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The keys to success for seniors & college admission: Start Smart, Stay Smart

The odds of getting into your top school may be in your favor this year

CLEVELAND — All students face challenges in this new school year. Whether they are remote, masked up in class or a combo of both, the class of 2021 has challenges unique to them. They’re on the verge of making important life decisions at a time when their lives are filled with uncertainty.

So much was made about the class of 2020 missing senior milestones such as prom, spring sports and the fanfare of graduation. However, the class in their shadow last spring, the class of 2021, is perhaps facing the greatest impact of all.

“I'm in high school lacrosse and soccer. I’m also involved in national honor society and the Key Club. I’m just trying to look forward to as normal a senior year as possible,” said Cole Schosser, a senior at Avon High School.

The class of 2021 is starting their final year of high school, with canceled in-person college tours, missing spring grades, ACT and SAT scores. In Cole’s case, he’s hoping for a chance to improve his test scores by a point or two.

“We are on the books for September 19th," his mother, Robin, said. "So, we’re hoping, fingers crossed, that it takes place. It has been a very frustrating process for all these parents, whether you were prepared or not. He was hoping to take it again to see if he could improve his score maybe one or two points. It’s been challenging having to reschedule and maybe take it, maybe not, and schedule again."

Kelly MacLean, founder of the Kelly MacLean Achievement Center in North Olmsted has been helping high school students achieve their academic goals for more than 20 years through coaching, college recruiting, admissions counseling and scholarship opportunities.

“The importance of doing things early is really critical this year,” MacLean said.  Yes, there are challenges for this year’s seniors, but she sees plenty of opportunities, too.

WHY GETTING APPLICATIONS DONE EARLY IS CRITICAL

It starts with getting those applications in early. Not necessarily new advice, but it has greater significance this year.

“The admission cycle starts in August. Admission reps are interested in getting their class filled. They want to review these applications and get moving on them. At that point in time, you are one of very few applicants. They can spend more time really understanding who you are, looking at your extracurriculars, looking at extra volunteer work that you’ve done. You’re not just a GPA or test score numbers,” MacLean explained.

Think about it: By the time that Nov. 1 early action decision rolls around, there will be hundreds or thousand of applications in that admissions office. The earlier yours is in front of those admission reps, the more time and attention your application gets.

“A lot of schools have gone test optional. Your application really must stand out. One way to make it stand out is to be early,” she stressed.

HOW TO GET GOOD RECOMMENDATIONS FROM STRESSED TEACHERS

“Ask for recommendations early, before teachers are overwhelmed -- and let’s face it, teachers this year, between the virtual aspect, between the cohort schedule, they are dealing with a lot of other challenges,” MacLean pointed out.

And that means not assuming even your teachers know what to write about you. Create a resume for them. It should include GPA, test scores, intended major, accomplishments and details on volunteer work. This helps teacher write about what type of impact you will make.

A STANDOUT ESSAY MAY MEAN GETTING UNCOMFORTABLE

Essays need to be unique. They must showcase individuality, which  can be tough for a student because you have to become vulnerable. MacLean has examples of what “to do” and what “not to do” when crafting your essay.

First, what not to do:

“We have a couple of rules. Having worked in college admissions, we really don’t like the ‘I’m an athlete and had a torn ACL. Had to sit out for a while, but I was the best teammate ever. I worked really hard, was dedicated and persevered, and now I’m back in the starting lineup.’ They just all sound alike."

“You may worry that your essay isn’t like anybody else’s, but that’s what college admission representatives are looking for. They want to know that you are separate from the class,” she stressed.

The secret to that standout essay?

If you looked around any one of your high school classes and no one else in there could have written the same essay, had the same experiences, thats a really good starting point. And then to have someone read it over for grammar, and to make sure that you are getting your points across correctly and that it really flows.”

DON'T PANIC. IT'S NOT TOO LATE.

Cole visited about eight colleges before the pandemic hit, bringing a halt to in-person visits. But some students didn’t get to campuses on their lists. MacLean says, don’t panic.

“If you are behind, haven’t been on campuses, or just assuming, ‘Oh, I should just apply where my friends are,’ colleges are doing a great job putting on virtual programs. Not only do they have a virtual tour on their website, but there are virtual webinars, and opportunities for students to have conversations with department heads for, say, an engineering program or a business program. And I can’t stress enough how much more comfortable that will make a student when they do select a school, knowing that they have had a conversation, that they’ve been able to see the differences from school to school.

With plans to major in engineering, Cole is wrapping up his applications and fine-tuning his essays. He’s handling whatever comes his way and looking forward to a bright future.

“I look forward to him applying and having that behind us. I think that will be a sigh of relief. We will see what the next chapter brings,” said Robin Schosser.

Learn more about the Kelly MacLean Achievement Center HERE.

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