offered for a 4-year period. When a student is thinking about changing majors (see the next point), remember a 5th or 6th year will be without a scholarship.

Changing the major (sometimes once…or worse MANY times!)

Changing the major…possibly the biggest nightmare a parent may have. We (and probably you too) hear stories all the time about a friend’s student who is changing their major. Did you know the national 6-year graduation rate is only 59%? Yes, we said “6-year.” Although not the only reason, changing a major is a big contributor to this problem.

Of course, more years equals more costs for parents. Choosing the right major can be trickier for students. Money is a cut and dried subject. Making a choice about a major and career…not so much.

Students need to be exploring their interests in high school. Thinking about what they like and are good at. Doing research about careers. (If you need direction in this area, our friends at At The Core are a great resource.)

Taking out parent loans or private loans when federal loans are the better option

We strongly discourage parents from taking out loans in their names to pay for college. Loans in the student’s name are the best option. (You can read more parent options in this blog.Borrowers over 60 are the fastest-growing segment of student loan debtors as parents choose to take on the loan burden for their kids. The result is a nightmare for retirement.

Being taken advantage of

Our final nightmare scenario we hear about are scams. We simple say “beware.” Scholarship scam services charge high fees for something families could do on their own. FAFSA filers want to charge to file the FAFSA which families can do for free.

Plenty of great FREE resources are out there to help. So, let’s avoid these nightmare situations with some pre-planning and awareness, and sweet dreams will be had by all.

Do Admissions Officers View All Activities The Same?

professional concentrated basketball player spinning ball on finger

As per collegevine.com, higher tiered activities show admissions officers whether you demonstrated leadership, good judgement, and initiative given the available resources.

Additionally, students are evaluated on whether they earned regional, state-level, national, or even international recognition for their extracurricular involvement.

Here’s what admissions officers consider:


The Activity’s Tier

We’ve developed a tier system for ranking extracurricular activities the way admissions officers do. The highest tier is reserved for major national and international accomplishments, such as competing at the Olympics or starring in a Hollywood blockbuster. In general, the greater your impact, the more impressive the accomplishment.

Demonstrated Leadership

Your activities help show admissions officers your leadership abilities, and each tier demonstrates a higher level of commitment and initiative. They also want to know if you made use of the resources available to you. If there were no national opportunities available in your hometown, how did you make it a better place with the tools you had?

Level of Recognition

Additionally, students are evaluated on whether they earned regional, state-level, national, or even international recognition for their extracurricular involvement. If you want to set yourself apart in your extracurricular endeavors, look for ways to expand the mark you make on your community.

Is Your Financial Planner Really Helping?

financial planner or personal financial planner is a professional who prepares financial plans for people. These financial plans often cover cash flow management, retirement planning, investment planning, financial risk management, insurance planning, tax planning, estate planning and business succession planning (for business owners).

However, when new or potential clients say to us, “We have a financial planner.” Our follow-up question is, “Did the financial planner sit down with you and take the time to educate you on a financial strategy that is tax-advantaged, pays for cars, houses, can fund for college, AND leave behind a legacy for your grandchildren?” The answer is ALWAYS, NO!

Why accept that if you don’t have too? Over the next week, I’ll be sharing some insight to the financial planner arena and what they SHOULD be doing, but probably are not doing. I’ll be sharing steps 4-6 on Wednesday, but find out the top 3 now.

Financial planning should cover all areas of your financial needs and should result in the achievement of each of your goals as required. The scope of planning would usually include the following:

1. Setting goals with the client This step (that is usually performed in conjunction with Step 2) is meant to identify where the client wants to go in terms of his finances and life.

2. Gathering relevant information on the client This would include the qualitative and quantitative aspects of the client’s financial and relevant non-financial situation.

3. Analyzing the information The information gathered is analyzed so that the client’s situation is properly understood. This includes determining whether there are sufficient resources to reach the client’s goals and what those resources are.

Is your financial planner creating a strategy for you, that you’re proud of?

If not, then come and get another opinion.

The OTHER College Companies

For over 15 years our firm has been studying how High School guidance departments, high priced College Prep Companies, Super high-priced consulting firms like IvyWise, College Planning Network, Top Tier Admissions, and small firms have been misleading and overcharging families with students headed to College for years.

They all (for the most part) tell you, “We will get your student/students into the College of your dreams,” or blatantly tell you if an Ivy league school is in your dreams, we will make that happen. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

A four year stint at Cornell, Penn, Stanford, or Yale, and my student is, to borrow an overused phrase, “Set for Life.” Unfortunately, this rah, rah B.S. it’s as effective as a cardboard cutout cheering at the new normal football stadium.

Over 70% of today’s graduates say that they are not using much of what they learned in College. Most are not pleased with their current job position and many have yet to find a job at all!

