How to un-blank a page

Now that the Common Application and all other electronic applications for schools are live for the 2012-2013 school year seniors everywhere should be hard at work writing their college essay.  It is hard enough for many students to write an essay, let alone write one that will have significant impact on their future and keeping it to 500 words or less. According to all of the college admission counselors I have spoken to, the essay is very important and as such they recommend putting in time, care, and effort to craft your best work. This is designed to get a sense of the writer so be careful not to have too much outside influence on the writing. Having a good proofreader and editor is fine, but relying on another to do the majority of the work is not.


I often hear from students the hardest part of this process is getting the essay started. Often times students will spend hours sitting in front of a blank screen agonizing over how to start. Here are a couple of things to do to get started. Colleges will usually give you a few topics to choose from or allow you to write on a topic of your choice.


-Take time to free write; just write about anything to get the juices flowing.

-Write on a couple of topic and see which one flows more easily.

-Brainstorm and have fun with it, do not take it so seriously at first, there is plenty of time to revise and edit later.

-Make a bulleted list of things you feel should be included in the essay.

-Organize your time and pace yourself this is not race. Establish work sessions with definite begin times and end times, this way you do not get frustrated. Writing is a process and there is plenty of time this month to get this task done.

-Listen to some background music.

-Use technology. The Google Chrome browser and programs like Dragon Dictation are speech to text applications where you can just talk and have the words appear on the screen. I have seen many students have the ability to express what they want to say verbally but have a hard time in writing or typing the ideas down. Once you are done dictating you can go back and revise and edit.

-If you do not have the ability of using the technology above have someone sit with you and just type what you are saying.


Remember no matter which topic you chose to write on be sure the essay is appropriate to your audience and shows the reader something about you that might be seen else where in the application or strongly supports who you are and why you would be a great choice for their school.

Consider your application strategy

Consider your application strategy

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I received a call the other day from a mom wondering what she and her son, who will be senior in September, should be doing at this point of the summer. The one thing I suggested is that she and her son sit down and start to think about his lists of colleges he will be applying to and consider his application strategy. The New York Times recently released a great list of 2012 admissions statistics (, which laid out the number of applicants and the percentage accepted under their regular and early plans. For those of you who may not know there are several options to consider when applying to college. The options are: Early Decision (ED), Early Action (EA), Regular Decision, and Rolling Admissions, each serve a purpose and should be considered wisely.  The National Association of College Admissions Counselors has put together a nice document that explains each plan,, two of these options merit further discussion.

Over the past several years the number of students applying ED has increased. Looking at the numbers colleges do seem to like students more who apply ED and for good reason, it is a binding agreement between the student and the school so it is money in the bank. The student agrees if accepted they will withdraw all other applications and attend the ED school. When considering ED a family should be prepared to pay the tuition regardless of the financial aid package they receive. Decisions are mailed out by the end of November/early December, which is before aid packages are offered.  If by chance a family cannot afford the tuition after they receive their financial aid award letter it puts the student in a very difficult situation. Often schools will let a student out of the ED agreement but it will most likely notify you closer to the end of the school year and at that time the student would need to start the application process all over again.  ED is a great option if a student fits the schools profile and it is their clear #1 choice and tuition is not a concern. If a student is not sure in any way, wants to keep their options open, or are unsure if finances this is not a good choice.

EA is a great option if a school offers it, and as a result the number of students applying under this plan has risen as well. Like ED, a student will receive notification by the end of November/ early December. The highlight is that this plan is not binding so students can keep their options open and wait and compare all financial aid packages. Colleges do like to accept EA candidates, as they tend to be motivated and on the ball and have demonstrated interest early on in the process.  Choosing the right school to attend can be difficult and having a couple of more months to decide can make all the difference in the world. The down side of this plan is that a student needs to be organized and ready to have their application and essay ready to be sent out by early to mid November. Also, schools will be making decisions based on grades earned over the first three years of high school. Students hoping their senior years grades will help their GPA should consider the Regular Decision option.

Using the remainder of the summer to really look at the list of schools you will be applying to and working out an applications strategy will be time well spent.

SAT vs ACT / Coke vs Pepsi??

