Launched Consulting Blog

Campus Tours: Finding Your Fit Factors

Campus tours can be the ultimate high-pressure vacation. On top of the dash to visit multiple schools over a hectic spring break--sometimes covering vast geographic regions, there is the fear that your family will come out of the fray just as bewildered as before. 

To help guide the tour into areas of deeper and sometimes surprising reflection, I like to give my students a scavenger hunt. This tool is ideally used in conjunction with the standard tour and information sessions but can also serve as a stand-alone tool when time is short or tour schedules don't accommodate your itinerary. It aims at generating the kinds of discoveries that not only help students gauge their fit factor, but also identify observations that can come in handy when they tackle those dreaded "Why Us" essays during the application process. 

A typical scavenger hunt looks something like this set of items below. Feel free to amend and add to these items as you craft your own goals and identify your priorities. 

1) What is the glue that holds this campus together? ( Intramural sports? Passion for activism and world events? Outdoor activities? Parties? Greek life? Academics? Clubs?) 

2) What is the thing students complain about the most?  

3) How do students, professors and clubs spread the word around campus about things going on, events, opportunities, etc.  For instance, how does a professor let students know he has an opportunity for a research position? Explore how well the campus communicates.  For instance, how does a professor let students know he has an opportunity for a research position? How does the student government let students know there is a debate on campus next Thursday night? How does the Outdoors Club let students know there will be a kayak trip in May?

 4) List 3 words to describe the students who are successful/happy here.

 5) Find 3 classes you would be interested in taking. List them here.

 6) List 3 events that were going on last weekend. Would you have wanted to attend any of them? 

 7) If you had to choose one item from the cafeteria to eat for lunch every day for a week, what would it be? 

 8) How much do they pay for on-campus jobs?  What types of jobs are available off-campus? Do most students work part-time? 

 9) What percentage of the students would you estimate wear the school swag?

10) Identify one place on campus you can see yourself studying. 

11) Name one opportunity on this campus that excites you. 

12) What would you do with your free time here?

13) What is the coolest story you have heard by student who is attending this school? (a job opportunity, travel, adventure, a new skill, a new contact, meeting a best friend and forming a club together, etc.)  

Have fun!

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You Can't Grow Taller But You Can Stand Straighter: The College Application

Imagine you walk into a job interview. You are met by an assistant who leads you directly over to a measuring stick.  “You are 5’6” the assistant says. “We don’t consider hiring anyone unless they are at least 5’8”.

Fortunately, most colleges in the U.S. use some degree of what higher education calls holistic review.  This means that colleges consider many different elements of the student’s profile as they evaluate the their candidacy for admission and institutional financial aid.

Each student is a complex mix of qualities, skills, values, and interests that have attached themselves to details, memories, events, and moments. By the time they are filling out their application, they have generated most of their raw material, except for first semester grades and maybe an additional test score.  So how does the student tease out the pieces that pack the most punch?  In other words, even if they can’t grow taller on their application, how can they maximize it to stand straighter?

The Common Application has spaces to record both information that is not in your control (we will call this part A) and those things that can be interpreted (we will call that part B). In part A you have demographics, GPA, class rank, test scores, and course rigor. In part B you have the additional information section, activities and honors list, letters of recommendation, demonstrated interest, and the college essays.  In some cases, schools will open the door even more to creativity and self-advocacy through offering an interview, or the opportunity to include a video or digital files of your best moments and achievements. Following are some student tips for making the most of their application. (Who wants to leave money on the table?)

For an application to help you stand up straighter, you need to know what you stand for in the first place.  Establish your own mission statement. What drives you? What would you fight for?  What motivates you to make the choices you do and pursue the goals you have. What motivated you to create those goals in the first place? These qualities that drive you are your values.  They are at the foundation of what makes you, you.  You may be motivated by success, humor, family, beauty, competence, or religion.  You may find meaning in social change, order, freedom, or autonomy.  You can find a list of values here.

Once you have identified your top 10-12 values, the best way to make sure the application is doing its job is to pause occasionally and do a values scan. Is your activities section simply a list of job titles and their dates, or can you use those 150 characters to tell admissions some specifics that you contributed to the club, activity, or job, or things you learned through your involvement? Use active verbs to describe your specific tasks and accomplishments and focus on the details that may prove a certain value you keep.  If you were a volunteer youth soccer coach, did you motivate team spirit, encourage the timid players, solve conflicts between players, research best practice methods? Each of these shows a value you live out uniquely, and will make your experience as a volunteer youth soccer coach different from the other applicants who have listed volunteer soccer coach on their activities section.

I include letters of recommendation in Part B.  I have found that the student can have an impact on the quality of the letter of recommendation by providing the teacher with ample time and ample relevant and personal information.  Decide which teachers you want to request from and ask them before the start of your senior year, to beat the rush when everyone else asking them.  Provide them with a questionnaire that you have filled out yourself, including things about yourself that you want them to know or remember. My students have questions they need to answer for the teacher that include: What's your current life dream? (Could be your ideal job, ideal environment, etc. Essentially, what/who do you want to be after college?) What do you love to do, learn or discuss outside the classroom? (This is also an opportunity to explain why you pursue the activities on your resume.) In which community (be it your friend group, your family, your team, club, etc.) have you made an impact? Tell me the story.  What are 5 words or phrases you would use to describe yourself?   Do you have a life philosophy? If so, what is it, and why did you adopt it?  These questions provide the student with a neutral platform to communicate their values to their teacher, who can then accordingly communicate these in their letter of recommendation.

 The additional information section is another overlooked opportunity to stand straighter.  Your transcript may show that you did not take AP Chem, even though you want to major in Earth Sciences.  What it doesn’t show is that your school, because of limited resources, dropped its AP Chem class and there was no other comparable class offered.  Your activities list may show an impressive commitment to wrestling through sophomore year but not junior year. It doesn’t show that your family needed you to take on the responsibility of picking up your little brother from daycare at the time of practices.  Your work experience may show you job shadowed in a assisted living center for a few months, but it doesn’t show that one summer you put together a reading list and initiated your own research project revolving around long term care and dementia. The additional information section, when used wisely, can transform apparent inconsistencies and moderate achievements into unique and admirable qualities, values, and victories they wouldn’t otherwise know about.

The college essays are the ultimate way to show what you are made of.  The personal statement allows 650 words to tell your story.  The angst lies in the question “What story will I tell?” Will I use overcoming a challenge to show what I am made of? Will I string together different moments in my life to illustrate many different sides of me?  I will be addressing the personal statement and supplements next month, so tune in (spoiler alert, you don’t always need to write about a challenge!)

The Common Application is rich with opportunities for students to communicate the skills, values, interests, and qualities that will make them an asset to colleges. There is no excuse to leave money on the table.  If you want personalized coaching in standing up straighter on your application, check out my “Essay and Application Package” 

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Scholarship Search Engines and the Quest to Fund College

The argument can generally be paraphrased as following:

Parent:  If you really want to go to X college, you can show us that you are responsible by applying for scholarships.  There are tons of scholarships out there. I heard that Y’s daughter paid most of her tuition by applying for scholarships.

Student: OK

That didn’t go too badly.  Until well into spring of senior year when you bring it up again.  The chances are your child will not have applied for scholarships.  And it’s not because they are showing you that they don’t really want to go to X college.  It is because the phrase “applying for scholarships” is terrifying and they hope it will go away if they ignore it.

