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The holidays finally feel like they are here.  Not because of the holiday shopping,  or because of the decorative lights going up on trees and houses in the neighborhood.  No, that wasn’t it.  It felt like a little bit of Christmas for me, because I heard caroling in the halls at UMass Boston.

I put down the file I was  reading and walked into the lobby of the Campus Center to find the UMass Boston Chamber Singers filling the air with beautiful melodies.  I enjoyed some  Deck the HallsWe Wish You a Merry Christmas, and Jingle Bells before heading back to the office to read more files.

It sure does feel nice to take a step away from work to hear the holiday harmonies of our music students.  Thank you to the Chamber Singers and the Department of Performing Arts at UMass Boston – you were wonderful!

student on laptopBlack Friday: I think it is the most ridiculous thing to wait in line for hours to access a store that literally will continue to have sales until the holiday season is well over.  But some people love getting a jump start on holiday shopping. (Although, I do recommend getting the shopping done in the next couple of weeks rather than the day before Christmas or Hanukkah  or whatever holiday you may celebrate.)

If you have never experienced last-minute shopping, it starts off with driving around the parking lot of a shopping mall for 20 minutes just to find a space a 1/2 mile away from the mall itself.  By the time you cross all the things off your list that are sold out and start substituting mediocre presents for your friends and family, you are already exhausted, hungry, and moody. You get to the check-out and, low and behold, there are ten people waiting ahead of you in line, all mad at the customer at the register who decided she wanted to purchase an item that didn’t have a tag. Now, everyone is waiting for the poor girl cleaning up all the dressing rooms to rush over to the counter, see the tagless item, and launch a 20 minute scavenger hunt in the store for the duplicate. Keep in mind that when you finally get through the line, you still have a mile hike back to the car.  Sound exhausting?  Something that you should avoid?

Holiday shopping is a lot like rolling admissions.

Yes, UMass Boston accepts First Year Freshman applications up until April 1st (February 1st for Nursing and Engineering programs), but I would not recommend waiting for the deadline. Since we are a school that offers rolling admissions up until the deadline, which means that when all of your required application material is received, we review the file and send you the decision. We do not wait until all the applications are received and then send out all decisions at once. But rather we process and review the completed files as they come in, which usually takes about six weeks.

Why not wait until the deadline? 

Because almost every college that you apply to will be sending you their decision by April 1st and expecting you to decide where you will attend by May 1st.  Therefore,  sending in that last minute application while you panic and wait for our response so you can make a decision on what to do with your education for the next few years of your life  is just as stressful as procrastinating with your holiday shopping.  Whether you are in a rush to get your decision back or not, we will still process the application and review it in the order it is received, which means, if there is a long line ahead of you, well, then you just have to be patient and wait.

What do I recommend?

Start getting your holiday shopping and college applications done now.  In our office, there is no Black Friday that kicks off the application season.  But I will say that the freshman applications are finally starting to become ready for a decision now that the grades for the first marking period are available for many seniors.  In fact, I just finished reviewing an application that was started less than two weeks ago!

So, if you want to beat the application rush and get your decision as soon as possible, APPLY NOW! You can submit your application online using our UMass Boston web application or the CommonApp, or you can even mail in a paper application to us.  Then work with your guidance counselor to send in the rest of your documents (transcripts, essay, recommendations, test scores) either electronically or by mail to the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

Once January hits, the majority of our applicants will be applying and the process will take a little longer to complete.  If you wait until the deadline to apply… and you start panicking… well… I told you so.

students at a laptopAs you start to get to the phase of your college search where you are joining mailing lists to receive more information, or creating a Common Application, it is important to be professional.

What do I mean by that? I mean that the information you provide will be part of your profile.  That includes your contact information, which also includes your email address.  So, if your email address includes abbreviations and euphemisms for inappropriate  or sexual things, nicknames for drugs or other paraphernalia illegal in nature,  perhaps it is time for you to set up a new “mature” account.

