Tag Archives: college admissions

Alumni Speaker: Mike Bechtel ’94

Each year, Morgan Park Academy begins graduation season by celebrating seniors’ college choices on National College Decision Day on May 1. This year, we were joined by investor and entrepreneur Mike Bechtel ’94, who spoke to Upper School students about his college decision, his time in school, and how his MPA experience laid the foundation for future success.

Bechtel-sq2A transcript of his remarks:

I’ll tell you, senior year sitting down with the guidance counselor here at the Academy, I felt stuck.

I really felt stuck, because MPA, doing that thing that MPA does — MPA made me well-rounded. Whether you want to or not, you can’t help but come out of Morgan Park Academy being a Renaissance person. And I said, listen, I’m good at math and science, but I like reading and writing. What do I do? And I remember the advice in 1994 — I don’t know if it’s the same today — but at that time, the advice was to start in engineering because it’s easier to fall out of engineering than into it.

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Alumni Speaker: Jason Ervin ’92

Each year, Morgan Park Academy begins graduation season by celebrating seniors’ college choices on National College Decision Day on May 1. This year, we were joined by Chicago alderman Jason Ervin ’92, who spoke to Upper School students about how his MPA experience laid the foundation for future success.

ervin-sqA transcript of his remarks:

Diversity in this school was key. I’m a black kid who grew up on the South Side of Chicago … and fortunately for me, I was able to come to the Academy. I didn’t have to go through some of the struggles and challenges a lot of my neighbors had.

This was a diverse student body, a wealth of opportunities to give you the chance to do what you wanted to do. It gave you enough room to really kind of find yourself. I graduated in a class of 36 that looked like the rest of America — actually, that looked like the rest of the world — and that was very key as I left here to go to college at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale … [to study] business and accounting.

One thing that I will say is that you all have the excellent opportunity to change your mind about some things, but use this time as you get ready to go to college and as you finish up your high school careers to figure out, what is it that you like to do? What is it that you love? What is it that you’re passionate about? What is it you don’t like? Who is it you don’t like?

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Meeting the New Challenges of College Admissions

The college admissions process is constantly evolving. It is much different than it was 10 years ago, even a few years ago. Because of this, it is more important than ever to understand college admission trends, what influences them, and how best to prepare to apply to college.

Tanuja Rathi - Morgan Park AcademyThis year at MPA, we have improved our college counseling curriculum to keep pace with the ongoing demands of the college admission process and keep our students competitive in the applicant pool.

We already have begun to implement some exciting new changes. In eighth grade, we are beginning early college awareness through the use of NextTier College Counseling software. Students will receive assignments that parents and the college counselor can monitor as they progress.

College 102 is now a year-long college counseling class for juniors, while we have added College 103 as a fall semester class to help seniors complete the college application process. We plan to add College 100 and College 101 classes for freshmen and sophomores next year.

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Meet Our Staff: Tanuja Rathi

Tanuja Rathi - Morgan Park Academy

Please help us welcome our new Director of College Counseling, Tanuja Rathi!

Mrs. Rathi combines the business skills developed in her previous career as a management consultant with her experience as a college counselor for Chicago Scholars, where she helped underserved students with the college application process.

A member of the Illinois Association of College Counselors, the American College Counseling Association, and the National Association of College Counselors, she holds an MBA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and earned her college counseling certificate, with distinction, from UCLA.


Why did you choose to work at Morgan Park Academy?

I strongly believe in the MPA education and how it helps prepare students for the future. My husband and my two oldest daughters are MPA alumni and I have one more daughter who will graduate in 2018. I have seen the value of the MPA education and how it has prepared them for college and beyond. I am excited to be a part of this wonderful faculty.
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Upcoming College Fair at MPA

This year we will be holding our second annual Spring College Fair (open to the public) on Wednesday, April 19th from 2:15 to 4:15 pm. Last year, over forty colleges/universities participated and provided families with information about their schools and the college application process. While this was an evening event last year, to encourage attendance, we decided to hold part of the fair during the school day this year so our freshman, sophomores, and juniors could attend this event during last period. We invite parents and families to the fair once the school day is complete, starting at 3:00 pm.  

2017-spring-college-fairLike last year, we have over forty colleges/universities who have signed up to attend. Some out-of-state schools participating are: Claremont McKenna College, Drexel University, Emory University, Macalester College, Marquette University, Saint Louis University, Saint Mary’s College, Saint Olaf College, and University of Wisconsin. Some in-state schools are: DePaul University, Dominican University, Illinois Wesleyan, Loyola University, NIU, School of the Art Institute, SIUC/SIUE, and University of Chicago. We encourage all of our students and families to take full advantage of this event on campus.  

Many of our current and previous senior students have noted the importance of developing relationships with the college representatives who visit MPA or whom they meet on their college visits. Admissions representatives that visit are often a part of the admissions process, so developing connections with these individuals can be beneficial. Many students are able to reach out directly to the admissions representatives they meet with any questions they may have during the college application process. This guidance can be very helpful.

College fairs can additionally serve as a “one stop shop” to compare and contrast schools that a student may be interested in, prior to deciding which schools to visit. At a fair, don’t forget to prioritize the questions you would like to ask. Ask about the academic program you are interested in to assess your level of interest in the programs offered and the school. It is important to learn if the academic environment is what you are looking for as well. The school environment includes the size of the school, the type of school (a small liberal arts school, a large university, or an arts school, to name just a few), the average class size, teaching style, and the academic rigor of the school as well. Inquire about the admissions process; are there any tips the representative can offer that would improve your application? Find out about student life on campus. Always include discussions of financial aid and scholarships, internships, and support services following graduation.    

