Dec 31, 2014

Dartmouth, Penn, Chicago and others extend ‘regular decision’ deadlines

University of Chicago

Procrastinators alert!  You know those application deadlines we’ve seemed so strict about?  The deadlines most students worked hard to meet?


A number of colleges have changed their minds and are offering applicants a little extra time to complete essays and submit applications for ‘regular decision’ admission to the Class of 2019.

In other words, students who couldn’t quite get paperwork together by deadline are being rewarded with a few more days to complete their applications and submit.

In an email forwarded to prospective applicants on December 30, the University of Pennsylvania advised that the admissions office would be keeping “The Common Application open through January 5th for students interested in applying Regular Decision.”  But as of this writing the extension hadn’t been communicated to the Common Application, and you could hear sounds of frustration on College Confidential from students fearing their applications would not go through after January 1.

Dartmouth gave a little more advance notice and wrote students and some counselors on December 23 that the Admissions office would be closed from December 24 to January 4, but students having “trouble submitting their applications by the January 1 deadline” or those needing a few extra days for “holiday endeavors” would be given until January 6 to submit.  

The University of Chicago was even more gracious:  “In honor of the New Year, UChicago has extended the Regular Decision deadline to January 5th.  The holidays are a time to enjoy the company of friends and family, maybe sleep in, and eat cookie after delicious cookie.  We hope you enjoy yourself this holiday season, and take these extra days to relax a bit.”

Relax?  With the notorious University of Chicago essays hanging over your head?  Doubtful.

Students on the Olin College of Engineering mailing list received an email advising them that the January 1 deadline was extended to January 4.  But as of this writing neither the website nor the Common Application reflected the change, and efforts to reach the admissions office were unsuccessful because it's closed for the holidays.

One Midwestern school got so excited about joining the party that the “Dean of Admission extended the application deadline to January 15….”  The problem is that the posted application deadline on both the school website and the Common Application is March 1.

And Loyola Marymount University let students know that the essay prompts marked “optional” on the Common Application weren’t really optional, but that they were allowing until February 1, after the January 15 regular decision deadline, for the essays to be submitted separately from the Common App.  Complicated?  A little.

So why would all these colleges be shifting around deadlines?  One theory might be that they’re trolling for additional applications because they fell a little short from previous years or they want to look more selective by having more to reject.  

But the problem is that there’s no one around to answer questions—most admissions offices have been closed since before Christmas.  If a college sends an email to prospective students but fails to make adjustments to either the website or the Common Application, applicants rightfully want to know that the application they send will get through the system.

So here’s a little insider information:  the published deadline provided on an application website is often different from the hard cut-off date after which no further applications will be accepted by a college or university. This is to help colleges and students navigate special circumstances. The Common Application, for one, is capable of accepting applications long after the date that appears on the grid or on a student’s dashboard.  

That doesn’t mean you should try submitting late just to see if it works. That's a really bad plan. But if a college notifies you that a deadline has been extended, you can count on the application software to accept your application even if the published date hasn’t been changed.  It just would be nice if all the messages were the same.

And keep in mind that only students who have somehow gotten onto a college’s radar will get notification of deadline extensions.  Students on mailing lists or those who listed schools as “My Colleges” on the Common Application were among those rewarded with invitations to submit after deadline.

Is there a lesson here?  Be sure to “demonstrate interest" to all the colleges to which you think you may apply by getting on mailing lists, entering colleges on the Common Application, or opening an application “account” for colleges not using the Common App.

Don’t assume that because you’re receiving mail from a college that you are on the “A-list” of applicants—they could have purchased your name from the College Board.  Instead, make sure you reach out to the college by signing up to receive information and then be sure to open email.

And if you still have questions about a deadline, contact the college directly—except not around the holidays.  Even on the single busiest application day of the year, most institutions are closed.

2014 in rap

This December, the super smart rappers at Flocabulary called off the regular Week in Rap to stand back and celebrate the preceding 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days, 8,760 hours and 525,600 minutes in rhyme. 

And the annual Year in Rap was launched.
An online library of educational hip-hop songs and videos, Flocabulary is part of larger project targeted to a community of educators who have proved that struggling high school students can be reached with rap songs covering everything from U.S. History to SAT vocabulary words. If you’re not familiar with the weekly current events program promoted and brilliantly executed by the hip-hop poets behind Flocabulary, check it out

And once again, the rappers are looking for a few good collaborators.

In partnership with the education page of The New York Times, Flocabulary is offering students, from 13 to 19 years old, an opportunity to get their rhymes published.

Super creative rappers can choose at least four important New York Times stories and write their own Year in Rap following NYT’s Learning Network commenting standards—no profanity or vulgar language.

