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Facebook Live Recap and Bonus Questions: Ask America's College Counselor (10.13.18)

In case you missed it, here's a recap of my recent Facebook Live Q&A, Ask America's College Counselor. During these rapid-fire sessions, I answer students' and parents' most pressing questions about the college admissions process—all in real time!

Keep reading for a list of some of the questions I answered and to watch the full video. And don't forget to scroll down for three BONUS questions that I didn't get a chance to answer live!

  • Are personal letters of recommendation from alumni on behalf of a student considered by admissions?
  • Subject tests: When do you take them? How many? Which ones are most important?
  • The Common App asks you to list AP exams you plan to take senior year. Should you list them? Does this mean you will need to submit the scores? Is it okay to only submit the scores where you did well?
  • My daughter participated in travel soccer and, unfortunately, had to quit her senior year due to financial reasons. Does it look bad that she didn't continue this activity all four years? If so, how does she explain in her application her reason why she didn't continue?
  • Can I modify my main essay on the Common App after I submitted it to Early Decision schools?
  • If you’re applying to highly selective schools, do you have to take high school physics? My daughter's interests are liberal arts/environmental studies. Not a future science major.
  • Can a Theory of Knowledge (TOK) teacher write one of my recommendation letters or should it be a teacher of a core subject? My TOK teacher has seen me grow, not just as a student but as a person as well.
  • I'm worried that California in-state colleges are so selective. How do you find colleges outside your state that are right for you?
  • How do you determine the number of hours per week for activities that have varied hours? 
  • In the "future plans" section of the Common App, what should I put when it asks for career interest and highest intended degree if I am applying undecided? Is it bad to say undecided for highest career?
  • Is it easy to transfer after the first year of undergrad between state universities in California, as long as it's the same major? Also, what about from out-of-state back to California?
  • Is there an advantage to applying Early Action vs. Regular Decision?
  • Do colleges really give college credits for AP exams?
  • How much weight is placed on supplemental essays? How detailed should they be?
  • My junior was invited to apply to an honors program at a competitive university to skip his senior year of high school. Do you have any thoughts on this?


1. When applying Early Decision, should my daughter include activities that she participates in during the last two quarters of high school (for example, spring track)?

Yes, project out and include even though she hasn't gotten to that season yet. If she has participated in spring track from 9th grade on, include 12th assuming she still plans to run in the spring.

2. Any tips on formatting your college essay in the Common App? Once it’s in there, should we indent and maybe even separate paragraphs?

No indentation necessary, and Common App doesn't allow it anyway. If you want to indent, you'd have to manually use the space bar for each paragraph. Not necessary. Yes, separate paragraphs so that it breaks up the essay a bit. Be careful with spacing. Look at the essay in both the edit form and the preview form to make sure spacing is correct in between paragraphs.

3. If a college has an optional essay as part of the application, should the student spend time writing one? What is the purpose of an optional essay?

I'd write the optional essay. Almost always. One of the only optional essays that is truly not necessary is the one about sexual orientation on Duke's supplement. If the student doesn't identify as LGBTQIA+, I think they can skip that one.