IECA Grants Inaugural Making a Difference Awards to Seven Independent Educational Consultants

Recipients Have Gone Above and Beyond to Support Their Fellow Members During This Tumultuous Year

IECA has recognized seven independent educational consultants (IECs) across the U.S. with its inaugural Making a Difference Awards in recognition of their unprompted and cooperative efforts that have made a difference in the work of its 2,300 members during this tumultuous year.

Award recipients include Katherine Andersen of Dana Point, CA; Stacey Cunitz of Philadelphia, PA; Eric Endlich of Needham, MA; Heidi Molbak of New Orleans, LA; Sydney Montgomery of Clarksburg, MD; Holly Ramsey of Naperville, IL; and David Stoeckel of Laguna Hills, CA. They were selected from the general membership and are not currently serving in formal leadership roles in IECA.

The specific efforts of the awardees include:

  • Katherine Andersen and David Stoeckel: Co-creating an IECs Advising College Bound Student Athletes Affinity Group and sharing information about NCAA and NAIA rules changes and news, especially those due to the pandemic
  • Stacey Cunitz: Being the “voice of reason” in tough conversations on equity, privilege, and other discussion topics on the IECA Member Network listserv
  • Eric Endlich: Sharing resources particular to the learning differences/neurodiversity differences (LD/ND) student population
  • Heidi Molbak: Creating a crowdsourcing document to track the opening status and operational changes of boarding schools across the U.S. due to COVID-19, and keeping it up-to-date and available to IECA members through fall 2020
  • Sydney Montgomery: Sharing resources on antiracism, content marketing, and other topics and participating as an active member of the Black IECs Affinity Group and Graduate School Committee
  • Holly Ramsey: Establishing a Homeschooling Affinity Group to provide ongoing discussion and support for IECA members interested in this specialized topic

The Making a Difference Awards were presented by Kristina Dooley, IECA board president, during the organization’s virtual Fall Conference (November 16-20, 2020), which was attended by more than 650 independent educational consultants and 400 school, program and college representatives.

“Our seven awardees have stepped up to support their colleagues by sharing resources, information, and ideas that have been invaluable to their IEC practices, especially considering how rapidly the pandemic has impacted the school, college, and therapeutic landscape,” said IECA CEO Mark Sklarow. “Their efforts speak to the importance of community within IECA.”

Katherine Andersen
Stacey Cunitz
Eric Endlich
Heidi Molbak
Sydney Montgomery
David Stoeckel

Post-Election Update: What to Expect from the New Biden Administration

By IECAs Lobbyists/Government Relations Team of Brian Finch and Craig Saperstein, Pillsbury Law and Public Policy; and the IECA Government Relations Committee

With the November 2020 general election nearly concluded, the Biden-Harris transition team is beginning its initial tasks of identifying individuals for key agency positions, and setting the groundwork to implement the new Administration’s major policy initiatives. The Biden Transition Team has begun formal coordination with current agency officials, and now has access to direct government funding for the transition. Given President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign promises and stated policy goals, there may be substantive developments in the higher education space within the first few months of the Biden presidency of which independent educational consultants should be aware.

Top Biden Policy Goals

Whether by executive order or through legislation, President-elect Biden has already indicated that he hopes to address student debt within the first 100 days of his presidency. Although no specifics have been revealed by the Biden team, potential relief may include a specific amount of debt forgiveness for undergraduate loans (rumored to be ranging anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000, with income-based caps), an extension of the COVID-19 forbearance period, and reduced federal interest rates on future federal loans.

Another priority for the Biden Administration will be reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA), which establishes federal student aid programs and governs most federal money going to colleges and universities in the United States. The HEA is designed to be reauthorized and updated every 5 years. However, the most recent update has not occurred since 2008. House Democrats introduced a bill, known as the College Affordability Act, to reauthorize the HEA in the current session of Congress, but action on HEA reauthorization is not likely to occur until the next session of Congress.

Beyond these initial objectives, the Biden team made education reform a key priority throughout the presidential campaign. Specific to higher education, the Biden campaign promised to invest in educational pathways programs in high schools, including investing in school vocational training programs, building partnerships between high schools, community colleges and employers to allow students programs to earn industry credentials while in high school. The Biden team has also promised to allow Pell grants to be used for dual enrollment programs, allowing high school students to take classes at community colleges for college credit.

