Archive for the ‘getting into college’ Category

New College Blogs and Websites

August 19, 2009

A New Blog Designed to Assist College Students

Two brothers with more than 50 combined years of experience in higher education and counseling have just launched a new blog called College Success Tips.  Given the experience of the authors, we are confident that the blog will be worth frequent visits.

Two New Websites for Counselors and Educators and Parents

During our many years in education, we have been asked countless different questions about college admission.  The most often asked question, by far, has been which colleges an individual student might be admitted by.  In second place are questions about getting into individual colleges, such as “What will I need to do to get into Harvard?”.

Now there is a brand new website…so new that it is not fully completed…to help students, families, and counselors find answers to these questions.

On the College Admission  Profiles site, students can find profiles of incoming freshmen classes at hundreds of colleges and universities and see where they might fit.

Please note that the site is not yet complete so it only has a few hundred college profiles thus far, but many more are coming soon.

Another new site, Free College Info Search, offers students a chance to match themselves to online and traditional schools and colleges.


More College Admissions News and Advice

May 6, 2009

Guest Blog

Today’s Guest Blogger is Todd Johnson, the owner of College Admissions Partners, an organization which helps students and families through the complete college admissions and financial aid process. Todd regularly blogs on items of interest to students seeking to find the college best meeting their needs.  Todd offers a free 1/2 hour consultation to discuss student needs for college admissions counseling.  His contact information is available on his website.

College Rankings

Americans love to rank things. What’s the best car, the best doctor, the best hospital? But the real question is “best for whom”. Everyone has their own idea of what is best based on their own interests and judgment so finding the best of anything is going to be a matter of one person’s judgment.

This is true with colleges as well. We can identify which colleges have the highest SAT averages or the highest alumni giving rate but do those factors make those colleges best for everyone?  But people still ask what the best colleges are.

Although there are many groups who provide college rankings, and more rankings come out each year, the best known college ranking service is of course U.S. News. For many years the “Best College” issue of U.S News has been their best selling issue. And every year the order of the colleges ranked change with some colleges improving their rankings and others losing ground. However, in real life, the quality of a college rarely changes in a single year or even in a single decade.  The reason the rankings of the “Best Colleges” changes every year is because the magazine is constantly changing the criteria by which they determine the “best” college.

We can easily illustrate the problems with this type of constantly changing college ranking. In 1998 Caltech was ranked as the 9th best National University. In 1999, however, Caltech claimed the top spot as the best National University. Then in 2000, they dropped to 4th best. Did the quality of the education at Caltech change from 1998 to 1999 to 2000?  The only thing that changed was the methodology used by US News that made per student spending a more important element in the rankings in 1999. Because Caltech has a high level of per student spending it jumped in the ratings. In 2000, U.S. News decreased the importance of per student spending in their rankings and Caltech fell slightly.

Reed College is an even more extreme example of the problem with college rankings. Reed is a very strong college and consistently one of the highest producers of future PhD students on a per capita basis. When the U.S. News ranking first came out in 1983, Reed was among the top 10 liberal arts colleges in the country. In 1995 Reed decided that it would no longer provide information to U.S. News for the ranking issue. U.S. News, in an attempt to punish Reed for not cooperating, assumed that all of the data that was not provided would be the worst possible and as a result, Reed was dropped in the rankings down to the 4th tier of colleges, the lowest tier available.

Now you’re thinking that I am telling you to never look at college rankings but that is not the case. The information provided by U.S. News and the other magazines which rank colleges can be helpful as a starting point in the college search process. It can tell you what percentage of students get accepted, the retention rate or number of students that return after their freshman year and other helpful statistics. Just don’t worry about the rankings because the best college for you may not be number one or even number 10.

Colleges Looking for Students

Every year at this time the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) invites colleges and universities still admitting students for fall to make that fact known.  For the list, visit  the NACAC website.  You may be surprised that several excellent colleges and universities have yet to fill their incoming classes.