To a student, scholarships are search-engine-fueled shots-in-the-dark that require a lot of work, yield little, and usually have no personal connection.  Write an essay about why it is important to wear seat belts in hopes of earning $500 towards a $40,000 tuition bill?  They would rather study for their AP World History exam.  And, in fact, maybe they should. Money awarded by the college itself for academic prowess can be exponentially greater than the culmination of multiple private scholarships.  So let’s examine the different avenues available to fund college (I did not include NCAA scholarships in this post!)

Federal and state scholarships: FASFA/CSS profile

Families of college bound students can fill out the FASFA, which provides the government with information, largely based on your tax return. Some more selective colleges will require an additional form called the CSS profile. The data is entered into a set formula that calculates how much money a family in your unique situation should be able to spare per year for college. Regardless of whether you agree with the number or not, this is the number that colleges use to determine your need-based aid.  The most selective colleges commit to meeting %100 of your need-based aid if you are accepted.  If your FASFA and CSS profile calculations state you can pay $6,500 a year for college, and you are accepted into Vanderbilt, you will pay $6,500 a year, instead of the $73,000 listed sticker price. As a general trend, the more selective the college, the more of your need-based aid they guarantee to meet. If you are high-achieving, medium to low-income student, you may be better off spending your time maximizing your academic rigor, rocking your AP exams, getting creative with your extracurricular time, and assembling a competitive application than looking at gathering money from search engine scholarships.

I recommend most families fill out the FASFA even if they do not think their family will qualify for federal aid. Access to the information provided especially by the CSS profile can be the venue for colleges to award their own tuition discounts or other financial help not disclosed to the public, as well as open the possibility for unsubsidized federal loans and work study opportunities that are otherwise not assessable to you. To get an idea of whether you qualify for aid before the FASFA opens up for seniors on October 1, you can fill out an estimator provided by

Institutional scholarships

Money awarded to the student directly from the college they will be attending is considered institutional aid.  Colleges award money to students based on their enrollment strategy, which means the amounts and criteria will change from year to year depending on how they decide they want to craft their incoming class.  Factors that drive colleges to offer students institutional aid include outstanding academics or leadership skills, sports involvements, a special talent, diversity (geographically, gender, race, socioeconomic), choice of major, and community service. The CSS profile, required by many selective schools, can also be a determinant.  The shifting enrollment needs of schools leave these factors somewhat unpredictable, but academic excellence and an application that shows engagement with the community can lead to considerable institutional aid. Consider applying to colleges where your academic profile falls in the top 25-50% of the applicant pool. The the chances for this money to come your way will increase.   

Prestigious National Scholarships

Some scholarships are prestigious and highly competitive, but the payback is awesome. If you have the time and ability to write, and are an exceptional student, it may be worth your time to give these a shot, as they are worth from $10,000 to full tuition.  Look into the criteria for the awards before investing your time; where the Coca Cola scholarship is strictly achievement based, the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship is for families with financial need.

Local scholarships

Local scholarships may provide the incentives of less competition and a personal connection that can't be matched by the scholarship search engines.  Although the awards tend to be smaller ($1000 or less) they are easily accessible through the high school, and often students can apply to multiple scholarships with one cover letter and one application, though some will require additional essays.  The pool of competitors is limited to your county or district, and you may find you are familiar with, or even connected to, some of the organizations offering the scholarships. I usually recommend that high school students seek out scholarships offered locally as early as their sophomore year.  You can search for local scholarships through your community foundation website, or google the keywords “scholarships”, your year in high school, and your home county or town.

Search engine scholarships and micro-scholarships

There are now so many search engines that it is almost as hard to choose your platform as it is to whittle down the vast number of scholarships. Some of my favorites are scholarships360, scholarshipowl,, and  It will only take about 15 minutes of doing this yourself to see how daunting this process is to most high school kids. But, if your student gets a kick out of the hunt and is self-motivated to apply to these sometimes creative and time-consuming scholarships, they can actually raise a big chunk of money for college.  The key is to understand how labor intensive this track is, and to be sensitive if they don’t dive into the search with enthusiasm.

Micro scholarships are small scholarship awarded in increments each time a student does well something that they are supposedly going to do well in the first place—a little bit for an A, a little more for an AP test, and a bit for being captain of the volleyball team. is the most well-known.  If your student is motivated to find and attend partner colleges, and stay on top of updating his achievements, then they may consider micro-scholarships as a way to chip away at the cost of attendance, but they are limited to attending the school who awards the scholarships in order to get the money for college.

Remember, your student is actually applying for scholarships every time they work hard to ace a test, to serve a community, to lead a team, to reach out in compassion to a friend, and to show up at a job on time.  This all translates into potential award money whether from private, institutional, or government sources.  The next trick is to make sure all that effort translates into their college applications.

(Join me next month as we talk about how to stand tall on your college application!)

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Bringing Joy Back Into Summer

Start a non-profit. Secure an independent research project. Work a job. Bond with family and friends. Enroll in summer programs. Travel. Show leadership. Volunteer. Pick up a new hobby. Master a new skill.

For aspiring high school students, summer is not the glorious sun-drenched, sleep-late, 8-week state of blissful boredom it was when I was growing up.

Summers have become another opportunity for students to pad their resume and prove they are well rounded, or pointy, or responsible or gritty—whatever the latest buzzword is in college admissions. How can your children put the joy back into summer while still responding to the unspoken requirements and expectations from their dream schools?

Here are 5 tips for students to help make their summertime both an investment into their future and rewarding for its own sake.  

1)      Reflect. Define your values and identify who you are before you decide what to do.  Colleges care more about why you are choosing what you invest in than how you achieve it. Take 20 minutes and write down three character traits that would make it into your own personal mission statement, then write out how you have lived that out.  For instance, if I choose autonomy, I may reference my love of being in the mountains, symbolizing freedom of thought and untethered possibility.  Get as creative as you want here!  Ultimately, making the connections between what is important to you at your core, and choices and interests you have already established, can be the beginning of writing your own story—one you will want to continue to fill in. A consistent and deliberate set of values can help not only ensure that what you are doing is in line with your true self, but it looks impressive to colleges too.

2)      Take the pressure down. Look at the less expensive and close-to-home options first. You don’t need to exhaust yourself with consuming travel and time commitments if you are energized by being with your friends and family, even as you challenge yourself with new opportunities. As the world begins to open up, it is tempting to revert back to the idea that colleges will be looking favorably on expensive or prestigious and selective summer programs.  Think instead of finding balance and taking smaller steps.  This does not mean consider only virtual, but it does mean taking the stigma away from local programs, internships and community college classes. The standards by which colleges gave out points during admissions will likely never be the same again. The holistic review, looking at the whole student instead of selecting credentials, was previously lip service with most admissions.  Now it is the life preserver that colleges need to trust in.  Your summer can shine just by finding your balance and making practical decisions.

3)      Collect data.  Take an aptitude test and measure your natural strengths along with your interests before making decisions. I run my students through YouScience, a set of scientifically assembled brain games that synthesize interests and aptitudes, and then dissects how those strengths and inclinations apply to their future careers and life satisfaction. Some aptitudes, this assessment asserts, are actually like appetites: if one doesn't find ways to incorporate that natural ability into daily life, it is hard to feel whole and happy.  Once students identify these appetites, they can target activities that will keep them engaged, happy and productive. (YouScience also automatically identifies career clusters and activities specific to each student’s assessment, so students are more likely to reach their potential and maximize their strengths).