Get ideas from the 2013 winners:

Last year Trayvon Martin was shot and killed.
Some bullets were fired and blood got spilled.
Then this year, George Zimmerman got set free.
Now the whole country wonders “How could this be?!”  (Aaron and Alex)

Boston runners are full of sorrow
Barbara Walters isn’t working tomorrow
Snowden’s got asylum, Philippines got hit
Russia got slammed, Mandela’s hope is still lit (Sophie H., Susie W., Mitch H. WHMS)

Or think about what’s been on your mind this year:

High school students been workin’ to look smarter
Found AP classes gettin’ harder and harder.

Lyrics should be submitted to the Flocabulary-New York Times Learning Network Year in Rap contest as a comment to an article inviting Year in Rap submissions by 7 a.m. Eastern time on January 7, 2015.

Dec 30, 2014

Winning the financial aid game—2015-16 edition

College-bound students have a better chance of winning the financial aid game by going on the offensive early. And it’s not too early to start a few practice exercises.

While the folks at the U.S. Department of Education prepare for a January 1st kickoff, work on getting in shape starting today.

Simply follow these nine easy plays from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) playbook and position your team to maximize scholarship potential by warming up before game day:

1.  Visit the FAFSA website (  Accept NO substitutes. And note—this is the FREE application for federal student aid. It is not a pay to play game. Anyone charging for the privilege of providing you with a FAFSA form or a top-secret internet link is working a scam. Don’t fall for it. Everything you need to apply for federal aid is available on the FAFSA website.  And the site is really pretty user-friendly.

2.  Apply for your PIN(s).  Do it NOW—today even. There’s really no reason to delay. Students and parents both need FAFSA Personal Identification Numbers, as they are your official signatures for electronic submissions. They are free and very easy to obtain. Again, if anyone wants to charge you for a FAFSA PIN, walk away. This is a service brought to you by your federal government.  Important note:  FAFSA is in the process of transitioning away from the PIN. For now, however, nothing is changed.  You still need to have a PIN to file your FAFSA.  The Department of Education plans to make a new user ID program (with password) available “in the spring," and you will be alerted once this happens.  In the meantime, get your PIN number and use it!

3.  Check out the videos.  The Feds know how much you're into YouTube, so they’ve put together a series of very useful videos designed to introduce you to the FAFSA.  Myths about Financial Aid” debunks legends you may have heard about who actually qualifies for aid, while “Overview of the Financial Aid Process” will introduce you to the Office of Federal Student Aid.

4.  Download ‘Federal Student Aid at a Glance.’ This two-page user-friendly guide provides a quick and easy introduction to the types of federal student aid, the application process, and eligibility requirements. It’s your basic FAFSA rule book.

5.  Note deadlines. You should complete the FAFSA as early in the New Year as humanly possible. Don’t use IRS or tax deadlines as your guide because states and individual colleges have way earlier financial aid due dates. Georgetown University, for example, posts February 1st as its deadline for FAFSA submission. If you know you won’t be filing your taxes early, you may estimate by using previous-year tax information to complete the form. Consider filing a first draft as a placeholder and then plan to go back and amend later.

6.  Download the FAFSA on the Web Worksheet. Practice makes perfect, so why not give it a try? A very popular instructional tool, the Worksheet will give you a heads up on the questions asked—in the order they are asked—as well as on the kinds of documents you will need to have handy to complete the real deal in January. Thoughtful federal officials have put everything for parents to complete in purple.  But note that this is only for practice—do not try to mail or otherwise submit this form!  There is a paper version of the FAFSA for exactly this purpose.

7.  Test Drive FAFSA4caster. While not exactly a crystal ball, this handy site will help you get an early estimate of your eligibility for federal student aid. You can test out different college options and compare the costs and benefits of each. If you haven’t really thought about the money yet, this is your opportunity for a reality check.

8.  Consult the Experts.  A number of nonprofit organizations have made websites and other technical materials available free of charge to families seeking answers to FAFSA-related questions.  One of the best sources of information is a book by Mark Kantrowitz and David Levy, titled Filing the FAFSA:  The Edvisors Guide to Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.  Be sure to download the 2015-16 version as it contains the most up-to-date information, including changes for the coming year. You also might want to check out the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) student and financial aid resource center available at This site helps you understand both the academic and financial aid issues related to education after high school. It also contains helpful worksheets and easy-to-understand guides, including a calendar checklist for grades 8 - 12, to help students and their families prepare for college.

9.  Bring in Reinforcements.  You don’t have to go it alone.  Over the next several months, a number of organizations will be scheduling FREE FAFSA workshops, so mark your calendar now.  Be prepared to round-up required documents as FAFSA experts will be on hand at each of these sessions to answer questions and help you complete forms.

If you have questions concerning FAFSA, the process, or the website, don’t hesitate to contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). You can also contact the center by email at

In preparation for opening day, the FAFSA on the Web site will be unavailable Wednesday, December 31 from 10 p.m. through 2:00 a.m. ED on Thursday, January 1.

Dec 29, 2014

Will UVa follow Michigan’s lead by deferring thousands of early action applicants?

University of Virginia

It’s no secret that the University of Virginia over-enrolled its freshman class last year.  What is a secret, or at least in question, is by how many students the UVa Class of 2018 is actually over-enrolled.

