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Questioning College

A sampling of questions from the Peterson's weekly online chats reveals a diversity of concerns from the college-bound.
University Business, Dec 2006

Each week, we sit ourselves at our respective desks, either in the office at noon on Wednesdays or at home on Monday evenings, and log in to our accounts at A few years ago, we worked with Peterson's to create an online educational and college planning resource for families. The site includes a one-on-one telephone-based counseling program that links students and parents with trained, professional counselors. There are many free materials available to families, including articles we write for a monthly college planning newsletter and podcasts.

For a regular chat we host, which currently has an open "Educational Planning and College Admissions" format, students, parents, and counselors can submit questions in advance on any topic. We then go live for an hour, selecting questions from the queue and fielding new ones as they arrive. The results of each chat are archived on the website, and both the chats and archives are available for free.

People always praise Ivy Leagues. What are the negative consequences (or cons) of going to an Ivy League?

Questions range from basic to very complicated, about colleges themselves and about college admissions, from American private and public school families. Added to that are questions about scholarships and financial aid from international students across the globe, highly specific inquiries about grad programs, and often poignant narratives from "nontraditional" students seeking to enter or re-enter the college environment from the workplace, the family home, or the armed forces.

We suspect that what appears on an independent forum such as ours might be revealing and wanted to give everyone within the university setting a glimpse into what's on the minds of families today. Here is a selection of questions from some recent chats-with very little on the language and punctuation fronts cleaned up to maintain their authenticity. Names and e-mail addresses have been removed. We thank Peterson's for allowing us to share these with you, and encourage you to visit the College Consulting Discussions Series website and archives (which are found under the Services section of the student portal) if you have more interest.

And if you're curious about the responses we gave to these questions, check out the full Q&A online at www.universitybusiness/webexclusives.

Q: I'm only a Junior in my school but it seems as if most of the college planning is focused around us. Should I really be that prepared for college already?

Q: Are there any downfalls to the Yale Early Action admissions program? To me, it seems like there is no reason not to apply early. Also, could you lend me any suggestions regarding who offers a good biology program (preferably in the northeast or midwest, competitive/highly selective, university or liberal arts college)? Do you think the Ivies are too much of a stretch for me (30 ACT, 5 on AP exams, 4.0 unweighted/4.2 weighted GPA, involved in several activities including a varsity sport, being cheerleading captain and president of community service club, enrolled in all AP and honors courses)? I am already planning on taking PSAT, SAT, ACT again, and AP Exams. Is there anything else I can do to better my chances?

Q: What would be the best way to contact a college when in the process of early college searching? As a high school junior I am not capable of traveling and going to see a school. Is there another way to "see" the schools?

Q: Many people always praise Ivy Leagues and nobody ever has anything bad to say about them. What, in your opinion, are the negative consequences (or cons) of going to an Ivy League?

Q: On the common application, where it asks for you to self-report your test scores, do I have to report all of my SAT IIs, or just the ones I like? I took the Math IIC twice, hoping to boost my 680 to a 700+ the second time around. However, I scored 20 points lower, a 660 the second time. Do I have to write both of them? Or just the higher one?

Q: How much do tests such as the ACT/SAT play into admission into a university?

Q: My daughter who is a Sr. in H.S. had taken only up to Honors level courses-she has a GPA of 4.3 and is ranked 26/450. She signed up for AP Bio & hit a brick wall. She felt she was not prepared for this class (had a first-year teacher in 9th grade Bio). We tried to w/draw her (a couple other kids got out without penalty). She also had a couple of personal negative experiences impacting her at the start of this class. It went all the way up to the Superintendent of Schools & we still could not get her withdrawn based on her "solid" background. My husband finally had her withdrawn, but with an F for the year!! (She's probably had 1 C & no D's in her life!) Also, she did not need this course, it was a challenging "elective". She has only applied early action to 1 local, private college because of this devastating development. I want to know if there is any way she could possibly hope to get into a public 4-year college at this point and is there anyway to minimize this disastrous grade. Do all schools request mid-year grades & would it be helpful to have her take an online Honors Biology course through an accredited high school? (She really felt she was lacking the background for AP Bio so I thought this might help her fill in the gap.) Any advice or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Q: I'm a high school senior and a Wisconsin resident. I'm going to apply for University of Wisconsin-Madison. My current unweighted GPA is 3.4. ACT score is 30 with writing (11). English 11AP score is 3. Calculus AB score is 3. I'm currently taking Calculus BC, French AP, Biology AP for my senior year. How much chance do you think I'll have for UW - Madison? Reach, Match, or Safe?

Q: How many extracurriculars do you need to go into a UC system? What if you don't have leadership skills, but have volunteered before?

Q: Some colleges provide for the submission of supplementary arts materials (such as a CD of a musical performance). Yet even some of those schools appear to discourage such submissions. Is it your experience that it is possible to damage an otherwise strong application with an arts submission?

Q: I am pretty much in love with the admissions essay I wrote for Notre Dame. However, the limit is 500 words and mine is almost 600. I might be able to cut a few sentences, but I feel as if the rest is necessary. Do you think that having an essay that is 80 words or so too long would count against me, even if it's good? Thank you very much.

Q: How does your total family income affect your chances for admission? My husband is self-employed and his income fluctuates monthly and is also impacted by his expenses.

Q: What kind of help do colleges offer to talented international high school students with annual family income of less than 4 thousand dollars and no one to help them in their applying to college?

Q: How do I get qualified for financial aid? I cannot afford tuition.

Q: I am a high school student from Montenegro. My high school records are the best, but the financial situation in my family doesn't allow to pay for my studying. I have addressed to more than 30 colleges, and received answer only from 5. All of them informed me that financial assistance is impossible for first year. I am afraid that I am being late (haven't registered for TOEFL and SAT yet), my hope is being smaller and smaller.... What do you suggest me to do?

Q: I am a U.S. citizen educated in Scotland. I am moving back to the States either next year, or the following year, and I am determined to get into college. But, the education system differs here and I am not sure if my high school leaving exams will be accepted in lieu of a six semester transcript and GPA. I have emailed numerous colleges and received NO replies. I understand I may have to sit the GED. That's fine, but I now need to know if "I do" or "I don't." There's no more time for lingering, and I need to know what my next step should be. This would be a whole lot easier if I was already back in the states I imagine, but hence, I am not, and the benefit of your experience would be greatly appreciated. Thanking you in advance, a very frustrated expatriate.

I am in love with the admissions essay I wrote for Notre Dame. However, the limit is 500 words and mine is almost 600.

Q: I finished my associate degree in Nigeria. I need to know if I could transfer.

Q: I am an international student currently in my last year of high school. I intend on writing SAT's the following year in hope to be eligible for a college in the US. How can I achieve a scholarship without regard to my immigration status?

Howard and Matthew Greene are independent education consultants and the authors of Greenes' Guides to Educational Planning. To contact them, visit

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