Stakeholder groups have also been using this transition period to identify specific Trump Administration directives that the incoming Biden Administration should address. This week, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and the American Council on Education (ACE) both sent their policy priorities and recommendations to the Biden transition team. Their recommendations include reversing Trump Administration limits on H-1B visas that have limited international student enrollment in colleges, ending the Trump executive order limiting diversity and critical race theory trainings, and ending certain “unnecessarily adversarial” investigations by Department of Education into admissions practices. While the Biden team has not responded to these requests, these two influential higher education lobbying organizations and may help shape the initial Biden Administration policy goals.

Department of Education

Recently, the Biden-Harris transition team named its Agency Review Team for the Department of Education. The Review Team is led by Linda Darling-Hammond of the Learning Policy Institute, who previously served in the same role in 2008 for the Obama-Biden transition. Other Review Team members include the head of the Institute for College Access and Success, the postsecondary education leader at the Center for American Progress, a senior administrator at Howard University, the policy director for the Alliance for Excellent Education and numerous stakeholders from the primary and secondary education worlds. These volunteers are responsible for reviewing and understanding the operations of the Department of Education, coordinating the transition of power, and preparing President-elect Biden, Vice President-elect Harris and incoming Administration leaders to implement key policy priorities.

As part of the COVID-19 relief measures, federal student loan payments had been suspended through the end of 2020. The Biden – Harris administration had signaled a desire to extend student loan relief in some way. Recently the Trump administration announced that student loan relief for 41 million Americans who have benefited from a freeze on monthly payments will now have this relief extended to January 31, 2021.

While President-elect Biden has started naming his picks for top Administration positions, he has not yet indicated his choice for Secretary of Education. While campaigning in 2019, Biden promised to pick a teacher for the position, but left it unclear whether this only meant a K-12 teacher, or whether he would also consider a post-secondary educator. Potential rumored candidates for the position include Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers; Lily Eskelsen García, the former president of the National Education Association; Baltimore City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises; Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson; and Philadelphia superintendent William Hite.

Regardless of who is ultimately named as Secretary of Education, the largest priorities will remain the same: increasing federal funding for schools to address the COVID-19 impacts, restoring Obama Administration civil rights guidance in schools, rolling back many of the Trump Administration and Secretary DeVos positions and directives and restoring funding cut over the past 4 years.

Potential Washington Gridlock

Despite the many Biden team objectives and promises, the viability of many higher education reform proposals will largely depend on the outcome of the January 5th Senate runoff elections in Georgia. The results of these two races will determine political control of the Senate. Victories by the Democratic candidates, Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, would give Democrats 50 seats in the Senate, along with the tiebreaking vote by Vice President Harris. If Republicans are able to win either seat, they will maintain control in the Senate. A divided Congress, with a Republican-controlled Senate and a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, would be far less likely to enact any sweeping changes to federal higher education policies than if Democrats have unified control of Congress and the Presidency. While some of Biden’s policy objectives can be accomplished by executive order, and through Department of Education initiatives, control of the Senate will be critical to the success of the Biden Administration’s legislative goals.  Without such control, there is a distinct possibility that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will not even permit a vote on legislation he or the majority of the Senate Republican Caucus opposes.  Democratic control of the Senate will permit the party to set the committee and floor agenda, though even having a majority is not a panacea; bipartisan support for higher education reform legislation will likely be necessary regardless of which party controls the Senate, given that Senate rules dictate that a 60-vote majority is needed to pass the vast majority of legislation.

 

 

Calling on Colleges and Universities to Permanently Adopt Test Optional Admissions Policies

The significant barriers to access imposed by the SAT, ACT and other standardized tests, and the resulting inequities, are not limited to the challenges of test administration during a pandemic.

 The Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and its members are deeply committed to helping students navigate the college process and find colleges where they can grow, succeed, learn, and thrive.

IECA believes in the transformative power of education, and we are devoted to our mission of ensuring that all students have access to education, regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, learning differences or zip code. We demonstrate this commitment through (1) our work with thousands of students and families from all 50 states and around the world (2) our partnerships with colleges, schools and therapeutic programs and (3) the creation of equitable and inclusive resources.

IECA seeks to prevent barriers to that access.