And even more importantly, will this over-enrollment affect admissions decisions for UVa’s early action applicants to the Class of 2019?

If the University of Michigan example provides any clues, this year’s early applicants to the University of Virginia could be in for a long year as the admissions office attempts to gain control over class size by deferring huge  numbers of early applicants to the regular decision pool and making heavy use of the wait list.

UVa’s problem evidently began last winter, when the Virginia admissions office admitted a large number of early applicants.  According to figures given at the time, the University of Virginia received 14,819 early applications—about a seven percent increase over the previous year.

According to “Dean J,” 4590 students were admitted out of the early action pool—about 20% more than for the Class of 2017.  Of these, 2057 were from Virginia and 2533 were from out of state.  Typically, more offers are made to nonresidents because the “yield” among students faced with out-of-state tuition is significantly lower.

The increased numbers reflected plans to expand the freshman class according to a multi-year growth plan implemented by the university several years earlier.

But reports suggested that admits from some low-yielding feeder schools like Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) in northern Virginia were substantially down while higher yielding schools saw increases in the number of admitted students.

And many students admitted early couldn’t wait to sign-up. So many in fact that the admissions office began to see rumblings of an even bigger problem by the time regular decisions were scheduled to be released.

Usually very open about numbers, the university suddenly got quiet as admissions staff attempted to deal with what looked to be a serious over-enrollment problem, which would limit regular decision admits and effectively close off the wait list.

 “Small precise movements get the plane from the runway to the gate,” Dean J explained in a curious blog post comparing the wait list process to landing an airplane.  “We’re trying to get to the gate right now.  We landed way closer to it tha[n] we have in past years, so the change in speed was pretty dramatic.”

For a school that is so dismissive of “demonstrated interest,” it appeared that those who didn’t get into the early action pool—a strong demonstration of interest—were not going to be admitted at nearly the same rates as the applicants who submitted by November 1.  And as UVa grappled with much larger numbers than originally projected, many highly qualified students were sent to the wait list.

This is where they would remain until ultimately rejected in June.

At that point, Virginia officials were forced to scramble.  Dorms scheduled for demolition were brought back on line and temporary limitations were set on the number of credit hours freshmen could sign up for.

But still, UVa wasn’t as forthcoming as the University of Michigan about its over-enrollment problem.

Repeated requests for information from the admissions office as well as from the press office were ignored.  After several emails, McGregor McCance, UVa senior director of media relations, finally responded with some numbers in early September.

We have not taken an official census yet but the current size of the 1st-year class is 3,709, which is 139 over the target of 3570,” explained McCance, in an email.  “Being over is not unusual, though this year it’s a bit higher.”

He went on to outline previous over-enrollment numbers, “Fall 2013 we were 32 students over target. Fall 2012 was 37. Fall of 2011 was 74 over target.”  The pattern was the same as that causing a problem for the University of Michigan.

These numbers, however, did not exactly correspond with numbers that had been provided to parents during the Days on the Lawn program.  One parent and her daughter reported that the admissions office admitted to having over-enrolled the Class of 2018 by several hundred students (this could have included some projected growth).

But judging by the large number of dorm rooms hastily refurbished and reopened, the university was clearly reeling from an abundance of freshmen.

In fact, once administrators saw during summer orientation that some courses were filling up, UVa reduced the number of classes that students could register for during orientation from five to four (plus a first-year seminar ) and later was forced to add classes so that students were able to register for more credit hours between August 1 and the add/drop deadline.

So why is this important?  The extra freshmen were ultimately housed and for the most part, got the classes they wanted.  And although the university declined to give numbers, the whole miscalculation was probably a little costly to the university which had wanted to move forward with demolition of old housing.

But over-enrollment is not only costly, it also can have a long-term impact on admissions decisions made for future classes.

As demonstrated by the University of Michigan, Virginia’s admissions staff may need to take proactive measures to control numbers and bring enrollment under control.

In fact, Dean Gregory Roberts suggested as much to a group of independent educational consultants who visited campus this fall.

Similar to Michigan, Virginia will likely reduce the number of students admitted from what appears to be a highly robust Class of 2019 early action pool and make heavy use of wait lists to ensure that the class is exactly “to spec.”

And what will this mean for this year’s applicants?  They could be in store for a very long wait until the dust finally settles on the mini-crisis caused by failure to accurately predict yield for several years in a row.

In a strategy very much designed to protect yield, the University of Virginia gives itself until the end of January to post early action admissions decisions.   

In the weeks immediately preceding, the university launches an aggressive campaign to make sure those students who have committed to early decision schools or those who have otherwise decided where they will attend college in the fall remove themselves from consideration at UVa.  This reduces the likelihood of admitting students who are already committed elsewhere.

And using “customer relations management” software acquired by UVa several years ago, which serves to “acquire, track and assess data about prospective students,” the admissions office will make a series of strategic decisions affecting early applicants to the Class of 2019—who to admit, defer or deny.