4)      Research. Identify some colleges on your potential radar and get familiar with their requirements and wants that define their student body.  Until you find out for yourself from the school’s website or admissions staff, you are only guessing at what you think the college wants in an applicant.   You can’t please everyone, so having a preliminary list will help target priorities.  For instance, if you are applying to Universities in the United Kingdom or Canada, you won’t need a competitive extracurricular resume.  If you are applying to Georgetown, there are expectations of a full, vibrant activities list complete with evidence of diversity and political awareness. If your dream school is Rhode Island School of Design, consider taking the time to add content to your portfolio.  Read profiles in the Fiske guide, dig into the school’s social media platforms and connect with current students via social media or through emailing or calling the college directly and asking to speak with a current student.  Most colleges are set up to gladly accommodate.

5)      Journal.  Keep busy and choose to find satisfaction and pride in what you commit to do.   This is not just a state of mind-- it is discovering the words to describe your best qualities through the example of what you choose to invest yourself in.  (You will have the opportunity to do this when you write your college essays, so this is good practice!)  Whether you need to work full time this summer or choose to travel and bond with your family, make a list of how that experience is best supporting and developing your values, and then embrace your strengths and values with confidence.  Find the words and purpose behind what you do and write it down.  Remember, even if you aren’t experiencing your dream summer, it will pay off if you are deliberate about your choices, and aware of why you use your time the way you do.   

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Beyond Dreams: 3 Ways to Get Practical

I am not a fan of inspirational sayings.  But recently, I tried one out on my 6-year-old daughter.

Beautiful girl, you can do hard things.

I had seen this quote engraved on a bracelet-- it came across on a pop-up ad over Christmas and I almost bought it for this daughter of mine, who does not like to fail and avoids discomfort like the plague. I want so badly for her to learn how to be strong. 

But inspirational sayings, or anyone else’s stamp on life’s moments, will not be the agent of change we are looking for. My daughter is too engrossed in the pain and frustration of not mastering that spiral in her figure skating practice for those words to root.  Your teenager is too engrossed in his own high expectations for his AP exam results to notice the future you see.

I work with many parents who reveal to me their dreams for their children through the process of the college search. They want their kids to understand the reality of debt. They want their kids to realize that they are more than their boyfriends tell them they are. They want their kids to have the experience they themselves never had. The list is endless. And emotions run high.

The college conversation is often guided by these emotional threads. At best, wishes bounce briefly off our kids and are gone.  But there are tools that can initiate idea-shifting conversations.  These strategies can be inroads to reconciling the dance between your dreams and your kid’s dreams.   

1) Generate facts and figures: (i.e “The data says that 83% of six-year-olds will master their spiral within one year if they practice three times a week”--hypothetical statistic).

Data is the most effective way to get perspective in an emotionally charged subject.  Instead of, “You have no idea how much $30,000 of debt really is” show them a calculator or an estimated cost of living tool that will help them break it down. Imagine a starting salary in a real location, figure in rent or mortgage, insurances, groceries, (do you want a dog?) Factor the costs of her adult dreams into the equation and see how much she will need per month to make that a reality. Regardless of the outcome, you have a discussion based on concrete goals, not emotion.

2) Seek out testimony: (i.e “Let’s talk to this professional figure skater and have her tell you her story about mastering the spiral.”)

Have your teen interview someone who has been faced with the issue at hand and resolved it.  What did they choose to do? Did they regret it? Do they have any words of wisdom? Instead of “It doesn’t make any sense for you to be a theater major these days--what in the world are you going to do with that?”, seek out some real-world advice and leave yourself out of the interview.  Now your teen is empowered to think through the factors involved in that choice without confrontation.

3) Self-reflection and the big picture: (i.e “Take some time and figure out how mastering the spiral fits into your goals and values.”)

Have your teen do some self-reflecting on what matters to them and what drives them and write down an actual mission statement for their lives.  I point out to my students that all colleges spend time crafting their own mission statement, so the same should go for each student.   What do they stand for?  What legacy do they want to leave behind?  Then ask them to write down or state how this goal of theirs fits into these values and their mission.  Whether it synchs or not, you can now have a discussion that is about the forest and not the trees.

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(Not) Changing It Up: The College Essay

Covid or no Covid, it is essay season for rising seniors. Testing or no testing, it is essay season for rising seniors. Binging on Fortnite, or binging on on-line summer school, it is essay season for rising seniors.

Any rising senior applying through the Common Application, University of California, Apply Texas, Coalition, and most institutional application platforms will be required to submit a personal statement. 

You are a rising senior who has just had his world turned upside down by crisis and turmoil.  What in the world do you write about, if not the incredible chances you had to prove yourself this year, but were thwarted?

To ease your conscious, there is a place to write about Covid-19 on the Common Application. 

When the virus had reached its tipping point and students were learning that their lives were no longer going to allow them to personally engage in their passions, admissions representatives were excited to encourage students to write about the impact of Covid in their essays. As time went on, admissions representatives realized that everyone was impacted, but the consequences varied wildly.  The students applying to colleges would largely fall into 3 categories: 1) this virus has made me grumpy and I didn’t get to do the things I expected to do, and my grades and class rank/test scores all suffered some, but other than that things have been ok. 2) this pandemic shook my world apart—I experienced severe hardship and I am totally different because of it, and 3) this lock-down was a time of growth—I learned so much about myself, and I am better because of it.

To maximize the insight that the essay has traditionally stood for, Common Application decided to include an optional 250 word essay on how Covid has influenced your life. This additional and optional space allows students to qualify difficulties and exemplify accomplishments related specifically to the change that Covid has brought to their lives. To clarify the focal point of insight over experience, in context of this crazy time, the Coalition Application has decided to list some options for students to check, and then an optional space to say more if it is needed. 

The reason for the format is to maximize the opportunity for students to really show their character, not to minimize the pain and impact of the chaos.  Your mettle has been taking shape long before March 2020.  I love the essay.  It doesn’t seem to change, because the search for integrity never goes away.

The message from admissions representatives is: This is hard. But our mission is the same. We still want to hear about what makes you a great part of our community. Why should we be excited to have you in our community for 4 years? Are you committed? Creative? Adventurous? Confident? If Covid has shown you that you have mettle you never knew about, you can definitely use it for your personal statement.  If it has somewhat impacted your goals for your extracurricular activities and your grades, but was not unusual, use the Covid question for that, and use the personal statement to show them your true mettle. If you were just irritated with it, you can feel free to skip the topic altogether and it won't be held against you. 

If you had 30 seconds with the admission representative of you dream school, what would you tell them to convince them that you would be an asset to their community? These admissions representatives are proud of their school.  You can be proud of yourself.  You can’t grow taller, but you can stand straighter. The essay isn’t really a question, it is an opportunity.

Here are some tips for standing as straight as you can in your essay:

1) List three character traits you are proud of, i.e determination, kindness, compassion, commitment

2) Pick one and describe a time you showed this characteristic

3) Write down the “Why does it matter” or “So what” part and focus on that, not the experience. Ask, could this [revelation, change, character trait] have taken place in my grandma’s front yard?” Is this about the experience or about me?

4) Generate content first: write like you would write in a diary.  For your first draft, don’t worry about a hook or structure or paragraph break or conclusion. 

5) Pick a topic that is easy to express. If you are too close to it and it is too painful, or you haven’t processed what it actually means to you as an emerging adult, it may be too difficult. There are many good avenues to showcase your qualities, so there is no need to choose something that endangers your own health just because it sounds unique or risky.  Ask yourself, “If someone told me to cut certain parts or change certain content, would I be able to take this constructive criticism?” If not, you may be too close to it!

Whether or not you choose to write about Covid, and whatever avenue you choose to let admissions know how you are weathering the storm, the essay is always a reflection on your values and your character.  Focus on the positive, be wise, and stand tall, so you are the straightest you you can be.

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The Quest for Unrequited Love

Love hurts.  Especially when the one you love is untouchable or doesn’t love you back. 