In an effort to advance equity, IECA believes that all students should be able to choose how to present themselves in their college applications and whether or not to submit their standardized test scores.

Every year, many students are disadvantaged in the college admissions process because of the inequities ingrained in the SAT, ACT, and other standardized tests. Large numbers of low income students lack access to private tutors, enhanced educational opportunities, study guides, computer technology, reliable internet access and other resources typically available to wealthier students. Low income students face additional barriers associated with the financial burden of sending score reports.

These are not the only students who face barriers imposed by standardized testing. Countless students with learning differences struggle disproportionately with standardized testing. These students are often unlikely to perform as well as their neurotypical peers on standardized tests and, as a result, are frequently at a disadvantage in college admissions.

As a result of these significant barriers, many students find that their standardized test scores do not accurately reflect their skills and abilities. These students should have the opportunity to decide if their scores are considered in the college admissions evaluation process.

FairTest: The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, and many others, have provided extensive data to support the unfairness inherent in these tests. This data shows that standardized test scores are neither a strong predictor of academic achievement in college nor of graduation rates, and also establishes a correlation between test scores and income. Many colleges and universities, well aware of these factors, became test optional (or test blind). These colleges and universities reconsidered their traditional admissions requirements and found creative solutions that allowed them to continue to make thoughtful admissions decisions without standardized test scores. Studies have also shown that test-optional colleges and universities admit higher numbers of low income students, underrepresented minorities, women, and first generation students.

Colleges and universities must act now to remove the barriers to equitable access to higher education that are presented by standardized testing.

COVID-19 and the resulting complications with the administration of standardized testing has magnified these inequities. The College Board (SAT) and ACT have canceled, and continue to cancel or postpone, numerous test administrations across the world. The resulting uncertainty has also increased student stress and anxiety. The at-home AP exam was especially problematic for students without access to quiet spaces, reliable technology and internet access. Many thousands of students were unable to complete the exams, and it is impossible to quantify the numbers of students who did not even attempt the exam, because of these barriers. The at-home AP exams also presented challenges for students with learning differences who require accommodations.

According to FairTest, more than half of the nation’s four-year colleges and universities (and this number continues to grow) have responded to these challenges by becoming test optional for the high school Class of 2021. Many also have chosen to be test optional for up to a three-year pilot period, and many have made the decision to become permanently test optional. Others have adopted test blind admissions policies.

In announcing the decision to become test optional, University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce summarizes the rationale for eliminating the SAT/ACT requirement: “Careful analysis and research showed that standardized testing did not add meaningfully to the prediction of student success that our holistic admission process already provides.” Similarly, as stated by Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis of the University of California system’s Governing Board, “These tests are extremely flawed and very unfair. Enough is enough.”

Enough is enough.

IECA is calling on colleges and universities to embrace this opportunity to become more equitable and reduce barriers by becoming test optional on a permanent basis for admissions consideration and in the awarding of merit aid, thereby increasing fair and equal access to higher education for all students. IECA is further calling on colleges and universities to allow self-reporting of test scores in order to reduce the financial burden on students.  

The time is now to remove barriers, not just for the high school Class of 2021, but for all future college applicants.

IECA Statement of Support for International Students and Education in the USA

The Independent Educational Consultants Association stands fully in support of the 1.2 million international students studying in the United States and urges ICE to rescind its decision to force international students back to their home countries in the current COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, July 6, 2020, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that international students in the United States whose schools and colleges are open for the fall 2020 semester with online-only classes, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will not be issued student visas or otherwise be allowed to enter or remain in this country. Most devastating, ICE’s policy holds that if colleges are forced to switch to online study as a result of a spike of COVID-19 cases—at any point in the semester—international students would be immediately deported, despite financial obligations, closed air routes, or violence that may await them in their home countries.

ICE’s policy and its requirement that international students “take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction” to remain in the United States is discriminatory, ill-advised, and capricious. In no way does this improve our educational system, strengthen the financial viability of schools or colleges, or help to combat—or even address—the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather, the policy leverages the current public health crisis for political gain, targeting international students by those who oppose diversity in learning. IECA believes this policy is part of an ongoing effort to force schools and colleges to reopen for in-person instruction prematurely, using significant financial incentive—and overriding the health and best interests of students and educational institutions.