Aside from it being a better way to advertise yourself to the schools of your interest, creating another email address just for college information makes it easier for you to keep track of it. But that also means you have to remember to check it!

What should you use for an account?

I recommend using a free email website like Yahoo or Gmail. If you have a student email through your high school, check to see how long it will be valid after graduation.  Why?  Well, if you set it up as your email account on file with the college of your choice, get accepted to the school, graduate from high school, and then the email is terminated (and you do not realize it and fail to provide a new email!), then you may miss important emails about registration, orientation, etc.  Personally, I recommend setting up the free account and then you can continue to use that through college, and eventually into your grown-up life.

What user name should you use?

My recommendation is your first and last name, or a variation of it. It is simple, and makes it easy to track. And it will also be easy for your friends, family, coworkers, and roommates to remember when they are shooting you an email.

Before you start that Common Application or fill out that college inquiry card at a fair, think about the information you are about to put on it, and make sure that it reflects the scholar that you are.

I was checkingUMass Boston campus plaza out at the grocery store last night when I heard the customer in front of me chatting with the sales associate.  Clearly, the two were familiar with each other, as the older woman asked how the young lady’s brother was. “Where is he at college? How does he like it? Did he already go back? What will he do after graduation?”

After recapping her sibling’s life, and then hashing out information on all the people that they knew in common, the girl confessed how she was only a junior and couldn’t wait for high school to end so she could go to college, too.

As I unloaded my peaches, strawberries, and kale onto the belt, I was eager to be a rude eavesdropper adding my two cents.  I wanted to point out that she was so young and has so many things to enjoy in high school before she rushes her way out the door to college, before,  in the blink of an eye, she finds herself  in her late 20s defining a school night out as hitting up Bed Bath and Beyond, Home Goods, and Stop & Shop all in one night.

So here is my advice to you high school scholars out there:

I know that you all have different responsibilities and lifestyles, but do your best to take advantage of everything around you right now.  I am glad that you are looking forward to your future and can’t wait for the freedom and excitement of college.  I still consider college the best years of my life.  However, I appreciated it so much because I took advantage of all the things it offered me, like  student organizations, jobs, friends, independence, intellectual stimulation, social events, and student exchange options.

I encourage you, as you begin the college search, to look for schools that will offer you endless opportunities.  But I also encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities around you now: go to your school dances, volunteer at a shelter, run for class secretary, participate in sports and plays and school clubs. Here at UMass Boston, we are looking for students who will take advantage of our amazing community and offerings.  And just like any other college, we like to see applicants that do more than just go to class and go home and study.

So as the fall 2012 semester here kicks-off and UMass Boston students eat free hot dogs and hamburgers as they cheer on the Beacon’s soccer teams, or participate in a community service project in our Campus Center, I recommend that you start practicing your involvement and be a part of your current community now.

In addition to studying hard, researching  and visiting schools, and even applying to colleges, I also am assigning you to have fun. Good luck this school year everyone. Make the best of it!

White Dresses

So after waiting for several years, my boyfriend recently popped the big question.  And it is amazing how people respond when you share the news of your engagement. Apparently the most popular questions that you will receive in your first 48 hours of being engaged are:

  • How did he do it?
  • Have you set a date?
  • Have you found a dress?
  • Are you pregnant? (You only here that question from the obnoxious friends/family members.)

Well, in the first 48 hours I, of course, had not yet found a venue and set a date, nor had I found a dress–and, if you are curious, I am not pregnant.  But I am excited to be in the wedding planning mode. Now that a few months have passed, our date and venue are set, but the dress is yet to be found. Although I haven’t had enough time during the busy application season to make it out to a lot of dress shops, I have been looking at websites of bridal shops and designers.

During my online browsing, I came across a designer, Amsale, whose face looked so familiar on her website. I couldn’t place it for nearly a week. Then I opened up the UMass Boston website one day and noticed her face staring back at me.  Amsale Aberra graduated from our political science department and found her way into the world of bridal gown design while she was planning her own wedding. While at UMass Boston, her friends encouraged her to pursue design after finishing her degree. And sure enough she is now a designer for the stars as well as her own personal line of wedding dresses.