Online Degree Programs

If you are interested in online courses or an online degree, please visit our recently updated online education website.

Waiting Lists; New Rules

This year, numerous colleges offered places to students on their waiting lists even before the date on which deposits were due.  This is another of many indications that some excellent colleges are less selective now than they were in brighter economic times.

An Inside Look at College Admission

March 11, 2009

Today’s guest blog comes to us from Brittany Burton, one of the good folks at CampusCompare, a website that all college-bound students should check out.    CampusCompare offers lots of information that can help you learn more about which colleges and universities might be a good choice for you.

An Inside Look at College Admission

Once you’ve handed in your college applications, you are probably pretty nervous about getting into college.  Although you’ve finished your college application, included your high school transcripts, your SAT and ACT scores and your college essay, you are now probably wondering how does the admissions committee choose a college applicant to actually be an admitted student?   How do they wade through all this information and come to a decision regarding your college admissions?  What matters most and what gets glossed over?   We are going to give you more of an inside look into the admissions decision process so that you know what will allow you to find the right college for you.

Transcripts:  Your high school transcript is often the most important component of your college application.  Your class work load and grades reveal what type of student you are and offer a glimpse into how you would work at their university.  However, admissions officers are trained to know the discrepancies among different schools and class schedules.  For example, at some schools, it’s easier to land an A than others. They also look at what types of courses you fulfilled. If you took honors classes, advanced placement or international baccalaureate classes, admissions officers will take this workload into account when reviewing your GPA.

Test Scores:  SAT and ACTs are being de-emphasized in many colleges, but these standardized tests do help the admissions officers compare students from different high schools across the nation. Most schools have a range that the majority of students fall under when determining acceptance, but a low test score generally won’t break all chances of getting into college.

Admissions Essay:  The college essay is a way to make you pop off the page.  Now, instead of being a series of numbers and grades, you become an individual, unique person.  This is therefore an increasingly important factor in the college admissions decision process.  We suggest telling an anecdote about your life or your personality and describing how you have learned and grown from that experience.

Letters of Recommendation:  A really good letter of recommendation can really make a difference, but colleges don’t really penalize students when the letter is not written well or only offers superficial information.  Here’s some of the stuff that admission officers are looking for:

•    Comparisons to others in the class; to those whom the teacher or counselor has worked with in past years; or with students who have enrolled at the college in question.

•    Information about grading and/or competition.

•    Illustrative examples or anecdotes

•     Personal information

•    Other personal traits or study habits (e.g., maturity, response to criticism, acceptance by peers, timely completion of assignments, willingness to go beyond what is expected, participation in class discussions).

The law entitles students to see completed recommendations.  However, reference forms include a clause that most students sign to waive this right.  This enables counselors and teachers to be candid, which is what admission officials prefer.  Recommendations normally do become part of a student’s permanent file.

Extracurricular Activities: Extracurricular activities are important to show that you are an involved student.  But with so many high school students doing so much and with so many programs and organizations, teams and clubs and causes, it’s hard to predict what admissions officers will favor.  They are really looking for what the activities teach you—qualities like commitment, accomplishment, initiative and leadership and well-roundedness.

Here are some areas they look at:

•    How much time does this student devote to an activity?  How significant is the contribution?  Admission professionals often favor depth over breadth.

•    Evidence of leadership is a key factor that can tip the scales in your favor.  There’s a difference between the student who joined the Geography Club and the one who founded it.

•    Some balance is best. The student who participates in the Science Club, the Drama Club, and is also on the tennis team usually stands out more than the one who only chooses athletics as extras.  Similarly, a balance of school related activities (clubs, teams, choirs, etc.) and those which take place elsewhere (volunteering, scouting, church groups, community theater, etc.) shows your horizon exists beyond the schoolyard.

•    Volunteering is very important, and the key here is real hands on involvement.  Admission people are usually able to differentiate between the candidate who spends every Saturday tutoring and one who volunteered a couple of times so they can add it to their application.

