Three Basic Questions

<h2>I'm a junior and a have a few very basic questions about the college process.</h2>

<h2>I was flipping through the Columbia App that I accidentally picked up (thinking it was a ad) and noticed that there isn't much room for creativity. Name, grades, SATs, list of clubs, reqs - especially in the process where "grades aren't everything", this whole systematic process seems very poor for the evolved student. Somebody who came twice or three to a club (or any other activity) could list it just as much as somebody who is dedicated. Is this all to the app? Is the only "give it all you got" section is the general essay? Or is there some kind of supplement, such as a resume, that gives a better perspective (and shows the potential) of the applicant to the Admission counselor?</h2>

<h2>This question is geared up to the crazy folks out there who (almost) schooled the SAT. While I seem to do very well in the math portion (hoping for an 800), my verbal portion is lacking. My guess is that I have gotten a lower 600s on my PSAT, while I'm aiming for a lower to mid 700s on the section. Since, vocab isn't as big of an issue on the new sat (only like 15-20 questions have vocab words) I need to improve my critical reading. Do you have any suggestions on how to do that?</h2>

<p>The difference between prestiges colleges seems to me right now are their names and their location. While, I do tend to enjoy the urban, mid-size, competitive environment more, I want to be open-minded toward the whole process. Assuming, I have the "stuff" to have a decent, but not necessarily "you are in", chance to get into some of their nation's elites, how do I go differentiating between college A and college B (going beyond than the rumors I have heard about these places)? Do I need to look into department research, academic opportunities, talking with the professors in the field I want to major in (which is economics)? How do I find out about these <em>interesting</em> differences?</p>

<p>If you stick to well-known selective colleges, it is likely that differences between econ departments won't be that significant. Just make sure that the school has all the course offerings you are looking for as well as faculty numbers appropriate to the size of the school. </p>

<p>Certainly more opportunities for research and internships would be a plus, so you could come up with some specific questions in those areas you could ask at your schools of interest. Access to professors could be important as well, and there you would need to depend on information from things like the Fiske Guide and from any current students you can contact. However, at mid-size unis and LACs faculty access should be good. </p>

<p>This is why things like social climate, location, reputation and the nature of the school's student body are often used to make choices among top schools. For econ (and most social sciences), there is pretty long list of mid-size universities and LACs that will be excellent.</p>

<p>And a good time to start thinking about the process.
The best way to differentiate among the schools is to go in person...all the literature starts to look the same and they all sound great and look pretty. </p>

<p>Talk to students, eat in the dining hall (ask admissions for voucher - many are pleased to treat you), sit in on classes, pick up the course catalog (some now charge for it) and see what classes are actually available. Each school has its own 'feel' to it.
And enjoy the process! Good luck.</p>

<p>Question 1 - High tail it to your local library and checkout some books on college application process - Katherine Cohen's book and some others (other people on this site will know some names or research on Amazon) - you might want to look at some college guides, and Jay Mathews book for some perspective, also "The Gatekeepers" for some idea of what goes on on the other side of the admission equation. Don't buy, use the library, then you'll know way more than you want to know. Hovering on this site will certainly help, too.</p>

<p>Question 2 - the easy is answer is take a course, buy a book, but with all the changes, I'm not sure how good the test prep industry is going to be this year, and critical reading is one of the hardest to coach. Buy the book (there may be some bargains, remember much of the old books will still be applicable), try to determine if your critial reading problem is time related (ie, you can't skim read efficiently, and you simply run out of time) or if you just don't "get" the questions, this one is a little harder to deal with. A favorite English teacher may be able to help you with this one, diagnosing the problem. Generally, you have to skim read the whole passage to get an idea of the tone and audience (common SAT questions), then read the individual questions, a couple of answers are ridiculous in typical SAT fashion, then you go back to the passage and "look up" to find the correct answer. After a little practice, you will begin to recognize, just as you can in SAT math, which are the "harder" questions and which are the trick questions, and you can get to the point where, in the easier questions you don't read the passage, read the question first.</p>

<p>My daughter made an 800 verbal, but what she had to study/practice was the critical reading, it actually tests all aspects of language comprehension.</p>

<p>It sounds to me like there lots of colleges that meet your basic requirements. So now you have to start asking yourself some more specific questions about what you want in a college. Do you want large with lots of different kinds of opportunities or small and cozy or somewhere in between? Are athletics important to you or would you rather go somewhere where sports are not that important? Do you want a large Greek scene, no Greek, or somewhere where Greek is present but doesn't dominate? Is there a specific part of the country you are interested, or perhaps areas that you know you are NOT interested in? Are there specific activities that you want to participate in that may not be available everywhere? </p>

<p>Some of these things may be very important to you and others you may not care about at all. For example, my son who is a junior wants a school with a decent orchestra but one that isn't so dominated by the music majors that he can't get in. He still is unsure on the size issue but wants to have access to a large city. And he knows he wants to be somewhere where is snows in the winter. So we can eliminate a lot of schools that don't meet these criteria and go from there. He will further investigate and begin to look at the size issue, the department he is interested in (biology), chance for research for undergrads, etc. and further narrow things down. Then we will begin to visit and he will try to get a feel for the schools and the cities. </p>

<p>The fact is, there are a lot of excellent schools out there. The bad news is that is takes some work to sort through them all. The good news is that there are plenty of schools that will probably meet your needs and you don't have to worry that you have find a perfect fit. There will be lots of schools that fit you. You just have to choose which one you like the best.</p>

<p>Question 1: </p>

<p>In addition to your essay, there are recommendations from your teachers and guidance counselor. These will make you seem more human, and underscore your personality, if done well. Most apps ask you to list how many hours per week and weeks per year you are involved in a specific extra curricular to distinguish between people who have attended just one meeting and people who are dedicated. Some colleges do allow a resume, but many do not.</p>

<p>To question 2:</p>

<p>The best way to improve your reading comprehension, in my opinion, is to read more. Read everything you can get your hands on, from great works of liturature to trashy magazines like cosmo girl if that's more your style. Then discuss what you've read with others to see what you got out of it matches what they found. Practice tests are, of course, helpful for any section.</p>

<p>To question 3:</p>

<p>At any highly selective school, and many less highly selective ones, you will get a great education. You might want to find out about the characterisics of the students, access to profs, social activities, etc. Visiting is a great way to do this, but if you can't, you can still get in touch with current students at most schools (ask the admissions office if you don't know anyone currently attending), attend local info sessions, meet alumni for an nterview, and many other ways, just be a little creative.</p>

<p>If the opportunity for doing resarch is important to you, then look more at liberal arts colleges and smaller universities where there are relatively few graduate students, so that professors doing research tend to use undergrads. Rochester is a good example of that; so is Tufts; also the Claremont Colleges in California (especially Claremont-McKenna).</p>

<p>It's possible to do research as an undergrad in a larger university, but you have to work harder at getting professors to go along with the idea.</p>

<p>Question 1--I'll speak to that 'cause I know that app well.</p>

<p>As stated above, the essay and recs from teachers and GC are very important. Also, there is a why Columbia short essay, plus one (Ithink) on a favorite activity.</p>

<p>Then there are the questions which seem to be unique on this app asking for favorite books, magazines, performances attended, etc. They seek to learn a lot about you from these.</p>

<p>And the limited activities list works against the serial joiner. You need to distill the list to show the most important things about you. 2 meetings of French club would really waste a line. </p>

<p>I think this application is tailor-made for a genuine interesting student who doesn't need to pad or embellish his/her resume.</p>