Category: college

Reading College Rankings

U.S. News Rankings, Business Week Rankings, QS World Rankings, Forbes Rankings which rankings should you base your college selection on and are college rankings really the best way to shortlist your colleges?

This post is not to examine the various ranks and what that reflects about the school. This post is to understanding the ranking process, both what we learn from it and why they can sometimes be misleading and disheartening.

First though, there is a clarification needed. While most people know that all Ivy League schools are good, the word Ivy League is sometimes used to name the top 10 colleges on the list. However, that is incorrect.

What is the Ivy League?

The Ivy League is the term used to refer to the eight schools that make up the Ivy League athletic conference. Below is the Ivy League schools list and their U.S. News Rankings for 2016:
• Princeton University – #1
• Harvard University – #2
• Yale University – #3
• Columbia University – #4
• University of Pennsylvania – #9
• Dartmouth College – #12
• Brown University – #14
• Cornell University – #15

The term Ivy League has become synonymous with prestige, selectiveness, and high rankings and for this reason, so many people use this label incorrectly. However, it is important to note that this list does not include other private universities like Stanford, UChicago, Duke and MIT to name a few.

But Ivy League is NOT EQUAL to Top 10 Colleges

Having clarified that, let’s dive into a couple of things

1) What Goes Into Rankings?

2) How do you Use these Rankings?

3) Why do People Like Rankings?

4) What Do I Do Instead?

First, What Goes Into Rankings?

That depends on who is ranking them. What do we mean by that? Different rankings use different criteria to measure effectiveness.

US News’ list most strongly emphasizes the academic reputations of the colleges. They take into account opinions of peers (e.g. Harvard’s opinion on Stanford), evaluate research and professors.

The Forbes list most heavily emphasizes student outcomesAmongst various factors, it evaluates student salaries after graduation.

Similarly, the Bloomberg list is incredibly valuable when looking at Undergraduate Business Schools. This is because the list takes into account employer feedback on these schools which is an important opinion for graduates from these colleges. The Niche looks at the quality of life and Princeton Review uses a variety of criteria and has rankings like “Best Campuses.”

TLDR: Each ranking is unique in what it chooses to focus on and so, use a variety of rankings to form opinions instead of putting on blinders.

Second, How do you Use these Rankings?

Well, rankings shouldn’t be the reason to apply to a college. More specifically you should never say, in your essays that rankings are the reason to apply. Saying “Dear Princeton, I’m applying because you’re #1” is like saying “Dear Girl / Guy, I’m dating you because you’re rich.” It’s crass, don’t do it.

However, use rankings to understand where a college stands. In Delhi University, when you consider a list of just about 20 colleges, a top 10 list helps you compartmentalize the list. But the U.S. has 300 good colleges and so the difference between #1 and #5 is drastic in DU but not in the U.S.

Why do People Like Rankings?

Because they are quick. If you’re new to the process of admissions, the information can see overwhelming. Rankings are a quick and easy way of simplifying the data.

What Do I Do Instead?

Figure out what you want from college. Do you like big cities or want a campus that has open fields? Do you like large class sizes or small ones? That will help you figure out which college you are best fit for. These differences are massive. Even if you look at the Ivy League colleges, in fact, Columbia is a city campus and quite a bit smaller than say Princeton which is a suburban campus. Read up more here.

And we aren’t saying don’t use rankings at all. Just don’t use one ranking. Even with US News, they divide Liberal Arts colleges and National Universities. So, you can’t compare Williams (#1 Liberal Arts College 2016) to Princeton (#1 National University 2016). Using a mix of rankings allows you to figure out if a school is in a top-tier band or a second-tier band.

A quick note: While we focus on the U.S. here, these notes apply to the Guardian Rankings for the U.K. or the Q.S. World News Rankings. Even the India Today rankings!

Summer School? But its not even Spring!!