“Which test to take SAT or the ACT?” That is kind of like asking do you prefer Coke or Pepsi? There is really no one good answer as it is really a matter of preference. Looking at the two tests there are many similarities and differences. Here is how the two compare so you can make an informed decision for yourself:


SAT: Consists of 3 sections Writing, Critical Reading, and Math (grid-in answers require you to write answers in)

ACT: Consists of 4 sections English, Reading, Math (no grid-ins), and Science (the science section is based on applying knowledge and interpreting data)


SAT: Scoring is based on a 200-800 point range per section. All three sections are combined for a highest combined score of 2400

ACT: Scoring is based on a range on a 1-36, sections are averaged together with the highest composite score of 36


SAT: Essay is required

ACT: Essay is optional and is offered on specific test dates (many colleges require the essay)


SAT:  Arithmetic, Algebra, & Geometry

ACT: Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, &  some Trigonometry


SAT: Multiple choice questions have 5 answers to choose from

ACT: Multiple choice questions have 4 answers to choose from


SAT: Lose points for wrong answers (better to skip a question if you do not know the answer)

ACT: Do not lose points for wrong answer (OK to guess)


Visit the College Board ( and ACT ( websites to learn more and experience the sample test questions to see which you feel most comfortable with.

College recruiting tips for High School Athletes and Parents.

For many high school athletes it is a dream to take their game to the next level and play in college. If your goal is to play a sport at the college level here are a few things you should know:


  • Become familiar with the NCAA Eligibility requirements. Here is a great site for both students and parents: be sure to register and set up a profile at the end of your junior year with the NCAA Eligibility Center.
  • Take challenging classes throughout high school.
  • Start the process early. College coaches start to recruit/contact players as early as sophomore year, so do not wait until your senior year to contact a coach if you have identified schools you would like to attend.
  • Look for summer camps at schools you may be interested in and pay attention to the coaches who will be there.
  • Prepare to market yourself. Develop a student profile that highlights your athletic and academic accomplishments that you can send to a coach at any time. Prepare highlight videos and post them to a running blog so you can pass along a link for a coach to take a look.
  • Do your homework on the team. Know how your stats stack up against the current players on team. Be realistic in your choices. Get an understanding of where you might fit in athletically by watching the team and say to yourself “can I play at that level”
  • Do not over or underestimate any school. Find out about each school and the philosophy of the athletic program. Do not get caught up with Division Status (D I, II, or III)
  • Plan an overnight to meet the team and learn more about the school. Being a student athlete is hard work, you have to manage your class time and practice time. Academics do come first! Realistically most student athletes do not make it to the professional level so it is vital that you are certain that the school you choose will be a good academic fit as well.
  • Ask questions of the coach. Topic including: coaching philosophy, roster make up, scholarship availability, academic requirements, off-season program, graduation rate of team members, how many days of classes does the team miss each season ( just to name a few).


Here are a few websites that I have used recently that have been helpful:

Lessons from 10 top College Admissions Reps

During the month of May I had the pleasure of meeting with admissions representatives from: Dartmouth, Northwestern, Princeton, U. Cal Berkeley, Vanderbilt, Rice, Cornell, Columbia, Brown, and U of Chicago.  There were a series of counselor breakfasts to review this year’s admissions season and to gain insight to next year’s class. Here is list of the lessons I learned:

–       90% of the schools listed had experienced a record high number of applicants this year.  In fact, they could have fielded another whole equally impressive freshmen class from the list of students that did not make the cut this round. Lesson:  There is no magic formula

–       The electronic application submission is widely accepted and it is easier for admissions representatives to review a student’s list of activities. Lesson: Do not waste time or energy on developing a fancy resume to submit along side the application. All the information a rep would need and want is included on the online application form and they can access it quickly and easily instead of trying to find information on a separate resume that could be formatted in one of a hundred different ways.

–       Letters of recommendations from the school counselor and teachers are a valuable piece to the process. Lesson: Students should make the time to get to know their school counselor during the four years of high school as the counselor’s insight to the whole student can really make a difference. Choosing the two teachers to write an academic recommendation is also critical. Do not choose teachers based solely on the fact you did really, really well in the class. Many recommendations from teachers in the class where a student worked extremely hard but may not have done as well can speak volumes. Submitting more recommendations from outside references does not always add to the file unless it is a truly unique view of the applicant.

–       Schools like students who like the school for the right reasons. Lesson: Each   school has unique programs and philosophies’ that separate them from others in their class, and reps look for applicants to show how they would fit in on their campus. This is usually accomplished within the primary essay and the often  required supplemental essay.   Demonstrated interest means a lot. Visiting campus, meeting college reps at college fairs or at their high school info sessions, subscribing to the colleges email list, asking good thoughtful questions via email, “Like”ing the schools social media can add up.