Young love now has so many choices. It just wouldn’t make sense to court a partner in a circle that can’t possibly work. We know that the best partner is the one who loves us back and makes love easy.  We avoid matches where the cultural, societal, or familial barriers will make life harder than we can bear.

But when it comes to college, we just can’t seem to let go of the “dream school” template.  Students and families by the truckload are still courting colleges that they will never be able to afford, or ones where admittance is a shot in the dark.  And we imagine that there is some way it may work, despite the promise of immense debts and the perpetual struggle to keep up. 

How then can we begin to counter this strange determination to hold tight to unrequited love? 

1)  Have a good college money talk. “Parents and children should have frank family talks early and often”, states the much distributed article Having the College Money Talk  “Parents should be honest about how much they have saved and can afford. They should ask their college-bound son or daughter to think about his or her ambitions and expectations, and to be realistic about how much they are willing to shoulder when it comes to debt.

With an action plan in place early, families can weigh their options rationally at the moment when acceptance letters and student aid offers are on the kitchen table.”

2) Find alternative rankings and read up. US News and World Report has it’s place, but it has also contributed to the undue pressure to seek out the names over the best fit school. Instead of rankings, try some resources that give you a more holistic glimpse, like Fiske Guide to CollegesColleges that Change lives, and College Consensus : 50 Underrated Colleges Doing Great Things.  Have fun and view some reality videos produced by college students through Campus Reel

3) Visit some colleges that fit your limitations and potentials. Visiting campus is energy intense and students will often fall in love school after a good campus tour. Before you decide where to visit, make sure you are willing to see it as a possibility.

4) Don’t emphasize colleges that are out of your league—academically and financially.  Focus on loving and attaching to those colleges that won’t put you into outrageous debt or academic anguish. 

5) View your likelihood of admittance. One of my favorite sites to calculate your chances in relation to the school’s academic profile is College Data.

6) Study financial aid charts. One of the most complete and simple charts are courtesy of BigJ consulting and can be accessed here.  This amazing chart allows you to see how much of what type of aid each school typically rewards and decide quickly if it will be in your ballpark.  

As you consider your suitors, your path to happiness lies in finding one or two colleges that you can afford, that you can get into, and that you like. Then find all the reasons you can to love that school.  Get attached to the idea that you will be happy here and discover all the opportunities that this school has to offer. Then fill in with your dream schools and the big names.  From here, any surprises will only exceed your expectations. 

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Colleges' Buddy System

Congratulations parents!!! You are confident that the maturity level of your children will launch them into college as well-prepared as the other hundreds of thousands of teens who will make it through college alive. 

On the other hand, you aren’t sure if they really understand how different college is from high school.  They don’t understand that they are on their own in a world full of rough obstacles and tough problems.  They need to be able to fight their own fight and advocate for themselves and figure out solutions on their own.

 Or do they?

Good news!  Did you know that there are vast resources available to the college student once they get to campus?  “Few issues are more important to colleges – all types of colleges – than student success. And increasingly, colleges realize that.” states an Inside Higher Ed study from September 2019.  This is no small task, as the stuff life throws our kids’ way is unlimited.  But most of the obstacles fit into themes that colleges have seen before, and they have put into place resources to help their students get through them. They are not in this alone!

Here are just some of the most common bumps, and the resources colleges have provided to get them through.

Inadequate Concept of the Meaning of work:

Colleges are structured to inspire learning.  Most have vast, free networks of peer and tutor-based incentives, and physical areas where students are exposed to upper class-men who have successfully navigated the more intense study skills necessary to succeed.  Dorms, cafeterias, and even coffee shops are laid out to maximize study spaces. Professors hold mandatory office hours.  Study groups abound. 

Importance of Other Activities:

Colleges are aware of how time management is directly related to academic success, so prioritizing and assessing extracurricular and work activities is part of the academic adviser's role.  Many colleges have academic Skills Centers that will talk you through the realities of “packing it all in”.  At the beginning of each year, inform your adviser of all the things you want to do, and how much down time and unstructured hang-out time you need to be happy, and work it into a master plan.

Need for Goals and Direction:

Community Colleges to the Private Elite recognize the crucial role of the academic advisor, but some schools take it to the next level, providing multiple accesses for students to plan their course, keep motivated, and stay on track to graduate.  For instance, Butler University describes their commitment as “an educational process in which Butler faculty and staff partner with students to inform them of opportunities, work toward academic success, and outline steps for students’ achieving their academic, career, and personal goals”.  Most colleges have centers for career guidance,  and emphasize and internship placement and career fairs for intensive exploration.

Not Adequately Taking Responsibility:

Learning Centered Syllabus’s are implemented in some colleges to encourage accountability and commitment to expectations. Some colleges even provide contracts between faculty and students.  Next time the dog eats your homework, you still must produce the results on time. 

Look for colleges who implement high impact learning “High-impact practices -- which include project-based learning, community-based learning and undergraduate research -- have several features in common. They promote active engagement, requiring students to spend considerable time on task. They involve collaboration, both in and out of classroom settings. Students are asked to take responsibility for their learning, while faculty members assume coaching and mentoring roles”

Psychological Issues and Substance Abuse:

Here is where more colleges than ever are shining.  The extent of free counseling coupled with mature peer relationships (the upper class-men Resident Advisers who live in your dorm, for instance) has become standard. Some colleges even have faculty who share the dorm—like a house parent who knows both your academic and personal side.  If your student has the skills to ask for help, most likely the help is there.

Choice of the Wrong Major/Wrong College: 

Wrong majors may seem like a disaster, but colleges can guide your student into maximizing their credits and changing course. Spring break credit classes, summer semesters and on-line classes can make up time. 

As for choosing the wrong college, most colleges offer some transfer guidance but doing the footwork and finding a college that inspires and has the resource you need to succeed is by far the best advice.  So, get researching and feel free to contact me with any questions!

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Sticker Charts and Artists’ Canvases

Sometimes I just feel like a grown up with a sticker chart.  If I make the kid’s lunch the night before, then I have time for a cup of coffee in the morning. If I put in overtime, then I get more clients.  If I work out at the gym four days a week, then my jeans should still fit. But nothing is guaranteed, and to be honest, sometimes my incentives sometimes just don’t inspire. Then I need to up the ante, from stickers to chocolate. Yup. A grown-up sticker-chart life.

But imagine if our life was more like an artist with a blank canvas.  Each morning would be approached with curiosity, possibility, and inspiration.  Instead of checking off tasks in hopes of some reward, each day would itself be the reward—a creation of our own to look forward to and take credit for.

As a college planner, I believe that success is contingent to whether college is more like a kid-with-a-sticker-chart experience, or an artist-with-a-canvas experience.  “If I graduate, then I can get a job” may only take a student so far.  Just getting into college to meet society’s expectations may not continue to inspire.  An opportunity does not lead to completion.

But what if the student is immersed into a canvas that they can’t wait to get their hands on?  One that they can shape and layer and use to control their destinies.  One that asks them to be creative and recognizes all the possibilities. Does this sound a little Over the Rainbow?

Students who have reflected on what they need to be inspired and happy are more likely to find their experience in college like a blank canvas.  Unfortunately, self-reflection is not a strong point for most high school students.  When I ask a 15-year-old, “How do you like to spend your free time?” I do not hear anything that involves being aware of his own strengths, needs and feelings. When I begin the essay process with my juniors, it is often the first time they have written anything in the first person. The questions are baffling: Who are you?  What do you value?  What makes your heart beat a little faster?  What would you get up in the morning one hour earlier to do or to see?