Isn’t it amazing where our UMass Boston alumni family go in life?

college letter of recommendationBeing out on the road I have the opportunity to visit my hometown and catch up with old friends. I had the pleasure of staying with some friends of mine, one of whom is a high school guidance counselor.  After a lovely evening of catching up over a delicious dinner, we found ourselves winding down over a pot of tea and talking business. Since of course, we are on two different sides of the table, we couldn’t help but ask about the application process through the eyes of the other.

What systems do you use? What does it look like when you upload a transcript on to Common App? How many schools are each of your students applying to?  

How do you process the application? How do you want the students to list the activities they are involved in? What do you look for when you are reviewing an application?

There, of course, wasn’t enough time to unravel all the mysteries of the process, but we did discuss a very interesting topic:

What Makes for a Good Great Letter of Recommendation?

She informed me that some of the institutions her students are applying to only accept one letter of recommendation. UMass Boston requires one letter, but often receives two or even three letters for each applicant. Although our application requirements do not limit the letters as other schools do, there are certainly letters that are more useful to me than others. So let’s talk about it.

The letters of recommendation as well as the essay are very important to the counselor reading the file. They should offer some insight as to who this applicant is who happens to have a 2.8 GPA and an 1100 on the SATs. These letters of recommendation tell us about the character of the student. Some students are naturally gifted and “just get it,” when it comes to classroom material and tests. Others struggle, stay late for extra help, and hand in extra credit projects just to get by.

When I look at the grades on a student’s transcript, that “D” in Advanced Placement Calculus does not say “Hey, Tania, by the way, Jake has a D because he sleeps through class and is too busy playing soccer and going out with his friends to do his homework.”

On the other hand the “D” also doesn’t say, “Jocelyn is struggling through Calculus because her mother passed away this summer and in addition to dealing with the loss emotionally,  she now works 30 hours a week to help support her family, and she often isn’t available to stay after class for extra help. But she is working with the teacher to retake her last test and hopefully boost her grade.” Yes, believe it or not, the transcript does not have these hidden notes. These notes come from the letters of recommendation, from your teachers, your guidance counselors, even your coaches and advisers.

Who Writes the Best Letter of Recommendation?

Believe it or not, the best letters do not always come from someone who is going to brag about you. A great recommendation comes from a person who can tell us who you are, what your challenges are, how you face these challenges, and what you are capable of. When I was in high school, I did not have  much of a relationship with my guidance counselor. She wrote me a generic letter where she filled in my GPA and class standing on the first line, and then filled in my activities on the next line, and so on.

When I was in high school, I was extremely dedicated not only to my honors and AP courses, but also to theater. I lived, breathed, and, if I had time to sleep, dreamed theater. So the person who knew me best and understood my capabilities inside and outside of the classroom was my theater teacher and director. Unlike the two paragraphs from my guidance counselor, my director wrote three pages about me. And it wasn’t bragging, it was more like a psychological and educational analysis of how I had developed academically and grown as an individual from my freshman year into my senior year.

I am not expecting every letter to have so much depth, nor do all students have the privilege to get to know a teacher or adviser so well and for such a long period of time.

But if there is someone out there who can offer us accurate insight about you, whether it is the adviser of your Italian club, or your physics teacher, then they are the person to ask for a recommendation.  And don’t be afraid to ask a teacher whose classes you don’t have the best grades in. Often times when I see a lower grade on a transcript I flip through the pages of the application in hopes of finding an essay or letter of recommendation that will explain why that grade is on the transcript and if the student is really trying.

So when the time comes (and if you are a junior in high school, the time is now), put some thought into who you ask to write a letter about you. Provide them with a cheat sheet reminding them about what you are involved in now and what your future plans are,  and give them plenty of time to put together a thoughtful recommendation for you. When you get it back, don’t forget to send them a thank you note for going out of their way to help you with your future educational plans!