•    A few collegiate candidates will up their stock in admission officers’ eyes by being extraordinarily talented in some area or with a truly off-the-wall interest or experience.

So now you know what happens behind the closed doors of the admissions decision.  Still, with so many factors go into college admissions decisions that the results can sometimes seem unpredictable and off-the-mark.  But don’t try to be someone you’re not—it’s all about being yourself, and that’s what’s going to really make you stand out in your college application.


February 13, 2009

Some Good Financial Aid News for Families

The current economy defines the term “dark cloud”, and like most, it has a silver lining.  Colleges throughout the country, including those offering online degree programs, are increasing their financial aid and scholarship budgets.  In addition, many are trying to minimize tuition and fee increases and extend their tuition payment plans to make themselves more affordable.

Some Good Admissions News for Students

Many public colleges and universities are actively seeking out-of-state students.  While the colleges and universities do, for the most part, value geographic diversity, their stepped up recruiting of out-of-staters is about something else; money.  It’s simple…out-of-state students pay higher tuition.

Of course, some states limit out-of-state enrollment to keep in-state taxpayers happy, but many do not. 

Why is the trend of increased out-of-state recruiting good news for students?  It’s because it is now much easier than ever before for students to get into many state colleges and universities.

In addition, it may mean that some state institutions will soon be discounting tuition for students from other states. 

And, it seems likely that online colleges will work harder to find scholarship and financial aid help for their students.

New Financial Aid Tools Available Online

December 17, 2008

New Financial Aid Tools Available Online

Below is a message I received today about the new financial aid tools now available to students, parents, and counselors.

Dear friends in education
As you help students prepare to fill out the 2009-10 FAFSA on the Web, you might find these tools useful:
The FAFSA on the Web Worksheet is now online in PDF at – students may use it to jot down their answers before going online (on Jan. 1 or later) to fill in the online application.
The FAFSA on the Web demo site is also ready. The site helps you increase your own understanding of FAFSA on the Web and show it to students and parents before they apply.  At the site, you can complete a sample FAFSA, make corrections, or check the status of the application.  However, when you choose “submit,” the information is not actually submitted. The site is purely a learning tool.  To access the demo site, go to  The user name is eddemo, and the password is fafsatest.  The site displays both the English and Spanish versions of FAFSA on the Web.
Also, the final PDF of the 2009-10 Counselors and Mentors Handbook has been posted to our counselors web site at (the link to the handbook is on the home page, under the heading “Counselor Resources”).
Hope these items will be helpful to you!
Cindy Forbes Cameron
Awareness & Outreach
Federal Student Aid
U.S. Dept of Education

for counselors and mentors:
for students:
for everyone: 1-800-4-FED-AID

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The Big Brain:  A New Internet Directory

Check out and help build a new Internet directory.  The Big Brain wants to be “The Internet’s Smartest Directory”.

The Economy is in the Toilet; Is my College Education?

October 20, 2008

The Economy is in the Toilet; Is my College Education?

Financing College Costs in a Tough Economy

Virtually every family in America, regardless of its economic standing, is concerned about the current state of the U.S. economy.  In fact, the economy has displaced the war in Iraq as the single biggest issue in the current Presidential campaign.

Families with teenagers and children in their early 20’s are especially concerned about one economic issue; how to meet college costs.

Even families who began saving for college when their children were infants may come up short, particularly if their college savings are in stocks or real estate.  There seem to be two principal categories of families, those who had no college savings plan and those whose savings are worth at least 25% less than they were two months ago.

College and university endowments, because they are heavily invested in the stock market, are also down considerably.  That’s important because, for all but the very wealthiest colleges, a decline in endowment value may reduce the financial resources available for college-funded (institutional) scholarships.

These scholarships are a very important part of financial aid packages, especially at private colleges and universities, which tend to be more expensive than state colleges and universities .  In fact, currently, private colleges offer students enough institutional-based scholarships to offset approximately 35% of tuition costs.  As previously stated, the elite colleges have so much money that their ability to offer institutional aid will not be impacted seriously even if the economic downturn continues.