The United States’ educational system leads the world, and young people from across the globe flock here to learn. Millions have become doctors, researchers, and entrepreneurs enhancing American life or serving as ambassadors upon returning home. American students have their experience enhanced through daily interaction with friends from other cultures, and educational institutions rely on the approximately $45 billion dollars that international students contribute to the schools’ bottom line and the US economy annually. Without international students, some small colleges and boarding schools may no longer be viable. ICE’s policy further erodes the interest of top students across the globe in pursuing their education in the United States, and its rippling impacts hurt us all.

Embrace the New Abnormal

By Mark H. Sklarow, IECA, CEO

For those who are biding their time and just waiting for a return to normalcy, this blog is going to be uncomfortable. But I also hope it’s a wakeup call.

Yesterday I had the chance to record a panel discussion with the Executive Director of the Enrollment Management Association, Heather Hoerle. As we mused about the state of the world, the state of schools, the state of education, and the impacts of COVID-19 and systemic racism, Heather quoted a colleague who dismisses the common refrain of the “new normal” for a more insightful moniker: the NEW ABNORMAL.

Those waiting for things to return to where they’ve been—and even those waiting for things to settle into new patterns are likely both going to be disappointed. Rather, we have entered into a time of disruption, uncertainty, and constant and dramatic change.

For our admission colleagues, this means that moving forward cannot mean waiting until things “settle down.” Schools, colleges and programs that are creative, insightful, and nimble stand the greatest likelihood of weathering the storms. Conversely, those who decide to do nothing while they wait out the downpour will only find themselves facing hailstorms, monsoons, and oppressive heat in rapid succession. The changes we see now can’t be ignored until “normalcy” returns—not if we want to thrive and succeed.

What does this mean for independent educational consultants? Some appear ready to wait, assuming things will get back to the way they were. So, they delay seeing clients until things get better, stop learning and campus visits because they’re just “not as valuable” as in person events, and aren’t marketing, meeting, and enhancing their knowledge. IECA is doing everything possible to ease those IECs out of that static state of mind.

We may need to accept that this period of disruption—these “abnormal” times—is what we can expect. Even if COVID-19 is beaten, how long before the next disease? How long before folks will freely fly on planes and schools assign four students to a dorm room? Before the economy recovers?

It’s fine for us all to believe that better days are ahead. I believe that. But waiting for those days, rather than embracing the here and now will prevent your success from materializing. Take advantage of all the new tools that are available to you. Do virtual tours. Seek out clients using new media options. Attend webinars and virtual conferences. Reach out virtually to friends, colleagues, and relatives. Remain committed to the success of your business, your institution, or your organization.

A new normal will be coming. But it too will be replaced by another normal, then another. Prepare to be flexible and embrace those challenges. And if you get stuck, your IECA colleagues are only a phone call, an email, or a video chat away.

IECA Statement on Systemic Racism

To IECA Members and our Affiliated Schools, Colleges, & Programs,

We at IECA are outraged, frustrated, and deeply saddened by the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor—and the many victims of social injustice, oppression, and police brutality who preceded them. The violence against black communities, disproportionate loss of life due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and increased economic hardship has shone a light on the great inequities and systemic racism deeply ingrained in our society. This has been a difficult, but necessary, reminder that we are not yet living in a post-racial world.

IECA condemns all forms of racism and is committed to working toward a fair, just, and equitable society. We believe that everyone deserves the same opportunities and access to healthcare and quality education, as well as equal treatment and respect from our government and elected officials, law enforcement, and the criminal justice system.

We grieve for the lives lost, and offer our support and empathy to our black students, members, and affiliated professionals. We support the courageous, peaceful, committed protestors who have demonstrated their civic rights and raised their voices for change. We believe Black Lives Matter, and we stand against recent atrocities as well as our national legacy of exclusion, intolerance, and injustice.

At IECA, we abide by our mission to help families of all backgrounds have access to skilled and ethical academic or therapeutic guidance, regardless of race, ethnicity, economic status, or zip code. We believe in the transformative power of education and are committed to making the road to adequately funded, well-administered, and high-quality education available to everyone. We look to ensure we’re demonstrating this commitment through our work with families, our partnerships with colleges, schools, and therapeutic programs, and the creation of equitable and inclusive resources.