While winter is barely over, and Grade 12 students are in the midst of exams and preparation, it’s time to think of Summer Schools for students in Grade 9, 10 and 11!

You may think college applications are long off but unfortunately, time goes by faster than you think. Every year we get lots of people reaching out to discuss summer schools in May, but the time to apply is NOW. January and February are the best times to start planning for summer schools abroad.

But wait, even though, the trend of attending a summer program by high school students is really catching on in India and the BIG question is that is it really worth all the effort, time and money spent?

Is it becoming just about keeping up with that one kid in your class or is there a link between that an admissions? There is a lot to unpack in this article.

Well first thing to know is…

Q. What is a Summer School or a Summer Program?

A. Summer school is known to be a great way for students to pursue new interests, enhance existing talents, and build new contacts.

Q. Do they ACTUALLY act as a catalyst in gaining admission to a college of your choice?

A. In a simple way, we have parents each year asking, “If my child goes to Harvard Summer School, does that mean he will get into Harvard?” Here is the truth.

Attending a summer program no doubt indicates to colleges that you’re dedicated to studying and gaining knowledge. However, when you talk to admission officers they are of the opinion that these summer programs rarely give student that much of advantage when the time comes for them to apply to college. Yes, they do add great value to your resume/CV but understand that this is not your ticket to your desired college.

WAIT! Before you stop reading though… 

Q. Why should you consider pursuing a summer school/program?

– Summer program is the best way for students to fulfill their aspiration for global exploration and at the same time be committed to making the most of campus life. It’s a chance to figure out if they are ready.

– Explore new areas of interest, strengthen interest in a particular major and illustrate their readiness for the education system to admissions officers.

– Chance to experience what classes will be like and the level of work you will need to put in to succeed.

– Get hands on experience with international companies in form of internships which is inbuilt in some programs

– Possibility of incorporating your summer school experience in your essays

Q. What should I look for in a program?

– Is it the right time to dedicate to a summer program? AP exams are in the summer and sometimes Summer School overlaps with regular term for students. In some schools that means missing class and even exams.

– Is the school/program selective or does it take anyone who applies? If a selective program like Yale (YYGS), Boston Univ (PROMYS), Stanford (SuMAC), Princeton Journalism or UPenn LBW accepts you it is an indicator that 1) You are stronger than some of your peers 2) You are ready for a rigorous college curriculum

However, other programs that you can pay for and get in are less valuable in terms of being “an indicator” because even the admissions officers know they are not selective

Q. Do I have to go abroad?

A. No! Going to summer school abroad can cost as much as $10,000 for two weeks. Don’t waste your money on a non-selective program that won’t add too much value. Colleges are coming to us! Whether it’sAshoka’s High School Program, UChicago Summer School, Columbia University programs or MIT, the schools are coming to us and you should make the most of these opportunities.

Q. Should I go this year or next year?

A. Well, this is rather subjective and really depends from student to student. As per our experience we believe that you should join a summer program in the summer of your grade 10 and/or grade 11. The reason being that this time you are relatively free and have more time in hand as compared to when you are in grade 12 trying hard to balance your school life and college application work.

So going back to the big question, should I apply?

A. YES! Summer School is worth it if

– Your timing is right

– You can afford it

– If the program adds value to your application process either as a selective program that is an indicator or an exploratory program that allows you to show interest in a major


What should you do when deferred?


When applying to colleges in the early round – Early Decision or Early Action, there are three possible outcomes:

– Accepted – Yay!

– Rejected – 🙁

– Deferred – ?

I think a deferral notification can feel mildly traumatic – “This must mean I won’t get accepted anywhere!” 


So lets explain what is going on.

Deferral means that you are neither in nor out, but the university will review your application along with the pool of regular applicants. So don’t lose hope just as yet, this is not a rejection! However, it is important to take some constructive action to tilt the balance in your favor the next time around your application file is reviewed.

