January Rant from the College Guy: The "Follow Letter Package" and Financial Aid Forms

Hey Seniors - greetings from the College Guy!
 
Hope everyone had a safe and restful Holiday break. Winter has finally made an entrance here in the Northeast and the Patriots are ready to start another playoff run which will hopefully end at the Superbowl. But like the college admissions process, ya never know! (See how deftly I segued the topic of this Rant in to my opening? Yuk yuk!)
 
It's been a while since my last newsletter so I've been wholly out of touch with a lot of you - others have seen all too much of me these past few weeks! If you're in the former category drop me a note and tell me what's what.
 
Many - perhaps most - of you have sent all your applications in to your colleges and are now playing the waiting game. For those of you who have not gotten applications out yet - not to worry (unless you were planning on applying to a college with a January 1 deadline - then you've got troubles). For most schools you've still got time to apply, but what the heck is holding you up? If you need some help getting things done, give me a holler by phone or email. I'm happy to read and comment on essays, review your list of schools and answer questions you may have regarding the application process. 
 
This email explains and elaborates on my idea of sending a "follow letter package" with supporting items to each of the colleges you've already applied to. This is neither a required nor a commonplace thing to do, but I think it's a smart and potentially helpful (in terms of getting accepted, and getting money) thing to do. Some call me crazy and I agree: crazy like a fox!
 
Before jumping in to it, three quick reminders:
 
1. Confirm that all your applications have been received in their entirety at each of your schools
 
2. PARENTS: Complete and file all required Financial aid forms, get your taxes done by the end of February, and then update said forms
 
3. Mid-Term Grade Reports
 
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1. If you have not received confirmation that your application materials have been received from each college you've applied to within three weeks after applying, CALL AND ASK THEM. Be nice and polite, but DO THIS! Things get misplaced or misfiled - happens all the time. And most schools won't begin considering your application until it's complete.
 
If you call you should ask specifically whether the following things have been received:
 
- your high school materials (transcript, counselor's letter, etc.).
 
- your application and supplemental materials.
 
- SAT (and/or ACT) scores. Some schools will accept them if they're on your official transcript; others require that they be sent by the College Board - you can inquire about this.
 
- Letters of recommendation from each of the persons you asked to send them.
 
Only make this call after waiting three weeks from when you applied, by which time you will hopefully have gotten email or postal or on-line confirmation. If you do get notified that something is missing don't panic, but deal with it immediately with a phone call, and if necessary bring it to your guidance counselor and get him/her involved. Chances are the missing items are hung up in the college's intake system and will turn up, but the safest thing is to offer to fax them duplicate copies. Your guidance office will do this for you.
 
If anyone runs in to a gnarly problem give me a holler and I'll help you solve it.
 
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2. All families who plan to apply for financial aid should be working on completing the 2015/16 FAFSA at this time. In addition to this form some schools require an additional form, either the CSS PROFILE or their own institutional form. To find out whether a school requires such an additional form (they ALL require the FAFSA), go to their web site and look under 'admissions' and find a link to 'financial aid', and read the instructions.
 
Each of these forms ask for a family's 2014 tax numbers, which of course you and your parents have not yet done. That's okay, but note that IT IS IMPORTANT TO COMPLETE AND SUBMIT THESE FORMS NOW using estimates. You'll have a chance to adjust your numbers in late February and early March, which is when you want to shoot for having your taxes done.
 
LISTEN CAREFULLY TO THE COLLEGE GUY: If you decide to hold off on filing these forms because you're waiting to finish your taxes YOU'RE MAKING A BIG MISTAKE!!!! Fill these forms out now, using your 2013 taxes to make estimates depending on the type of earning/savings year you had.
 
Parents, if you aren't crystal clear on what I'm talking about here or if you feel like you need help with this process, give me a call at the phone number below for instructions and support.
 
THIS STUFF ISN'T HARD. ANNOYING, yes, BUT NOT DIFFICULT!
 
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3. All colleges expect and in fact require mid-term grade reports. Most high school guidance offices will automatically send them providing you've let them know where you've applied. Check with your guidance office on this particular task. 
 
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Okay, the rest of this email is devoted to what I call the "follow letter package", which I suggest you put together and send at the end of this month to all the schools you've applied to and are waiting to hear from. I've included an example at the end of this email. Look it over, rework it in your own words, and if it makes sense, do it!
 
Hey, I know you're busy, but this could be important, so give it your consideration. Read on...
 
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Now I know there are some of you who are snickering cause you've already gotten acceptance letters via early decision or early action from your first choice school, so you can take a hike and not read any further (but remember to write 'em a "thank you" and follow directions about submitting a deposit to reserve your space and any $$$ awards they've offered you.)
 
For the rest of you, recall that I've mentioned sending a "follow up" letter to your schools at the end of the semester. This is a "hi,-how-you-doing-thought-I'd-check-in-with-you-and-remind-you-of-what-a- wonderful-person-I-am-and-what-an-injustice-it-would-be-if-you-don't-accept-me" letter.
 
The timing is to send this letter when you receive your mid-term grades. For most of you that's going to be toward the end of the month. (Those of you who attend schools which operate on a trimester basis won't get grades in January, but you can ask teachers for progress reports and do the same thing with them).
 
The idea, as you'll see, is to have an additional contact with the admissions folks, who are right now engaged in the process of reviewing applications. Mid-term grades are the excuse for the letter, but the real reason is to give them yet another slice of your personality - to impress them with: 
 
a) how wonderful you are, and
b) how motivated you are to be accepted.
 