The seasoned expert of college planning, *Steve Antonoff, was asked, “If you, as a student, had only one hour to develop the criteria for your college list, what is the highest impact way you would spend that hour?”  His answer?  Go up to the top of a mountain and think about who you are and what you need and want to thrive and to be inspired.  Not, “read the US News and World Report rankings”.  Not, “call the most experienced college counselor and set up a coffee date”.  But, get alone and get in touch with your own unique set of goals, strengths, and desires.

Once students begin to identify their values and visions, the process of finding colleges that inspire becomes its own reward and incentive.  One website mentions, “Reflecting helps you to develop your skills and review their effectiveness, rather than just carry on doing things as you have always done them. It is about questioning, in a positive way, what you do and why you do it and then deciding whether there is a better, or more efficient, way of doing it in the future.” This control that the student has over their future is often the difference between a 6-year slog to an undergrad degree, and a dynamic investment into independence and identity.  

Not all students will reflect with a capital “R”.  Some will dig in and get deep.  But with the right guidance, intuition, and interpretation, there is no substitute for some good, old-fashioned look in the mirror. Maybe it’s not so Over the Rainbow after all.  

*Steve Antonoff is author of the books“ College Match” and ‘The College Finder”, and has his amazing worksheets for self-reflection are downloadable for free on his website

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This Ain’t Disney: The World of Admissions

əd-ˈmi-shən noun; The Mysterious World That Controls Student’s Destinies.

Ok, really--the definition of “admission” from Webster: The act or process of accepting someone as a student at a school; the fact of being accepted as a student at a school

Not too stressful if you define it that way. No mystery or power. But what the heck is that "process"? 

In the admissions world, "process" is "enrollment management strategy". It is the act of picking and choosing your collateral so you can run a successful business.  The collateral in this case is the students who are most likely to bring back a return to the school, whether in direct tuition, or future prestige.  

According to Wiki, "A typical admission staff at a college includes a dean or vice president for admission or enrollment management, middle-level managers or assistant directors, admission officers, and administrative support staff. The chief enrollment management officer is sometimes the highest-paid position in the department, earning $121,000 on average in 2010, while admissions officers average only $35,000, according to one estimate." These admissions officers are often young aspiring grads who need an entry-level job as they move towards something else. They are also the ones who read your applications.

“Take a car dealership, for example:” states a blog from Northeastern University, “Its marketing department develops an advertising strategy to drive consumers to the showroom, where a salesperson takes over the actual function of selling a car to the customer. It’s no different in higher’s the admissions counselors’ job to use [their enrollment management] tools to travel to high schools and college fairs and follow-up on generated leads for the purpose of selling the university to students.

Putting it together, if the enrollment strategist earns over 3 times what the young admissions officer does, it is no wonder that more than half of admissions counselors say they plan to seek a new career opportunity within two or three years. In the meantime, both the admissions counselors (who have a personal insight to your academic potential and character), and the enrollment strategists (who crunch the numbers), work together as best they can to recruit the best possible class for their school.  As far as I can gather, it is kind of like car sales but kind of like “Bachelorette”, rolled into one.

These are the forces that shape your students process called "college admission".  It is all but objective.

So, what?

So, as your family launches into the college process, you will want to know all you can about the individual college’s enrollment and financial goals (and stability), admission plans (like early action and early decision) and vision for their schools. Finding a school that you love and are qualified for won’t always cut it. Remember, your future yea or nay is based on both the assessment of an admissions reader (young mother drinking coffee and balancing her laptop on her knees between soccer games scanning your activities list and essay), and the top executive who runs the university’s multi-million-dollar budget by crunching data trends. No, it isn’t random, but it isn’t exactly science either.  Or fair.

But let’s define fair, you might say. Once you start down that road, you enter the world of the child’s Disney channel. Colleges don’t try to be unfair. There are huge incentives that colleges take seriously to give our young people the best chance possible to succeed, from the privileged white male to the first gen immigrant.  The problem is not mainly discrimination, but life: the cumulative coffee spills on the laptop while in between soccer games are in play, just as well as the institutional goals.  It is our system.  It isn’t perfect. It isn’t even fair.  But it’s the one we play in. So, learn the rule-book and then take your shot.  

For help with the rule-book, or for questions about the admissions process, you can contact me through my website. Or check out all my resources at

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Tips for Researching Colleges: Avoiding the Swiss Cheese Syndrome.

"Hey MOM! Did you know that daddy long legs are the most poisonous spider on the WHOLE EARTH, and they kill gophers, but they don't hurt us, so that means they are nice."

I was pondering the gopher part for a second, and then for the 50th time today, I did my profound "Ummm--uh-huhh". 

I am used to my 7-year-old’s Swiss Cheese theories.  Information, extrapolation, conclusion. Unfortunately, the conclusions often have a lot of holes in them. 

I figure someday he may realize that the reason daddy long legs spare our lives is not because they are nice. And I don't think they kill gophers (I didn't bother looking this one up on Google, but you can if you want), but I'm not too worried.  It likely won't change his life choices.

When it comes to researching colleges, we largely use the same basic process.  Information, extrapolation, conclusion.  But the stakes are much higher, and it is likely to change your life choices! Using a range of sources that challenge emotional, physical, and logical skills is the best way to ensure you have the most complete picture possible

Below are 5 tips to help you avoid the Swiss Cheese syndrome when researching colleges:

1) Do not use student reviews as your main or first reference.  It’s tempting to think that reading enough reviews from real life students on-line will help clarify if it is a good school or not.  Unfortunately, just like in the reviews of appliances or anything else, there are so many variables. An isolated bad or good experience, a rained out Frisbee game, a new boyfriend, a bad mark on a test. But even more importantly, unlike a toaster, a good school is all relative to the context of the student.  Each student is unique, and each school is uniquely suited to a set of needs and wants.  Student reviews are basically opinions without a context. They can help guide red flags or expectations, but they should be a small piece of the research, backed up with more solid resources. Such as the ones below.  

2) Do use a variety of resources put out by the college itself, including its website, admissions blogs, student run publications, and college sponsored videos. At the danger of being immediately boring, most college websites have included links to virtual tours, videos of fun stuff, and highlights of their best programs and results. But don’t forget to check out their mission statements, research opportunities, and alumni pages. Many have admissions blogs that give valuable insight not only into their school and the process of thinking about and applying to college.  Take the time to read about what former students have done, what majors are offered, and what clubs are active.  Check out photos of the dorms and the dining halls and do some research on the surrounding town.    

3) Do tour colleges. Even if they are not on your radar. There is no substitute for asking lots of questions to the people right there on campus.  Touring different types of campuses; for instance, a community college, a smaller private college, and a large state university, will introduce your student to the reality of college life, and will give her a platform from which to judge her other possibilities.  What is a Student Center and why is it important? What is a quad and what happens there?  How small is a dorm room? How does information spread?  Without a basic understanding of what a college campus is and how it functions, her analysis of any other colleges she explores with non-travel resources will be full of holes!

4) Do talk to students and admissions counselors. Unlike student reviews online, talking to students and administrators who are on campus personally (or by phone) is a great way to get answers. If I am going in as a student of a minority faith, I can request to talk to a student who has navigated that situation.  If I want to know how stressful it is to play a varsity sport and major in psychology at the same time, I can ask to speak to a student who is trying it out.  If I want to know what kind of students are happy here, I can talk to an admissions counselor to hear firsthand.  I often ask students what their biggest pet peeve is.  I will always remember the answer I got once: “The single-ply toilet paper in the dorm bathrooms”. I figured if that was the worst they could come up with, it was a pretty good school.  And I extrapolated that the students had a sense of humor!