There is much work to be done. We are charging our national office, membership, and board leadership to be more aware, responsive, and active in implementing our mission of promoting equity, fairness, and anti-racism. Join us in listening, in engaging in meaningful, difficult conversations, and in modeling leadership that is focused on unity, support, and action. Let’s use the opportunities and platforms available to us, as leaders in education. And let’s do our part to enact real change and raise the next generations to be empathetic, informed, and prepared to fight for social justice.

2020 AP Exams Cannot be Considered a ‘Standardized’ Test

by Mark H. Sklarow, CEO, IECA

Starting next week and continuing through much of May, the College Board will be offering its AP tests, an important opportunity for students across the world to demonstrate mastery of subject matter from the advanced placement courses they have taken.

This year’s tests will have a significant difference. To ensure security at a time of online testing, all students—regardless of where they live—will be taking subject tests at the same moment.  So, consider this: as the first AP exam on Physics kicks off testing season, it will be 12:00 noon (ET), 7:00 p.m. in Turkey, 1:00 a.m. in Japan. What if a student is also taking the Government AP exam that same “day”? That will start at 4:00 p.m. (ET), 10:00 p.m. in Germany, and 2:00 a.m. in India. How can we possible consider it a “standardized test,” offered with fairness and equity when students in much of the world are asked to begin that test of mental acuity and knowledge in the wee hours of the morning? It is simply unfair.

But this is a siren call to all.

Both ACT and the College Board’s SAT have announced plans for online testing—most likely at home—in the coming months. We can learn from the AP exams that issues of validity and fairness have not yet been resolved. Availability of broadband, access to technology and quiet spaces remain unsolved and must be addressed. Already some colleges indicate an unwillingness to consider AP exam scores for this year and at least one, Claremont McKenna College, has indicated it will not consider at-home SAT or ACT scores in the coming year.

We hope these issues can be addressed by the testing companies soon, as student and parent anxiety is off the charts. And they must do better than the inequity next week, as students are asked to take a test in the middle of the night that could impact their college admission aspirations and affordability in significant ways.

UPDATE: IECA EVENTS and the CORONAVIRUS

Like you, we are all doing our best to adjust to the ever-changing situation here in the United States and around the globe. Even as things change quickly, we wanted to provide the following update to IECA’s upcoming live events, including changes to dates, fees, cancellation, and more.

  1. Our Spring Conference has been postponed an additional 8 weeks, from May to July 15–17 with the same location and schedule, at the Mohegan Sun Resort in Connecticut.
  1. All campus tours scheduled prior to and following the conference have been rescheduled for the new July dates.
  1. All registrants have had their registration and hotel bookings forwarded to the new dates (some campus tour hotels will need to be rebooked—you will be contacted).
  1. Our College Symposium has been postponed from June to September 9–10 in Cleveland.
  1. Because of the change in Connecticut conference dates to mid-July, our 2020 West Coast Summer Training Institute had to be cancelled. The East Coast Summer Training Institute at Swarthmore College will take place as scheduled, July 28–31.
  1. We have eliminated all late fees for our conference in Connecticut. We understand that you may feel more comfortable waiting until closer to the event to sign up for our events in July.
  1. If you are unable to attend the Connecticut event on the new dates, you will be given the opportunity in several weeks to cancel and IECA will provide a full credit for 100% of fees paid, automatically provided within our registration system that will be tied to you for use for a future conference, towards membership dues, or another IECA event. Your willingness to use a credit allows IECA to keep cash flow from becoming an extreme hardship.
  1. In several weeks, schools, colleges, programs and IEC firms will be given the opportunity to substitute a different attendee from their institution. We will waive all change fees.
  1. Those who wish to take another option, rather than the 100% credit noted in #7 above, will be given the chance to request either a cash/credit refund (which may take up to 4 weeks, subject to the administrative charges noted below) or may choose to support the Association by donating the payment made to IECA to assure continuity of operations.
  1. For the conference and Summer Training Institute (STI), we have updated all cancellation fees, eliminating 50% or 100% retentions for all cancellations that occur beyond 5 days of these events. IECA will only retain (for refunds) an amount equal to or less than our direct administrative cost charged by our online system and credit card processor. This will be $35 for the CT conference and $75 for STI. You can feel good about registering for events knowing you will be treated fairly.
  1. If we are forced to cancel these events due to health advisories we will do so, and issue full credits or full refunds to all registrants automatically.
  1. Please know that IECA is continuing to operate in all departments: membership benefits and outreach, education and training (including online learning), communications (including 5 Minute News and Insights), business support, conference and tour planning, and much more. Those looking for opportunities for advertising and sponsorships should contact Jean Lockwood.