At this point, I am confident I have convinced you to attend the fair! I look forward to seeing you there.


By Karen Horvath

Mrs. Horvath is Morgan Park Academy’s College Counselor.

“Turning the Tide” – A Shift in College Admissions

Making Caring Common, a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, published a report called “Turning the Tide” in January, 2016 in an effort to ignite the process of what has been viewed as much-needed change in the college application review process. This report, which was developed from the feedback of admissions deans and leaders from top colleges, school counselors and principals, character education experts, and other educational organizations, identified three distinct goals. These goals included: increased ethical involvement and community service amongst student applicants, a decrease in elevated and excessive achievement pressure, and creating equality within the application process for economically disadvantaged students.

karenblogSimilar to the values of Morgan Park Academy, the report cited the need for significant and continued commitment to individual and group-based community service. Service-related endeavors should strengthen a student’s appreciation of diversity and enhance a student’s sense of civic responsibility. In this way, college admissions should acknowledge the necessity to place more emphasis on a student’s character. Personal investment and consistent commitment to service through which a student can demonstrate learning on an emotional and ethical level is important when a student is defining who they are to college admission committees.

Family contributions are a strongly suggested inquiry on college applications, as many students partake in family commitments and responsibilities that current applications do not have an area in which to properly note. Family obligations often consume the time of many adolescents, so the need to acknowledge students for their commitment to their families is important in terms of personal character. Social awareness, consideration, and contribution on a student’s behalf is highlighted as an added factor that is imperative to solicit. Rather than demonstrating bouts of service endeavors, a student should demonstrate regular commitment to social good.

In response to the need to decrease the stress and pressure associated with college applications, redefine achievement, and create equality in the process, the report elaborated on the importance of several factors. First, there should be a shift toward quality of extracurricular activities over quantity.  Similarly, a new emphasis on consistent commitment and success in academically challenging courses, such as AP/IB courses, in established subject areas. Therefore, individualizing a student’s course selection to cater to academic strengths and interests (but also to find a balance so as not to overload a student) should take precedence over the number of advanced courses a student takes. Honesty and authenticity on college applications should override “overcoaching.” Additionally, college admission offices should work to reduce the pressure associated with standardized tests scores. Finally, there is the need for not just college admissions officers, but college counselors and parents as well, to emphasize that there is an abundance of excellent colleges throughout the country that lead to student happiness and success, not just a select few.

As a college counselor, I feel that the recommendations listed by Making Caring Common are headed in the right direction. Although it will be a gradual process, the shift is necessary. Creating equality, encouraging elevated commitment to service and common good, and a pull from excessive academic achievement could decrease the anxiety associated with this process and allow students to further demonstrate their true selves. With the support of influential people within the college arena and collaborative efforts, some changes are currently being made on college applications in response to the cited recommendations.



By Karen Horvath

Mrs. Horvath is Morgan Park Academy’s College Counselor.

What Colleges Are Looking For: MPA College Counselor, Karen Horvath, Explains

A commonly asked question by students and parents alike is, “What are colleges looking for in an applicant?”  While most often there is no set formula or specific list that each college provides, there are common themes that are important to consider. Through the college application and supplemental materials, students are provided the opportunity to demonstrate their uniqueness, and to exhibit what they can contribute to that particular college campus. Karen Horvath

Colleges will view a student’s transcript (semester grades for each year within high school) and a student’s standardized test scores (ACT and/or SAT). Students should be able to demonstrate academic success in challenging courses. Students should challenge themselves as much as they can without causing their overall GPA to suffer. College admissions staff will look at grade trends and academic consistency. They may look for evidence of improvement if a student has exhibited academic deficiency early on.

A college application may require the submission of one or multiple essays, or a personal statement. Essay questions and topics can vary from college to college, but overall college admissions representatives want a student to exhibit his/her personality within the essay. Thus, students should write about a topic that is meaningful to them. If students have faced obstacles within their high school career, the essay may be an appropriate time to address those obstacles and reflect on the steps taken to overcome them.

Colleges also request letters of recommendation. Typically, this will include two teacher letters of recommendation and a letter of recommendation from the College Counselor. Letters of recommendation offer perspective on what a student is like from an external point of view.  Recommendations can touch on academic strengths, leadership, involvement, and personal qualities. It is important that students develop relationships with high school faculty during their high school career to insure the faculty member has adequate opportunity to get to know the student and provide a comprehensive letter.

Finally, and what is increasingly noted, colleges are looking for perspective on a student’s character. College admissions staff gain this perspective by asking for a description of extracurricular involvement, summer jobs/activities, and volunteer work/community service.  Within these areas, colleges will look for leadership, a sense of social responsibility, commitment, and special talents/abilities. It is important for students to be able to articulate what they have learned from each experience and why they chose to be a part of that particular activity.

Most often, colleges are assuming a holistic approach to admissions. They are looking for a well-rounded student who exhibits both academic success and involvement in school and community.  Students should demonstrate genuineness and honesty on college applications. They should try their best to let their true selves show.

By Karen Horvath

Mrs. Horvath is our College Counselor.