5) Do use publications such as the Fiske guide, The College Finder, Colleges that Change Lives, and Rugg’s Recommendations on the Colleges. You can amend them with websites like, but keep the big search engines in perspective.  They can be overwhelming and suck tons of time from more constructive ways to find your information.  

Finally, if you want someone to help guide your family into solid, accurate information about researching colleges and building your college list, give me a call or contact me at  I will be glad to visit with you!

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Is College Worth It? My Washing Machine Theory

I have learned the hard way that if I even have a meager budget, I will no longer pick up that washing machine with the "free" sign on it that sits outside someone's yard.  I did that once.  The energy I spent hauling it home, putting it together, and agonizing over how to make it do its job, was not worth it.  No matter how free it was.

I have a habit (that I am trying to break) of succumbing to a bargain.  Countless little things of lousy quality, or things I never really needed. And unfortunately, some bigger things where the stakes were higher.  It is easy to associate a low price-tag with low risk, and likely less regret.

I have heard families say they won't send their child to college unless it is free.  Or really, really cheap.  The good news is, in fact, if your family lives in poverty, that premise is realistic.  There is a good chance if your child works hard, is involved, and prepares, he may go for free, or at least get a great bargain.  There are more than 20 full need-met colleges out there, and about 40 more that hit the 95% mark! 

But what if you are in the middle: that dreaded zone of "Have-Need-But-Not-Enough-Help"? 

Let’s look at college a different way and explore how a college succeeds.  Colleges need successful students.  They have invested in your student as collateral that they hope will pay them back when they graduate.  And they have a deep interest in your return on your investment.  In other words, a good college will meet some (hopefully most) of your need, and balance that with abundantly providing your student with resources to make their future worthwhile and successful.

Weighing the price tag, the debt, and the potential for your child to thrive and find a career that pays back is always nail-biting tough.  But *doing your homework and researching a wide range of colleges with financial aid profiles will reveal choices that may surprise you.  And finding the right fit, where your child is inspired and engaged, is a major part of the equation. 

So, instead of distastefully acknowledging colleges as businesses wanting to exploit your resources, who see students as Revenue Producing Units, we could instead see them as business partners who need our kids to thrive as much as our kids need the colleges.

And instead of seeing the college search as a bargain hunt, it may be intriguing to see it as a hunt for that symbiosis: where each thrives on the other and depends on the other for their health.  A healthy college match where your child is immersed in the resources will boost the chances that you will see a very healthy return on your investment.

I know there are so many stories of disappointment and even anger from families whose college experience has not met their expectations.  There is valid fear that precious resources will be wasted.  But for a family who is wondering "Is college worth it?", the answer depends on the symbiosis. And the biggest bargain may still disappoint.

*For resources to help you clarify the financial aid process, please visit my Facebook page   The whole month of April is devoted to sharing the best resources out there to help you make the best decisions possible! 

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Three Secrets to an Intentional Summer

Bite your tongue for the tenth time today.  It's only mid-June and your lovely sophomore is glued to her Instagram and pacing the yard drinking a smoothie.  You know, (though no one has really confirmed it), that other parents have kids who are going to some STEM program offered by a real college, and some parents have kids who are volunteering to translate Spanish to doctors on medical missions in Guatemala, and some have kids who are at least reading the latest respectable non-fiction and listening to Ted talks.  Shouldn't our teen dig in and start acting like an adult with a purpose?

But what about the fleeting golden days of freedom that summer brings?  Shouldn't our teen hang on to those blissful opportunities to rest and enjoy being a kid? 

Yes, and yes.  How does that work? I have three secrets that may help it come together.

Here's my first secret:  Choosing your goals is more important than choosing the activity. An intentional summer is extremely personal.  Hypothetically, if your teen is super stressed-out after the school year, and the goal of the summer is to regain some sanity and learn how to enjoy unstructured free time, then pacing the yard with a smoothie may be a valid summer activity--for a while.  When it ceases to accomplish an intentional goal, it is a waste of your teen’s time and hindering her chances to become a vibrant and interesting candidate on a resume. Conversely, if your teen decides to ramrod a bunch of impressive looking activities into the summer, without thought of how they compliment or sync with his true goals, it may be just as much of a waste of time. So, talk about the goals first, and not the activities.  Note also that most college applications, including the Common Application, have a place called “additional information” section, where you can explain candidly why you chose to spend a summer the way you did. So, whatever you do choose, be intentional and have good, clear proof that it was accomplishing a goal. 

Here's my second secret:  There is no formula for how to spend the summer that will ensure you are going to get into any college. Most colleges want to know that the student they are recruiting is going to round out their student body.  Each school is looking for something different, and it just may or may not be what you have.  If you don’t have it, you probably aren’t going to make it into that school no matter how you spend you summer.  If you fake it by trying to construct a summer to impress, you may end up in a school that is not a natural fit for you and you will spend the next 4 years trying to construct and impress.  Which is a recipe for failure.  Reading admissions blogs, college mission statements and reviews, and visiting campuses are great ways to find out what a college is about. But it may be more important to find out what YOU are about first.  And then be the best at that you can be. 

Here’s my third secret.  Working a job, going on a mission, and attending an academic camp at an Ivy League hosted college carry the same weight on a college application.  Because, once again, it is all in context of goal and motivation.  If you are deciding between hanging out with friends while working a local job, or attending a leadership conference across the county, neither one on it’s own is going to impress an admissions counselor.  But if you have never worked before and you decide to take on a mundane job and do it really well, that may raise an eyebrow. Or if you choose the leadership conference because you will be the first one in your family to leave your home state and see another part of the country, that says something about your character. 

Set your goals, focus on discovering what makes you taller, and then do it for a reason.  And enjoy those smoothies while you're at it.   

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Making High School Count: Identity Crisis or Identity Capital

Let’s face it--for students, high school is fast and furious, and if they can get through the week without forgetting a test and ticking off their girlfriend, they have achieved success.  It is easy to watch the awesome amount of energy that these kids expend on just "getting through” and resign to leave them alone.  They have enough on their plates, and your guidance is often less than appreciated.

The reality is, the years we conscript to high school are also the training ground towards adulthood. And It's pretty hard to suddenly convince the adult world that you are ready to be of value to them if you have a resume at graduation that only consists of things like having the same boyfriend for 8 months straight, getting in at least 2 showers a week, and holding down a part time job for the summer (that your cousin helped you get).

High school can and should be deliberate, a time to build what has been termed "identity capital".  Identity capital is defined as doing things that add value to who you are and doing things that are an investment into who you want to be next. That seems like a super-practical, fantastic idea to us adults, of course: build that resume, begin to shape your goals, find some backbone. But for high school students, this suggestion of getting identity capital isn't immediately clear or practical, especially when they are in the middle of their own identity crisis.  Drama and hormones run a lot of the show, and immediacy trumps "character building".

How do parents help their students buy into the theory that high school counts?   I have compiled 5 ideas that I think may help you help your teen get some identity capital.

1) ASPIRE. Have a planned discussion where together you list goals that can’t suddenly be achieved once senior year comes.  Building relationships with teachers over the years to get those stand-out recommendation letters, for example. Or developing solid study skills to master that ACT or developing a resume which displays integrity and commitment that he and his dream colleges are proud to claim.  AND THEN...

2) HOLD BACK. Establish "nagging boundaries" early on.  Decide together what your expectations are for grades, household responsibilities, jobs, college readiness, etc. and then ONLY nag within the agreed-upon times and violations.  When your daughter is chilling in front of the TV after a long day, this is not the time to let loose with a sarcastic comment about finding something constructive to do. 

