The College Hook: Packaging Yourself to Win the College Admissions Game
By Pam Proctor
This book is your guide to the powerful packaging weapon known as the Hook-a special talent, achievement, or personal quality that will leap off the page of a college application and catch the eye of admissions officers. At a time when competition for entry to the nation's top colleges is at an all-time high-and intensifying every year-the "packaging" secrets you'll find in this book will help you maximize the odds of admission to the college of your choice.
Harvard and other elite universities are flooded with perfect or near-perfect SATs and straight As. Typical of the trend is Princeton, which in 2006 "took only 17% of the 1,886 valedictorians that applied," according to the Wall Street Journal. The university itself boasted on its Web site that more than 7,000 of its "record" 17,563 applicants in 2006 "had average high school grades of A to A-, combined with scores of 700 or higher on each of the three sections of the SAT."
At UCLA, Chancellor Albert Carnesale deemed the scope of applicants' academic achievement "extraordinary." According to the school's office of media relations, nearly 21,000 students-a whopping 44 percent of the 47,258 applicants for the Class of 2010-earned GPAs of 4.0 or above (4.0 is an "A"), while the 12,094 students UCLA admitted clocked in with overall GPAs of 4.27.
Under such circumstances, even if you have the right stuff academically, you must have that "something extra"-a Hook-if you hope to gain admission to your dream school.
In the following chapters you'll find real-life anecdotes and examples from winning applications. Most of these examples cite the student by name. In a few of them, the names and identifying details are masked. But in every case you'll be reading true accounts of students who found a Hook and used it to advantage.
What's more, a step-by-step program will enable you to develop your own unique Hook and then package and market yourself at every stage of the admissions process. Without such a plan, you will be much more likely to become a victim of what has been described by several guidance counselors as the current "college admissions bloodbath."
The Admissions Bloodbath
Because of demographic pressures, enhanced SAT coaching opportunities, and related factors, competition for coveted college slots has heated to the boiling point. Students whose credentials would have made them shoo-ins for the Ivies and Little Ivies - just a few years ago have discovered, to their chagrin, that they just didn't cut it. "If only I had found a vaccine for avian flu or figured out how to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, then I might have had a shot at Yale," lamented one rejected applicant.
The result has also created a high-pressure trickle-down effect, as schools at the middle and lower end of the U.S. News & World Report rankings have found applications soaring. As a result, many schools have been forced to raise the bar on standardized test scores and to defer or wait-list stellar academic students whose scores didn't pass muster. Baylor responded to the application deluge by creating its first-ever wait list in February 2006. For the 2006-2007 admissions cycle, the school also dropped its rolling admission policy in favor of set deadlines, including two rounds of Early Action.
The Demographic Details
At the root of the increased competition are demographics and the ever-widening web of accessible information. As the children of baby boomers have reached college age, there are simply more students in the applicant pool-a trend that is expected to continue. What's more, the Internet has enabled students to discover schools far beyond their home states and has provided the online capability to fire off as many applications as they can muster. According to USA Today, online applications submitted through the Common Application, a form used by more than 300 public and private colleges, "skyrocketed" over a four-year period, "from just under 41,000 in 2000-01 to a predicted 700,000" for the 2005-2006 application cycle. What's more, as the New York Times has reported, it's not uncommon for students these days to apply to a dozen or more schools-sometimes even as many as thirty-to cover their basest
Adding to the admissions crunch is the increased trend toward grade inflation in high schools, which translates into applications rife with grade point averages well over 4.0 or even 5.0. The student population's increased awareness of the advantages of prepping for standardized tests has fueled the competition even further. Stellar academic achievement has become commonplace.
"This really is a remarkable generation of college students," says Dr. Jerome Lucido, vice provost for enrollment policy and management at the University of Southern California. "When we are choosing among them, the fact that a student can be academically successful doesn't carry the day, because almost everyone in our applicant pool will be academically successful."
As a result, he says, "we must ask ourselves a different set of questions. We need to ask what characteristics, talents, and attitudes of mind a student brings that can improve the campus. Sometimes it might be leadership. Sometimes it might be athletic accomplishment or the potential to be a great researcher. Or it might be a deep understanding of various cultures that enables us to achieve our goals.
"That's why we read applications-to understand the student," explains Lucido. Admissions decisions, he says, often revolve around a fundamental question: "What is the essence of you?"
In such a climate, when admissions committees are desperate for ways to differentiate candidates, the message for students is clear: You've got to set yourself apart. You've got to have a Hook.
From the start of my work as an independent college counselor and IB consultant nearly a decade ago, I recognized the Hook as an essential tool in a successful application. That's why everytime I conduct a student workshop, speak at a parent night, or work with a student one on one, I hammer away at one theme: Find your Hook! Over the past few years, hundreds of my students have heard and heeded that message. They have worked hard to find a Hook and package it through every page of their application in order to get a leg up in admissions.
The College Hook will provide you with that same edge and give you the packaging tools to increase your odds of admission to the colleges at the top of your list. These packaging secrets aren't really so secret in some quarters: the sawiest of high school guidance counselors and independent consultants have been sharing them with students for years. But even if you don't have access to such guidance face to face, you are now holding in your hands the packaging secrets to level the playing field and give you an equal shot at success in admissions.
As you read, keep in mind that The College Hook is designed to talk directly to you, the prospective college student, as though we were sitting face to face in a series of one-on-one counseling sessions. Furthermore, parents, grandparents, mentors, and school professionals can and should enter into the dialogue by posing questions, giving suggestions, and evaluating options presented in this book. In effect, one or both parents should use The College Hook as a tool to step into the role of independent college admissions counselor for their child.
Finally, as you'll discover, learning to package your Hook is more than a mere ploy to win over college admissions committees. Rather, it can become a confidence-building, inspirational vehicle for self-discovery.
So now, turn the page and begin to experience the power of the Hook, a power that can put you in the driver's seat on the road to college admissions-and beyond.