 

Taking Back Sunday Did you know that  Dev, Taking Back Sunday, Moufy, and Kiley Evans will be performing for our students on May 9?

Did you know that a brand new Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy will be opening up on our campus next year?

Did you know that UMass Boston was the only public institution in Massachusetts to be included in Princeton Review’s Best Value Colleges of 2012?

Find out more about what’s going on at UMass Boston when you stop by booths 610 through 615 at the Boston National College Fair on Thursday, May 3rd or Friday, May 4th. 

UMass Boston admissions counselors look forward to meeting you and answering your questions!

Boston National College Fair
Boston Convention and Exposition Center
Thursday, May 3  – 9 am to 12 pm and 6 pm to 8:30 pm; Friday, May 4 -  9 am to 12 noon

 Check here for more info.

Next steps at UMass Boston for admitted studentsYou’re a senior in high school finishing up your last months of school.  You sent out multiple applications to various colleges and universities and all of your decisions have slowly trickled in the door.  So what’s next?

THE DECISION

There are a lot of things for you to consider when deciding what school you will be investing the next few years of your life at. And the decision should not be taken lightly. I am sure you are busy visiting the colleges, visiting their websites, comparing what you have received through scholarships and/or financial aid, and asking questions left and right. And that is great.

Once you do make your decision it’s time to make the next step.

WHAT IS THE NEXT STEP?

Every school has a different process.  Be sure to read through all the paperwork that you have received from each school.  If you received an acceptance letter from a school, and have chosen not attend, then do the courteous thing and return the appropriate paperwork letting the school know that you are declining the offer.  This will allow the admissions office to know your response and, in some cases, open up your space to someone who may be on a waitlist for your program.

SUBMIT YOUR DEPOSIT

Nationwide, many schools are looking to hear back from you about your decision by May 1st.  In fact, pay attention to the response dates on your decision letters. At UMass Boston, we ask that you reserve your spot within 21 days of receiving your decision letter and no later than May 1st.  You reserve your spot by returning a New Student Deposit Form(pdf) including a $200 payment towards your tuition and fees at the university. This saves a place for you in your program and allows you to sign up  for orientation. (We will accept your deposit after 21 days if your program has not filled up.)

RETURN IMMUNIZATION FORMS

Often the school will have other materials that they want you to send in. For example, University Health Services  provides Immunization Forms that need to be filled out and returned to the campus before the semester begins.

SIGN UP FOR ORIENTATION

After you have submitted the deposit to UMass Boston, you are then asked to sign up for Beacon Beginnings, our orientation program. Orientation is where you are introduced to the school in more depth. This often includes getting to know other students, taking tours of the campus to better understand where your classes will be and what resources are available to you, as well as receiving academic advising so you can select your classes for the fall semester.

SECURE HOUSING

Housing is another important thing to consider.  Each school will have its own options for housing, and of course deadlines to deposit, register, and/or sign up for housing. At UMass Boston our Office of Student Housing is an excellent resource for finding  roommates, rental listings, and other support.  It is recommended that if you plan to use our housing office for assistance in finding a roommate or apartment, that you  do so as soon as possible (preferably by June 1st) so that you can be well on your way to secure a place in time for classes in September.

Once all the big logistics are sorted, you can start shopping for school supplies, and new outfits, and dreaming about all the dreamy boys or girls you’ll meet in college….

WAIT – WHAT ABOUT THE BILL?

Once again, every school will have their own instructions. At UMass Boston, students typically receive their financial aid award letter within two weeks of receiving their acceptance letter (assuming the FAFSA has been properly completed by the deadline and not selected for verification).  A student will receive instructions on how to accept his/her financial package. When our students attend Beacon Beginnings, they register for their fall semester classes.  After they have registered for classes, a bill is then generated and will include a due date. Financial aid is often used to help pay the bill.

