The reality of getting into college today is a more complicated picture than it ever was. Kids today have a harder time standing out in a pool of equally smart, talented, and well-accomplished students. This can make the process of applying to college quite overwhelming.

“Compared to 20 years ago, today’s admission process is about much more than filling out an application,” says Elaine Carsley (Ph.D.), founder of Collegial Admissions, an advisory firm that helps students and their parents make sense of what’s required to be accepted to college. “The main focus for students should be about finding their personal theme, that is, something unique about themselves that sets them apart from others.”

Adds the Westmount resident and mother of two: “They need to think about who they are, and who they want to be. Developing this concept is half the battle. After this, they need to write their personal story in a way that gives the school insight about who they are, and what they can offer. It’s hard for someone that age, it’s a lot of pressure, and a lot of work, so I help them with that, and to bring out their best. This personal statement will go to every school they apply to.”

Carsley holds a BA in American History and Political Science from McGill University (2001), an MA in Public Policy and Public Administration from Concordia University (2004), and a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Political Communication from Carleton University (2012).

“The concept for Collegial Admissions began in 2012 when I was teaching at McGill and a student of mine approached me, asking for my advice to apply to grad school. I steered him through the process and then decided to do this for others as well. I am there for grade 11 students thinking about CEGEP, LCC grade 12 students thinking about going to school out of town, CEGEP students thinking about doing one year and then going to Ontario or the US, and anyone else who needs help with the large assortment of prompts, essays, deadlines, and requirements that make up an application.”

Carsley advises students to apply to at least 5 to 10 schools because you have to give yourself enough options. They should pick a region, and then pick the schools, or pick their area of interest, and then look for those schools.

“For those students not sure, I’ll point them in the direction of social science. As long as you have a work ethic and you’re willing to do what it takes to get into the school, we can do the work together. I want to keep the parents involved, and I like to speak to the students one on one as well. Their personal statement needs to be simple, but significant.”

To give yourself good perspective on the mania that surrounds the whole process, Carsley suggests reading the book, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania, by New York Times columnist Frank Bruni. She wants people to see that it is not always about the school you go to, and that going to an Ivy League School is not the only ticket to success.

“There are benefits to going away to school in the US since there are more choices and opportunity,” continues Carsley who teaches US politics at Concordia. “However, the major drawback is cost. American schools are approximately $50-60K USD tuition-and then you have to live.

“But it’s really a preference thing. Some students can afford to go away, but opt not to for various reasons, like for example, they want to want to be closer to family. US colleges are looking for grades, SAT/ACT scores, extracurriculars — like volunteering, sports, music, etc. — and then something nuanced and unique to the individual, which is reflected in the personal statement.”

Carsley recommends starting the application process as early as possible because once school starts, students get very busy. And since college applications are lengthy and can be confusing, it’s very important to give yourself time. This will help with the stress it can bring.

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