3) EMPOWER. Decide within yourself what to entrust to your student.  Do an honest assessment of your own child and empower him wherever you can. Then you can choose your battles wisely and let natural consequences take over at other times.  Maybe you enforce the value of community service, but you let them choose how and what to be involved in.  Or you guide the academic choices but let them choose their extracurricular activities. 

4) GUIDE.  Encourage friendships and activities that are heavy with motivated peers.  We all know you can't and shouldn't choose your child’s friends or activities, but early on we can encourage good solid relationships and have discussions about toxic ones.  "The drive to be popular is probably the core value of most adolescents—and they often simply don’t realize what shaky ground they’re standing on when they take on that value." points out one article from So, if success for your teen means being the best bum in a recalcitrant group, no nagging will convince her that it is cool to build that identity capital. 

5) COMMUNICATE.  Find a timeline that you all can agree on as a family (I have one listed on my website) and touch base once a month at an agreed-upon meeting time to re-assess where you are in the process.  Use this time to be an active listener and ask about things like goals and dreams and obstacles that may be causing problems. 


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A Little Pushy: When it’s time to leave the comfort zone

My 4-year-old daughter is enamored by her new little friend.  This 18" beauty has dark hair, dark eyes, and olive skin, just like her.  She loves tea parties and reads the same books and builds castles with blocks, just like her.  And they have identical outfits.  To Charlotte, this is a perfect match.

In high school, we still want to hang with those who are like ourselves, as the world around us swirls with hormones and expectations and uncertainties.  Finding others like us is a way to know, at best, that we are on the right track, and at least, that we aren’t totally weird. 

By college though, the goals have shifted.  A 19-year-old who is ready for college is also certainly ready for a little push outside of their comfort zone.  But how much of a push?  And in what areas?  Do you want a little push academically but a big challenge socially?  Do you want big exposures to life paradigms, or little nudges towards new hobbies?  Are you ready for broad new vistas and a brand-new book, or small snapshots—more of a chapter in your novel?  And how can you find that still all-important, comfortable tribe in the middle of all this pushing?   Seeking the level of stimulation for each unique student is a voyage in introspection, transparency, and solid guidance.

The traditional qualities that families are told to consider when seeking a great college match such as size, location, financial aid, and academic environment, are great starting points to the conversation.  If it is well known that cold weather is just miserable for Betty, it makes sense to rule out upstate New York or Minnesota.  But sometimes the magical equation comes only through the insight of an intuitive family member, friend, or professional--someone who can glean and communicate back the environments that stimulate growth and well-being.   Do you need personal space? Do you like spontaneity?  Can you juggle the stress of many kids changing and double majoring? 

Families who are exploring can do several things to facilitate painting your picture of your own great college match. 

1) Buy the  Fiske Guide to Colleges  or other college guidebook. Browsing through these humongous books can initially make families aware of the vast differences between colleges, and ultimately help narrow down colleges that make the list.   

2) Buy the book College Match  by Steven Antonoff, or go to the website and download (and complete) his free worksheets. Find a friend, or trusted adult to discuss the results with.

3) Students should take academics and activities seriously! A competitive resume in high school often allows for wider options and more plentiful great fit possibilities when the time comes to apply.

4) Visit some campuses when school is in session. You can download campus visit tips here . Even if the college is not on the radar, visiting a variety of schools will provide first hand information and intuitive responses that will guide the search later.

5) Ask you friends and family the following questions: What 3 words would you use to describe me?  What kind of college do you see me going to?  Describe a challenge you think I am up for.

6) Have a realistic look at how ready you are for college.  Consider what areas you may struggle with, for instance time management or eating healthily. Or consider a gap year that prepares you for taking on the challenges of college with confidence. 

7) Hire an IEC. IEC's visit many colleges, and network with hundreds of others who have visited hundreds of colleges, taking the temperature and noting the nuances of each one.

If you have any questions about what your own personal push looks like, give me a call.  I’d love to talk!

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How to Encourage An Immersion Experience in College

Just 4 months ago, you watched your teen head off to explore their new world of college.  Now they are coming home for winter break; some euphoric and excited, and some less than willing to go back. There are many factors for the reluctant student, but one common culprit is not immersing themselves in the complete student experience.

The college experience is full of opportunities, challenges, and connections that can last a lifetime. But it is also overwhelming, and it is easy to get off track.  I’ve put together a few common choices that can compromise the college immersion experience and may leave them dissatisfied. 

1) Having a car freshman year.  Although for parents this can be comforting, to a first-year student this can often be distracting.  The potential for possible activities and relationships off campus can grow and consume time spent getting to know their own backyard.  And the potential opportunities that the school provides can be easily overlooked.  Most schools pride themselves on the vast arrays of clubs, study abroad programs, internships and research opportunities, and student life activities.  Many give passes for free public transportation. Encourage your student to give it a chance and think hard about the choice to have a car on campus. 

2) Off-campus jobs.  Though there are many reasons students may have to secure an off-campus job, it is usually worth the effort to secure an on-campus or campus-sponsored job through work study or just applying early, before the rush.  Some students can get their foot in the door, and save money, by staying on campus during the summer, taking a class or two, and keeping an eye on available jobs that are linked to the college.  If on-campus jobs are not available, do some research and find the employers have a reputation of working well with the life schedule of a college student.   Consider early positioning to be an RA or student ambassador as an upperclassman. These campus roles pay off also in networking and resume building later!

3) Off campus housing.  Many campuses require freshman to live on campus their first year for a reason. “Living in campus housing puts you within arm’s reach (often quite literally) of numerous fellow undergrads.  Yes, dorms are a fabulous way to meet people and cement friendships. There’s usually always someone with whom to hang out or grab lunch. And the relationships you establish will inform your collegiate experience as much as your time spent in the classroom or hitting the books,” puts one website. Living off-campus may seem cool, but many students have ended up feeling isolated and with no way to deal with roommate and any other sticky issues as they arise. Learn to live in those crowded, messy dorms with the single ply toilet paper.  It will pay off!

4) Constant communication with home and high school friends.  And I am not implying that students shut the door on their past friends and step boldly into college with no secure ties.  But the magnetic pull towards the familiar and comfortable can compromise chances to fully immerse into new and adult relationships.  Sometimes, students create friendships in high school based on factors that don’t fully realize their personality and strengths.  In college, there is a new chance to be choose your relationships, find out where you thrive and make connections on an adult basis with both peers and professors. Encourage your student to put down the phone and go play!

Your college student may well come home with less than perfect grades and the explanation that “There are so many clubs and activities, so much I want to try, and so many things I want to be involved in, I just can’t find the balance.” Give him your encouragement and wisdom, and then launch him back into the fray, knowing that he is most likely headed in the right direction.


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Great Resources for the College Bound Family: Part 2

The articles and resources below have been tested and promoted by parents I have known and worked with.  I hope you will find some encouragement, advice and wisdom from the expertise that so many folks have made available to us! 

Suzanne Schaffer has been blogging now on a wide swath of topics that affect parents of college bound students:

And her correlated site for teens, offering the same relevant and practical articles to guide and inform student. It is particularly good for gap year and summer planning.

Steve Antonoff is a cornerstone to understanding “fit” in the college search process.  He has made available his worksheets from his book “College Match” to download. (Go under the writing tab and click to download the college planning worksheets):

Great article offering parents and students a practical syllabus to deal with the many facets of transitioning to college:

CollegeWise has put together this amazing booklet to guide you through your Common Application experience:

Ethan Sawyer “The Essay Guy” has compiled a library of his own podcasts, interviewing a variety of folks influencing the college landscape. This one is particularly helpful for parents who are trying to figure out their role as their child explore and applies to college.