SO, IS THAT IT?

I could go on forever about the many details… but I am too verbose as it is. So research your schools, make your decision, and follow instructions!

LAST CHANCE

The weather is warmer, the sun is setting later, and spring is on its way… and so is the First-Year Freshman Deadline! There are only a few days left.  So if you haven’t done so already, but would like to be considered for admissions for the Fall 2012 semester – Be sure to submit your application by the April 1st deadline.

What does that mean?

That means you must provide us will all necessary documents by the April 1st deadline including:

  • Completed Application Form
  • Application Fee
  • Official High School Transcript (or Official GED score Report)
  • Current grades (if you are in your senior year of high school)
  • Application Essay
  • Letter of Recommendation
  • Official SAT or ACT scores (if you graduated from High School in the past 3 years)
  • International Documentation*

*International applicants have an additional list of documents that they must provide. Please see the detailed information on our International Admissions Webpage.

Please remember to submit everything by our April 1st deadline, so that we can provide you with an application decision for the Fall 2012 semester. If you are looking for more details regarding the individual required documents, please visit our Undergraduate Admissions Website.

Good luck!

As many of you are sending in your final application documents, I would like to answer some of your many questions about the application review process, starting with the transcripts. So many high school students, and so many more parents, are always asking me about how we look at high school transcripts.

  • What year is most important?
  • What GPA do I need?
  • Do we care about Honors or Advanced Placement courses?
  • How important is the transcript in comparison to the other items in the application?

First of all, UMass Boston follows review guidelines established by the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education. Feel free to click on the link to see the detailed admissions standard guidelines.  Essentially, when we begin looking at your transcript, we look at all of your transcript (freshman, sophomore, junior, and at least the 1st quarter of your senior year grades).  All four years of your high school work is very important to us, and we will use all of it to calculate your GPA… so Senioritis is not acceptable! 

Calculate my GPA? But isn’t it already on my transcript?

Instead of looking at the GPA that is printed on your transcript, we go back to your individual grades in all of your core courses and calculate our own GPA using the four years of grades.  What are the core courses?

  • 4 years of English
  • 3 years of math
  • 3 years of science (two of them should include lab work)
  • 2 years of foreign language
  • 2 years of social science (including a Unite States History course)
  • 2 years of electives (which is any of the categories previously mentioned, arts, humanities, or computer science)

Now not all students have all of these core courses. Maybe you attend a vocational/technical school and don’t have the option of taking a foreign language. Maybe a learning disability got you waived from a course. Maybe you are studying English as a Second Language and do not need to  take another language.. Or maybe your high school is in Australia where United States history is not a course option.  There are exceptions to every rule–and we are certainly used to reviewing the exceptions.

Do you care about Honors and Advanced Placement Courses?

Yes! We care if you challenged yourself academically and we want to reward you for your hard work.  When we calculate your GPA we are converting it to a 4.0 scale (see the conversion chart available on the Board of Higher Education website). If you receive a B in a course, that is equivalent to a 3.0. If that course is an Honors course, we will bump up your 3.0 to a 3.5, if that course is an Advanced Placement (AP) course, we will bump your grade up one full point to a 4.0.  Our average high school graduate entering UMass Boston has a 3.0 GPA.

Now of course we care about all of your application, not just your GPA.  In fact we work on a sliding scale when comparing your SATs or ACTs.  Our average student coming into UMass Boston will have a 3.0GPA and a 1050 on the Math and Critical Reading portions of the SATs (which is equivalent to a 23 composite score on the ACT).  Now that is our average student. We certainly admit students who have GPAs lower than 3.0, but we are also looking for them to have SATs/ACTs that are higher than our average score to compensate.

We are also going to review your essay, letters of recommendation, and activity information. This helps to paint a picture of you–the applicant–so that we can better understand who you are, what you do with your time, and what you are capable of.

So keep working hard and keep those grades up, because we will be checking them soon!

 

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