Even though the university does not consider you their top choice they are reasonably impressed with your applicant credentials to review your application with the larger pool of applicants in the regular round. If they were certain of not admitting you, they would have denied you outright!

What are my chances in Regular Decision? 

Deferred 5

Once you are deferred you are automatically reconsidered in the next round. There is NO ADVANTAGE or DISADVANTAGE for being deferred. And so, believe it when I say that a deferral isn’t just a “polite rejection.” Being deferred means you’re going to get another fair shot. It’s not a denial. I promise.

Should I ask them what went wrong?

No. Decisions are made as a collective process in a group where students are compared to each other and discussed by a number of people. No one person can give you an answer, in fact, legally, they probably can’t.

What should I do?

– Read the deferral letter carefully, please send any additional material requested like the Mid-Year Grades, additional standardized test scores, anything else.

– Please ensure your Mid-Year grades show an upward trend over the last scores reported on your High School Transcript. Colleges do value better academic grades the most!

Deferred 4

– Send an update to the university of any achievements, academic or extra-curricular since the submission of your early application. E.g. an Excellence Award received on Founder’s Day, House Colors, a research paper published etc. This information can be sent in one well drafter letter rather than as weekly updates!

– Reach out to your interviewer to inform them of your deferral and seek their advice.

– Perhaps, an additional recommendation from someone like your Debate Coach, your Tutor in school, a research mentor can be sent only if the college is receptive of receiving additional material. You should check with the college before sending additional recommendations.

 What should I NOT do?

Deferred 2  …cry hysterically. The world has not come to an end.

…pester your parents to plan a visit to the college to show your interest.

…inundate the admissions office with multiple emails just to show you are interested. It is good to establish contact with your admissions officer but not at the cost of being labeled a stalker!Stalker

…lose hope. But do re-look at your university list. Ensure you have some Safeties on your list, otherwise add some NOW!!

Should you give the PSAT?


Say you’re in the Ninth or Tenth grade, and you have your sights set on the United States of America as your intended college destination. You have all the plans to get yourself ready for the mad rush of Grade 12.

The timeline has been set and you are working your way up, taking one step at a time ensuring that you have not nothing left when the time comes. Goal in sight, engines at the ready….BUT WAIT! What do you mean you won’t start till later?

Heard about a test called the PSAT?

“Now what is that?” you wonder. You thought the standardized tests were to start by Grade 11. There are so many tests you are worried about and you so wanted to keep the test-taking to the minimum. You already have enough stress and now this!

The PSAT is the Preliminary SAT. It is an exam that assesses problem-solving skills and subject matter learned in high school in two areas: English and Math.

It happens once a year in October and Grade 9 or 10 is the best time to take it. (Note, you can take it in Grade 11 as well but this counselor recommends using Grade 11 for the SAT / ACT attempts rather than PSAT) Conducted by the College Board, which administers the SAT, this exam is very useful for students in preparing then for SAT and other similar multiple-choice standardized tests for admission to foreign or Indian universities.

“But wait, will it only ‘help’ me prepare for the SATs? Then I don’t need it. I will anyway join some coaching institute in Grade 11 for this purpose”

Before you jump the gun and make a decision, let’s list down the benefits first:

1) The PSAT Score Report provides very detailed and meaningful feedback about a student’s strengths and weaknesses in the skills tested on the PSAT. So, even before you walk into your first SAT Prep class, you know what you need to focus on!

2) You can become familiar with the kinds of questions and the exact directions you will see on the SAT. This helps you perform better on standardized tests like the SAT / ACT since they aren’t part of the Indian Education system.

3) Students can see how they performed compared to other students who took the test. Which is an excellent Reality Check!

4) Get started with My College QuickStart and Student Search Surveys to create a SAT Study Plans and learn more about colleges. You know it, and we know it, it’s never too early to start.

5) Creates a competitive application to Summer Schools! While the Benefits of Summer Schools is a whole other post, however, it’s important to note that for the most competitive summer schools, PSAT or the SAT is often requested as part of the application!