I suspect some of you are saying you don't wanna do this. Certainly it's your call, but here are a couple things to consider:
 
It's not that hard, it doesn't cost you anything (other than postage), and believe me I've heard from many fine schools that a gesture such as this can make a difference by demonstrating your interest in attending that college.
 
So what exactly do you put in a follow letter/package of additional information?
 
I suggest you include at least two of the following items:
 
- a newsy update, where you share your mid-term grades (comment on them if necessary) and your new schedule, and whatever else of note may be going on in your life.
 
- your annotated activity resume, if you've not already sent that to your colleges with the application or the cover letter you sent at the time you applied.
 
- one or two additional letter(s) of recommendation the college hasn't seen. Don't send the letter(s) yourself of course, but have them sent by either the writer of the letter, or your high school when they send your official mid-term grades to each of your schools. Be creative here - ask a coach or an employer or even a peer who would write a responsible but edgy letter about you. The more interesting the letter, the better!
 
- additional essay. Remember those extra essays I suggested you do last spring, summer and fall? Plug one in here. Or use the odd supplement you wrote for U. Chicago or some other school! If it's good, now's the time to recycle it to the schools who haven't seen it already.
 
- a 'graded writing sample' from a class. This is a paper you've done recently which reflects hard work and a sound effort on your part. Important thing here is for it to represent something you're proud of.
 
- a 'show and tell' piece - remember these? Some of you sent art work or poetry, an audio tape or film or photo essay or CD or reference to your web page. Others wanted to do it but didn't get around to making it happen. Here's your second chance. Remember, 'eye candy' (or 'ear candy') can work by livening up your application - just make sure it's tasteful and contributes to an understanding of who you are. 
 
You don't need to send one of each of the above - just your grades and one or two additional things will be fine. On the other hand, if you've got something good they haven't seen, use it!  Just make sure you write why you want the school to have that particular item.
 
So below is an example of such a letter. Rewrite it in your own words - the following is only to give you an idea of what to say. Make sure to keep the idea I've expressed in the next to last paragraph - that you hope they will consider your letter and other material IF APPROPRIATE...
 
Okay, nuff said. Give me a call or email if you have questions. For those of you I haven't seen in a while, don't be a stranger! And if you've already received acceptances from schools I'd appreciate hearing about them from you.
 
From your application authority, your short answer necromancer, your activity enumerator,  your additional information inspirer, your anxiety alleviator (I hope!),
 
Gary the College Guy
 
-- 
Gary L. Canter
College Placement Services
210 St. John Street
Portland, Maine 04102
(207) 772-9711 
www.collegeplacementservices.org
 
College Placement Services provides high school students and their families assistance with all aspects of the college search, selection, application and financial aid process.
 
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EXAMPLE OF THE FOLLOW UP LETTER
 
Your Name          
Address            
______, Maine  ____
 
Admissions  Office
Brandeis University
Waltham, Mass.  02254
 
2/2/15
 
Dear Sir or Madam, (ideally send to the admissions officer you've had contact - or the one who is responsible for your state. Call admissions if you're not sure who that is)
 
My name is ________ and I'm a senior at _____ H. S. in ______, Maine. I am a candidate for admission to the Brandeis class of 2019. I wanted to take this opportunity to inform you of my continued interest in Brandeis - in fact, your school remains my first choice (or, say 'your school remains one of my top choices') for where I hope to be next fall.
 
I recently received my mid-term grades and I wanted to share them with you now, as I know it may take a while to get them from my High School. I was quite pleased with them, particularly the 88 I pulled in AP Biology (it's a bear of a course!)
 
(If you did poorly in any of your classes say a word or two about it here - colleges like to know that you're giving it, forgive me, the old college try...Having the teacher of the class you're getting your butt kicked in write a letter of rec for you is a good strategy as well...)
 
    H Senior English    __              H PreCalculus        __
    AP Biology              __              French IV             __
    Marine Sciences     __              Pottery                __
 
New classes I'm taking this semester include ...I'd also like you to know that...(speak briefly about one or two of your continuing  or new activities or honors. Did you make honor roll? Say a word or two about something you didn't write about in your app: like indoor soccer, skiing or some other activity you've been doing. If you've gotten new test scores that you're pleased with, mention them. The idea here is to offer a chatty sort of "here's what I've been up to" sentence or three.)
 
I'm also writing to inform you that I have asked for an additional letter(s) of support from  ___________, my ____________ teacher/coach/advisor, which you should be receiving in the near future. I'm also enclosing a copy of a paper I recently did in ___________ class which I put a great deal of effort in to. Finally, I have enclosed (a show and tell piece).
 
I know that the admissions process at Brandeis is very competitive, and I want to make sure that you have a good notion of who I am and my potential in light of the competition I'm up against. (If your SAT scores are low you could say something like: "I know the admissions process at Brandeis is very competitive, and I am concerned that my standardized test scores viewed by themselves may not measure up well against those of the other applicants you are considering, so I want to make sure...")
 
You've probably figured out by now that I'm very motivated to attend Brandeis and I'm hopeful that you will favorably consider my candidacy, enhanced by this additional material! If it's appropriate, would you please include this letter and these items in my application folder for review?
            
Thank you very much for your consideration. If I can provide any additional information please let me know. I look forward to hearing from you.
 
Sincerely,
 
Derek Jeter
shortstop@yankees.com