Professionals tell us the majority of recent graduates are back to that horrible habit that many of you are all too familiar with, hating Monday on Sunday. I am not referring to future professions like medicine, engineering, dentistry, law, and others where education and apprenticeship are integral to job satisfaction and performance.

We have graduates and even parents we work with who have stated to me, “All my College Degree represented to my employer was that I was trainable.” An excellent partner whom we have had the pleasure of working with for over 10 years, Emily Melious, the principle of Launch Consulting, has helped over a thousand students begin their life’s work on the right foot!

Using modern assessment tools like Kolbe assessment and OPgig, our team has avoided these frightening stats:

• 70% of people hate their job.

• 80% of workers feel stress on the job.

• 70% of low performing employees are working against their instincts.

• Just 8% of U.S. high school graduates complete a curriculum that prepares them for the workplace.

• College students change majors three times on average.

We have stated for years, that one of the most important services we provide our student clients is to help and teach them how to discover their economic passions and career path, which will give them a huge advantage in the marketplace.

Our firm takes pride in steering our students and their families out of the time-worn process of getting into a great College before we address Career evaluation, using today’s tools and of course, Emily’s award-winning services.

It is heartbreaking and a financial disaster when we see a very fine young student after two or three years of full-time College classes, not have a clue what type of work they prefer to begin as a career. After all, isn’t college supposed to be career training? Proper professional guidance and College Planning does work.

It is no longer necessary to ask your student “What do you want to study in college or what are you going to do for a living when you grow up?”

To learn more contact Jessica and learn first hand how we work with your student/students, how much time needs to be allocated to be successful, and how much our services will cost for your family.

We are now offering a complete no-cost College Entrance Report with your First Consultation (FC).

How To Find The Right College For You

outside university pic

What’s the perfect college? Well, some of our clients would say location, while others would say athletics. Unfortunately, there’s no magical answer for you. However, according to College Board, these are the things that you should consider.

What Do You Want In A College?

Ask yourself what’s important to you, where you want to be and who you want to become. Then you can figure out what types of colleges will allow you to reach your goals.

Here are some aspects to consider:

  • Size
  • Location
  • Distance from home
  • Available majors and classes
  • Housing options
  • Makeup of the student body
  • Available extracurricular activities
  • Campus atmosphere

Which of these aspects are things you feel you must have to be comfortable at a college? Which things are you flexible on?

Also, think about what you want to accomplish in college. Do you want to train for a specific job or get a wide-ranging education? If you have a major in mind, are the colleges you’re considering strong in that area?

Keep An Open Mind

While it’s good to have some ideas in mind about what sorts of colleges will be right for you, stay open to all the possibilities at the beginning of your search.

Challenge your assumptions about what will work for you. For example, “you may not think you’re able to thrive in a large institution because you come from a small high school, but … you may actually do better in that type of setting,” notes Luis Martinez-Fernandez, a history professor at the University of Central Florida.

Talk to people who know you. Tell parents, teachers, relatives, family friends and your school counselor about your goals, and ask if they can suggest colleges that may be a good fit for you.

Don’t limit your search. At the start of this process, you may rule out colleges because you think that they are too expensive or too hard to get into, but this may not be the reality. Remember that financial aid can make college more affordable and colleges look at more than just grades and test scores.

Do Your Homework

Once you have a list of schools, it’s time to do research. To learn more about the colleges you’re considering, check out college guidebooks and the colleges’ websites. Jot down your questions and get answers by:

  • Talking to your school counselor or teachers
  • Checking out colleges’ student blogs, if available
  • Contacting college admission officials
  • Asking admission officials to recommend current students or recent graduates to talk to
  • Visiting college campuses, if possible (for more information, see the Campus Visit Checklist)

Facts about the SAT & ACT

girl with curly hair taking test

What’s the difference between the SAT and ACT?

 SATACT
Why Take ItColleges use SAT scores for admissions and merit-based scholarships.Colleges use ACT scores for admissions and merit-based scholarships.
Test StructureReading Writing & Language Math Essay (Optional)English Math Reading Science Reasoning Essay (Optional)
Length3 hours (without essay) 3 hours, 50 minutes (with essay)2 hours, 55 minutes (without essay) 3 hours, 40 minutes (with essay)
Reading5 reading passages4 reading passages
ScienceNone1 science section testing your critical thinking skills (not your specific science knowledge)
MathCovers: Arithmetic Algebra I & II Geometry, Trigonometry and Data AnalysisCovers: Arithmetic Algebra I & II Geometry, Trigonometry, and Probability & Statistics
Calculator PolicySome math questions don’t allow you to use a calculator.You can use a calculator on all math questions.
EssaysOptional. The essay will test your comprehension of a source text.Optional. The essay will test how well you evaluate and analyze complex issues.
How It’s ScoredScored on a scale of 400–1600Scored on a scale of 1–36