There, you see, having access to such powerful tools at an early stage can help students plan for college more systematically. Most of all, taking the PSAT will definitely help to reduce SAT anxiety.

In fact, the success of the PSAT has encouraged the ACT to announce the Pre-ACT. Its function is similar to the PSAT and like the ACT is an alternative to the SAT, the Pre-ACT is an alternative to the PSAT.

Aren’t you glad you got to know about it well in time? And the proof that taking the PSAT pays off is already out there: the CollegeBoard found that the students who took the PSAT scored 145 points higher on the SAT than their peers who skipped the test. So go, get started!

Timing is Everything: Figuring out the difference between EA, ED and RD

When to Press Send

When do you hit that Submit Button?

To add to your world of acronyms (SAT, ACT, PSAT…) we bring a few more! EA, ED, RD!

It’s October, which means you should have decided what colleges you want to apply to or at least brought it down to a shorter list. However, now, it’s all about timing.

While the terms EA, ED and RD apply mostly to the US colleges, it’s important to remember that even for the UK which has two deadlines (Oct 15 and Jan 15) and colleges in Canada and Singapore which have later deadlines, sometimes, applying early can make a major difference in the outcomes because the Admissions Officers have a lot more time to review the applications and thus, can get back to you sooner.

Now, let’s dive into what timing means for the US Admissions. EA and ED refer to Early Action and Early Decision. What does that mean?

Deadlines & Decisions

Early Action and Early Decision deadlines are, well earlier (around the 1st of November) and the decisions also come out earlier (around Mid-December). There is also something called ED II and of course RD or Regular Decision and their deadlines are usually at the end of the year.

EA vs. ED

EA (Early Action) applications are non-binding that means an applicant is not required to commit to the college, if accepted. You can still keep your options open till May 1. You can put in multiple EA applications and can also simultaneously apply ED to your Dream School. Basically you can have your cake and eat it too!

REA/SCEA (Restricted Early Action / Single-Choice Early Action)

Some schools like Yale, Stanford, Princeton and few others offer single-choice early action, i.e. you can’t apply early action or early decision to any other school. So you’d better choose wisely.

ED (Early Decision) applications are binding. This better be the school you are in love with and will be happy to give up on all others if you are accepted. Needless, to add you can apply ED to only one school. If accepted you HAVE to withdraw your application from all other schools unless the financial aid package offered does not meet the need specified by your family while applying. Do not even think of accepting an admission offer from a school other than your ED school. Remember you signed a contract and so did your parents and your high school!

ED II (Early Decision II) like ED is also binding however, unlike ED is a later deadline. Colleges like NYU and the Claremont Colleges offer the option to apply ED II thus showing your interest in the college but, because their deadlines are usually the same time as RD deadlines, you get more time to work on your application. Results come out Mid-Feb.

RD (Regular Decision) deadlines fall between November end and early January, well a majority of them do. A few RD deadlines spill into February/March and decisions start getting released by Mid-March. Competition gets tougher with everyone fighting for the spots left by the pro-active early applicants. It’s a good option if you are unable to decide on the one school that is the love of your life or are not ready in time for the early applications.

An early bird catches the worm, or does it?


Yes, your application will be reviewed much before the RD applications but does that give you a clear edge? Not necessarily!

The ED applicant pool is usually the strongest. The applicants whose school grades are pretty much where they would like them to be by October, SAT Scores are in hand by early November and the essays have been written and re-written several times! You will be pitted against the strongest but will have an edge because you are committing early and not fishing for other worms.

You could treat EA applications as your Safety Net. It never hurts to have a couple of admission offers by mid-December to ease of some of the admissions pressure! If the offer is from a Dream School like UChicago or UMichigan, you’re home free!

When you finalize your University List, it is important to have a strategy of applying EA/ED/RD to the schools on your list. Take well informed decisions and consult an expert, as there is no going back on your decisions!