Other institutions will have no choice but to maintain or even increase their scholarship expenditures, even if it means deep cuts in other areas, in order to meet their enrollment goals.  Still others, however, may not be able to afford the level of institutional scholarships awarded in recent years.

It seems reasonable to guess that, until the national economy recovers, there will be changes in the way colleges recruit and select students, and in the ways in which students and families make their college choices.  Thus far, the economic downturn has brought a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty to families and colleges.

So, what should you do in the midst of so much economic uncertainty?  Here’s where you might start.

1. Do not panic.  Your ability to attend college may not be at all affected by our national economic woes. And, if you are affected, it will be a case of which college you attend, not if you can afford to go to college.

2. Meet with your high school counselor and admissions and financial aid counselors at the colleges you are considering to be sure you are aware of all of your financial aid options.  Remember, few students have to pay full tuition and fees.

3. See if your high school counseling office has a list of scholarships offered by organizations in or near your community. Remember, competition for these scholarships may be limited, which is good news for you.

4. Use Google or Yahoo to search for “college scholarships”.  You’ll find more than 60 free scholarship search sites.  Each will “match” you to appropriate scholarships.

5. Avoid at all costs any company which claims it can help you qualify for more scholarships or financial aid than you would otherwise receive.  Most such organizations, maybe all, are more interested in taking your money than in getting you money.

6. Look for educational bargains…lower priced colleges of high quality.  There more than you think, especially in the South.

7. Consider educational loans.  Remember that education is the best investment you can make in your future.  But, resist the temptation to borrow more than is absolutely necessary.

Remember the story of Chicken Little.  Although no responsible economist is minimizing the depth our current economic problems, there is no reason to believe that they will impact students’ ability to pursue higher education.  However, students and their families will be well served by careful college financial planning, increased emphasis on researching their options, and more frequent contact with high school and college counselors who have the expertise to guide them.

Guest Blog: The All-Important Summer Before 12th Grade

July 2, 2008

The summer before 12th grade is a high school student’s “last” opportunity to do something to impress college admission officers before those college applications are due.

Why is this important? The student’s own high school resume can speak volumes louder than his/her college application. And when the summer before applying to college is a total wash-out in terms of college application points …

For example, it’s hard to convince a college admission officer that you’re passionate about being a social worker when you’ve spent the entire previous summer in Paris studying French or working at Starbucks – without doing any social work.

I understand you want to spend a summer in Paris or earning money for your car payments. And, yes, there is a way to demonstrate you are committed to your passion and still not give up your summer plans. As I talk about often at my education and careers website, what is required is some brainstorming and planning to create opportunities for yourself.

Here are examples to get you thinking about what you might do, even this summer if you’re about to enter 12th grade:

If you are spending the summer studying French in Paris

Your summer school course is eight weeks and you plan to stay in Paris another two weeks before coming home right before the school year starts. Instead, you realize Paris will always be there, and you change your plane ticket to come home immediately after summer school ends.

And you come home to an intensive two-week volunteer social work project that you have created by email and cell phone from Paris. This change in plans clearly demonstrates a passion for doing social work.

If you are spending the summer working at Starbucks

This is an easier situation because you will have some blocks of time during each week this summer to commit to social work activities. You will still have to create these opportunities for yourself in order to accommodate your work schedule. Be prepared when contacting potential volunteer places to emphasize that this is an unpaid opportunity for which you are looking.
Doing a good job

When you have obtained such an opportunity, make sure to do a good job because you will want to ask for a letter of recommendation BEFORE your social work volunteering is over. Once you have returned to school, it is easy for someone to forget about the good work you did. You want to have a person write a letter of recommendation when your good work is right in front of him/her.

If you plan accordingly, you can have your cake and eat it too in the summer before 12th grade.

Phyllis Zimbler Miller writes on college applications, internships, jobs and careers for teens and young people. Her website <> offers valuable free information, including how to fill out a W-4, and a work sheet for developing a college application resume.