–       Each application received is read in its entirety. Lesson: All aspects of the application are reviewed and a rep can get a sense of a candidate that is too packaged. It is important to let a student’s true voice come through.

–       Each school is looking to bring in a well-rounded class each year. Lesson: When it comes to extracurricular activities applicants do not have to do it all. It is OK, even preferable for a student to one or two things extremely well instead of doing many things in an average fashion. So focus on what you have a passion for and let it shine.

–       Reps are looking at how a student uses their time away from school.  Lesson: Summer time is not necessarily your time. Using the time away from school during the summer to work, take a class, do an enrichment activity, or focus on a particular skill to build, shows motivation and commitment.

Sticker Shock

As families of juniors start to look at college options they often experience sticker shock when they realize the cost of higher education. Understanding the financial-aid process can be confusing and overwhelming. In fact, most students and parents may not even know where to start. As you contemplate the process, to get your feet wet, the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) recommends using the following two resources:

␣ The U.S. Department of Education:

␣ NACAC’s Steps to College series on Financial Aid:


When looking at schools do not be put off by the initial sticker price as most college and universities will discount the price by using Federal or institutional aid. The issue becomes that you do not know how much of a discount you will receive until you have gone through the application process. Once a student has been accepted to a school they will receive a communication from the school’s Financial Aid office letting them know what aid (discount) they are eligible for.


Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a form that all students who would like to receive financial assistance must fill out to determine the dollar amount a student and their family can contribute toward the cost of education (Expected Family Contribution or EFC). The amount of aid the Federal Government and a school can provide is determined once the EFC is set. So for example if a family’s EFC is $10,000 per year it does not matter if the school cost $20,000 per year or $45,000 per year, the family can only be expected to pay it’s EFC. It will then be up to the Federal Government and the school to put together an aid package that can assist the student in filling in the difference with appropriate grants and loans.


All Federal grants and loans amounts are determined from the information provided on the FAFSA. The FAFSA is available to fill out starting on January 1 of the student’s senior year and all financial numbers are initially based on estimated tax filings for the pervious year. Nearly all colleges will also use this information to base the amount of aid they can provide as well. All families are strongly urged to fill out the FAFA even if they do not believe they will qualify for aid.


Many schools will require the form to be on file when awarding merit aid (money awarded based on a student’s academic record and has nothing to do with ability to pay). A few schools will also look for The CSS Profile (the financial aid application service of the College Board). The Profile gives schools supplemental financial information for them to make financial awards decisions. In addition students can also search for additional money from independent scholarship sources that offer awards to students based on various criteria. A good place to start to look for scholarships is . Fastweb is a free search database that will use a student’s unique profile to find scholarships they may be eligible to apply for.  Keep in mind some schools will ask if a student is receiving other scholarship money and reduce their aid package as a result.


In making a final decision students should consider the three F’s in the admissions process: Fit, Feel, and Finance. Find a school that is the academic right fit and feels right to you, and once all the numbers come in choose a school that financially makes sense.

Summer time is my time! Well not so fast….

You would think that working hard during the school year would be enough to make your college application shine and you deserve a couple of months off in the summer to yourself. To maximize the potential of getting into the college of your choice you should consider using the summer time to get a leg up on the process and help your application stand out from the pack. A few suggestions would be taking a Pre-College or specialized program on a college campus, finding a part-time job, volunteering, or an internship/job shadow in a career field that you have an interest in pursuing.

The idea of spending time taking a summer class may not be appealing when the sun is shinning and the temperature is above 80, but it can serve several purposes. By enrolling in a summer pre-college program you may be eligible to earn college credit that will be transferable to your future school. You will also be exposed to a college campus and get a taste of what it would be like as a college student. Special interest programs offered on a campus may not offer college credit but can help serve as away to find out if you truly like the subject matter and want to continue to purse it as a career. Many students have come back to me after taking a summer engineering exploratory program saying that they had no idea it would be that much work and are now seriously considering other majors.

A part-time job is another great way to show your commitment to working hard and have employability skills that are so necessary today. Volunteering consistently over the three summers prior to senior year establishes a pattern of commitment that shines through over the “flash in the pan” two-week volunteer experience in the summer before your senior year as a resume builder. Also by volunteering in the summer it frees up your time during the school year to do other worthwhile activities.

And finally, schools like to see students having some exposure to a career field that they indicate as a potential major so using the summer to participate in an internship or job shadow experience would be time well spent. Getting the inside scoop on some of the less glamorous tasks you may need to do on the job can be a great litmus test for you.

Summer is a great time to relax – just not too much.