And the corresponding Facebook group for parents of students ages 15-25:

I love this study which explores a real-life project by a family to compare the true net cost of various colleges, from state pubic to elite private—with some surprising results. 

My favorite career and aptitude exploration resource:


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Great resources for the college bound family: part 1

I have come across many families who feel intimidated by the college process but are not ready to commit to contracting a relationship with an IEC. Luckily, there are so many resources out there that can serve as the bridge to keep you from completely floundering out there alone! So, for my next 3 blogs, I will list 10 resources each that I have loved this year for parents and students navigating the college process.  And if you don’t find the topic or answer you are looking for addressed over the next few months, feel free to contact me and I’ll see what I can dig up.  Happy exploring!!

1) Interesting article recognizing milestones and benchmarks to indicate how ready your child is for college, and consequently, what kind of college may fit your child's needs.

2) Perspective challenging the role of an elite college verses a college that is the right fit.

3) Great family discussion to begin setting financial goals and boundaries for college. Not from 2018, but still extremely relevant.

4) The application process gets more complicated and mysterious as students try to figure out how to present their best selves on their applications. It isn’t getting easier!

5) Are you wondering how a middle-class family can possibly afford to pay the sticker price at some of the competitive or out of state schools?  They don’t.  Read this article to find out why.   

6) Best blog about college affordability and financial aid. Below is a fantastic summary of the tools available to help you prepare financially for college.

7) Creating a CollegeBoard account will give you access to an amazing tool kit as you tackle so many parts of your college process, but it is known as the administrative branch of the standardized testing for college.

8) The Common Application is the entryway to over 800 colleges and universities, so if you are applying to college, you will likely be filling this one out.  The Common Application is live and now students can create an account well before their senior.  Get familiar with this website and all the resources attached!

9) For those families who are familiar with need and merit-based aid, and already have some ideas of what their financial parameters are, the following chart, compiled by Jeff Levy, is the most helpful way to identify colleges that offer the kind of aid you will be targeting!

10) Best investment in the application process.  This writing company has been coaching kids and professional writers through their essays for over 30 years.  And, by the way, I am also a certified Wow partner writing coach, so I can attest to the success of their approach. Feel free to contact me for my essay coaching packages!


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If you really knew me...

Let’s say there is a new game show on the air called "Are You the One for the Job?" (kind of like "The Apprentice", but not).  Pretend you have just won a chance to get an awesome position in a company, doing something you know will make you exquisitely happy, in a town you love being in.  You have already submitted your resume and progressed to the next level of the contest.  Now you sit face to face with some strange adult and get ready to tackle more tough obstacles gauging your abilities and experience.  The stranger looks at you and says "I only have one task for you.  Finish this statement: ‘If you really knew me...’"

This is the college essay.  Each application season, admissions officers are faced with many more applications from similarly qualified applicants than they have spaces to fill.  They have seen the class ranks and GPA's, standardized test scores and summer activities. Now it is time to know if you will be a good fit in their college community.  Who are you?

I love the essay.  It is a chance to show not only others, but yourself, what you are made of.  When your mom lost her job, how did you handle it?  When you had to choose between chocolate and vanilla, why did you choose chocolate? If you could show off one quality that makes you special, what is it, and how can you show it off?  Are you innovative? Aware? Resilient? Energetic?

The essay is crafted more around the “Why” than the “What”.  The “what happened” is only the scaffolding to contain the more important component, “Why does it matter?” Lets put it this way: If the theme of your essay can’t still be communicated if you are in grandma’s front yard, instead of riding a camel through Ethiopia, then the essay is about Ethiopia.  If your theme can come through if you moved the story to grandma’s front yard, it is about you.

Theme is paramount to the successful essay.  And the good news is, you probably have dozens of great themes in your life that will illustrate the quality you want that college to hear about.  Just ask your friends and family if you can’t think of them yourself.   You want your future alma mater to know that you love to learn. What have you immersed yourself in just because you were curious?  You want them to know you value healthy living.  Would your friends remember you scolding them when they packed Twinkie cakes in their lunches in third grade?  You want them to know you are resourceful.  Would your family list some ways you have gotten what you need without going to them for extra allowance?

The other piece of good news is that the essay is not a competition. Students don’t get points for having more extraordinary experiences or more trauma to overcome.  While we may wish we had stories to compete with our friend on social media who just took sled dogs across the Antarctic, colleges aren’t interested.  Colleges respond to essays showing that you will respectfully and thoroughly engage in their community as an adult member, carrying on their colors and traditions.  And if you are applying to that school, your goal is likely to be the same!  Ultimately, the essay will be something that will surprise you as you gaze at your own reflection and think, “Hey, that kid is pretty great.  I would want to meet him”

 Here are some exercises that may help break down the fears and narrow down the topics:

Free write for 10 minutes about what you do first thing in the morning, or what you hope you will do next summer or why your little brother is such a pain. The topic is not important, as long as it is easy and can inspire you to take it any direction you want.  For more about free writing, see this freewrite link

Talk to family and friends about how they see you.  What are the top 3 words they would use to describe you?

Review a list of values (you can find them on line) and check off your 5 most important ones.  Then, for each value, list 2-3 events from your life that illustrate that value, and then why the event matters. Here is an example of the process:

Value: Manners       

Event: Sweet 16 birthday party. I got a present from my aunt that I didn’t like, and I found a way to appreciate it anyway.  

Why it matters: I have learned that I don’t have to compromise honesty and integrity to be caring and polite. Everyone benefits when we show respect.


So, dive in and begin to write.  You will find your confidence growing with every draft done in honesty and boldness.

For more insights into what college officials are looking for in the essay, visit:

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Photoshop and the College Application

As a photojournalist who loved to find the beauty in the raw reality of life, I would dread being asked to do weddings.  At my core, I believed my mission was to find the story that generated and showcased the very best of what was already there.  Oftentimes, weddings were about Photoshop.  About making something look different than it actually was.  It was not acknowledging the value in the existing raw material as much as attempting an affirmation of some storybook quality of perfection.

As students begin their essays and activities and honors sections of their college applications, they oftentimes feel the pressure to treat it like the wedding. They wonder, "What if my raw material isn't good enough?  Maybe I should have volunteered at the animal shelter more, rather than hang out with my friends.  Maybe I should have attended that science camp last summer rather than read books and go on that family vacation.” 


Or maybe not.

This year, for the first time, the IECA's poll "What Colleges Look for in High School Students" lists "Character and Values" among the top factors:

Character and values are part of your raw material, no matter what.  Your challenge now is how to bring out the best of that raw material; your own uniqueness, your own way of contributing to the world around you, your own strengths.  That can show through during your hang-out time with friends, just as easily as when you stood on the podium with a trophy or presented the $500 check to charity.  Believe me, it can.  I know, because I specialize in helping others see it for themselves.

Don't get me wrong.  "Exceptional raw material will translate into exceptional activities list" as one of my colleagues points out. If you love to do exceptional things, and have the natural ability, support, resources and drive to develop those, by all means, go for it.  And if you have lost opportunities in the past that you now feel inspired to grab hold of, by all means seek them out.  Showing your qualities in any way you can is wonderful preparation for college.  But if you are worried about showcasing your good character qualities with only "average" raw material, you can stop.  Taking advantage of the essays and additional information sections, as well as crafting a creative activities list, leaves you plenty of room to bring your very best forward. Without Photoshop. 

For more information about character in the college admissions process, visit IECA blog by Mark Skarlow "Making Character Count in Admissions" 

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