To keep up with the latest from IECA, visit our Facebook page.

IECA Member Benefits: Tools You Can Use While Practicing Social Distancing

by Trish FratarcangeloIECA Manager of Member Outreach and Engagement

IECA offers a wide variety of resources to help you stay connected and informed, and to help you manage your business as efficiently and effectively as possible in these challenging times. Simply login to the website to view these and many more resources. (Contact [email protected] if you have any difficulty logging in; we’ll get you set up very quickly.)

IECA Member Network

One of our most popular benefits, this members-only online community allows you to connect with your peers on almost any topic. You likely already belong to a community based on your primary specialty focus: School, College, Therapeutic, Grad School. You do not need to have the specialty designation/interest area to participate in a community. We also have Affinity Group communities based on interests, lifestyle (like Parents of Young Children), and on other topics (student athletes, LBGTQ students, etc.). The Member Network also features Regional Group communities. To access and join any of the communities, use your login credentials for the IECA website here.

While you are on the network, take a minute to upload your picture. So many members indicate that they find it easier to remember a face rather than a name, so help them out!

Monthly Webinars

Many of you know that our webinars are held at noon (Eastern) on the second Tuesday of every month and are free for IECA members. Now may be a good time to look back at the dozens of archived webinars that you may have missed.

Peer-to-Peer Resources

IECA’s website offers many valuable resources in all specialty areas from your IECA colleagues. These resources include business and marketing advice; lists of colleges with ED or EA plans; financial aid information, accommodation differences between high school and college; webinars; and much more.

Publications

You can purchase a great book or subscribe to a professional newsletter to keep up with great ideas for your practice. IECA offers discounts on a variety of publications for IECs. Additionally, IECA’s bi-monthly newsletter, Insights, is mailed to all members and features timely information on admission trends, training opportunities, marketing your business, and much more. Current and past issues can be found here.

Discounts on Products and Services

Members receive discounts on many products and services including insurance, hotels, office management tools, software, and many others.

Finally, the IECA staff is available via email and phone from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (ET) to answer any questions you may have. Feel free to email me at [email protected]

2020 Rankings Released: What Colleges are Looking for in Applicants

by Mark H. Sklarow, CEO, IECA

For more than 20 years, the Independent Educational Consultants Association has surveyed its member college admission experts to determine what colleges want to see in their applicants, creating a ranking to assist students and their parents in understanding how college applicants are reviewed after submission. Of course, all colleges are different and IECA members can be particularly helpful in understanding those variances.

Among the key 2020 findings:

• While grades are important (#2 in rankings), colleges want to see students challenging themselves, willing to risk perfect GPAs by taking courses that will demonstrate a willingness to take chances, including AP and IB coursework (#1).

• Despite all the talk about “test optional,” scores on standardized tests like the SAT and ACT remain critical (#3)

• Extra-curriculars rose to their highest level ever in the IECA rankings (#4), but colleges look for a long-term, passionate, authentic involvement in one or two activities whether in or out of school. No one is impressed by a long list of tangential clubs. In fact, jumping two spots (to #6) this year: demonstration of leadership within those chosen few activities.

• Essays remain important and are even more important at smaller colleges. But students misunderstand their role. Yes, clear and cogent writing matters, but a great essay is one that tells a story, giving insight into a student’s unique personality. There’s a great saying—no one else should be able to write the essay you submit for admission.

• Coming together are four items that speak to the question: what can YOU do for US? Colleges wonder how the student will contribute to campus life: through unique characteristics or demographics (#7), through special talents (#9), through interest in research (#10), and through demonstrations of a student’s character and values (#11).

• How does a student demonstrate all those? Through the essay, the activities list, and through recommendations, which turned up as #8 on the 2020 rankings.

• Finally, an area students often don’t understand is demonstration of interest and enthusiasm in attending (#12). Are you following the college on Facebook? Did you visit the campus? Seek an interview? Colleges don’t like to extend an offer of admission to a student who will go elsewhere, so when you decide on your first choice, let them know!

The complete survey results can be found here.