College-Bound High School Timeline

writings in a planner

The Back-to-School sales are in full-swing at Target, so the start of the school year must be around the corner. In between lounging at the pool and enjoying a scenic hike, now is a great time for high school students to set goals for the school year and to map out a few key dates and activities. The following is a year-by-year checklist for freshmen through seniors.



Start strong. Your freshmen grades do matter! Use this year to identify your strengths and weaknesses in different subjects. Check out Khan Academy for subject-specific help and connect with teachers outside of class.

Get some guidance: meet with a school or community counselor to discuss your class choices and how they support your higher education goals.

Get active: join school or community groups, clubs, or teams you’re interested in.


Grades matter (it is worth repeating!) College may seem like a distant goal, but your grades from each year of high school will impact your overall GPA and class rank.

Explore: take advantage of opportunities through your school and in your community to learn about different career fields.


Keep track: start documenting your academic, extracurricular and community service achievements and awards. Save this list and add to it as you progress through high school. This will be a big time-saver when completing college applications and creating a resume.

Get involved: volunteer, get a job or sign up for an enrichment program during the summer.

Read and Write. Both skills are very important and require consistent practice, no matter your chosen field. Continue reading

Using Your Summer Wisely

There is so much to love about summer: the long days, the last-minute social gatherings, the delicious produce, and last but certainly not least, the respite from strict routines and schedules. But as a college consultant, I would not be doing my job if I didn’t encourage high school students to do some college preparation over the summer. For rising seniors planning to apply to colleges by or before November 1st, this is critical.

Read on for specific tips rising freshmen through rising seniors should do this summer in between beach outings and summer jobs.


Even though it is a bit too early for rising freshmen to research colleges (as students’ priorities will certainly change over the next several years), it is never too early to set goals. Spending a little bit of time over the summer thinking about long-term goals and how to get there is a wise use of your time. Colleges will be looking at what students did with their free time starting with the summer before their freshmen year in high school.

Think about what you are doing this summer, and ask yourself if there is anything you are doing that you would want to share with colleges? If not, consider volunteering, taking an online class, working on a unique hobby, or learning a new skill. Review the clubs and organizations your high school offers and plan out things you will try your freshmen year. Additionally, review the courses offered at your high school. Create a tentative four-year curriculum plan. Is there anything you can do now (like take a summer class or brush up your foreign language or math skills) to set you up to take a higher-level course your junior and senior year?

Oh, and yes, freshmen year grades matter! Even though a few colleges (like the University of California system) does not consider freshmen year grades in their admissions, most colleges do! And it is much easier to build upon or maintain a strong GPA than it it is to move your cumulative GPA up after a rocky freshmen year. Plan to start the year strong.


Summer before sophomore year is a great time to learn more about yourself and your interests, talents, and values. Colleges like to see students that take advantage of their high school’s resources (including career-related learning experiences), and who step up their involvement in clubs and activities. Take time this summer to job shadow a few of your parents’ friends in areas of interest or simply in different career areas to gain exposure to various career fields. You will likely have to answer a “Why this Major?” essay down the road, and discovering your interests now allows you time to explore these areas more deeply.

Reflect on your freshmen year grades and courses. What are you proud of, and where do you think you could have done better? Set up resources now to help you improve your grades, study habits, and/or ability to juggle challenging coursework. Resources could include a tutor, a better calendar/time-management system, or learning how to advocate for yourself and asking for help.


Additionally, review your list of activities from freshmen year. If you are not very involved or interested in one of your activities, consider giving that up and think about how you can make a bigger impact in one or more of your other extracurriculars.

This is when college planning kicks into high gear. You will be juggling your coursework and extracurriculars with the addition of standard tests and college research. My advice: do not wait until January of your junior to get serious about college planning. Instead, take time over the summer to map out a standardized test plan and maybe start prepping over the summer. Use last year’s PSAT results as a starting point to help determine where you need to focus and how much of an improvement you will likely need to meet your college goals. Test prep experts often recommend a minimum of 10-12 weeks-worth of prep, so map out test dates that allow you time to prepare 2-3 months in advance.

One of the biggest things that stress both students and parents is developing a college list. Once you know what you are looking for in a college, this process becomes much clearer. Instead of procrastinating and allowing your fear about this task grow, use your junior summer to write down your interests (academic and social) along with your needs (financial, academic, location), and your wants (social, academic, financial, location). Then look for schools that meet those needs for you.


Students that work on essays and applications over the summer tend to produce much stronger applications, and certainly feel more confident and less stressed about the process when school starts. Rising seniors have roughly eight weeks of summer left to work on applications that will be due in four months (if they will be applying to colleges by November 1st). Four months seems like a long time, but some “experts” say that students should spend 60-200 hours in total on the college search and application process.

The amount of time you should spend will vary depending on many factors. If your list is not final, you should be spending more time finalizing your list this summer. The longer your list, the more time you should spend researching your schools, writing school-specific essays, and understanding each college’s application requirements. The more selective the schools are on your list, the more time you should be spending on communicating with them in a meaningful way to show your sincere interest and fit. If you are applying to schools that require a portfolio or audition, you should be dedicating more time to college preparation this summer. 

To be safe (and based on my years of experience and other expert opinions) plan that it will take you an average of 12-22 hours per college application. With approximately 17 weeks until the popular early college application deadline of November 1st, you should be able to calculate how many hours each week you need to budget for yourself between now and the end of October. You can see how 17 weeks will go by quickly!! 

Regardless of your year in high school, spending time some time on your long-term goals over the summer will set you up for a more successful year and, eventually, a more successful college application process.

Meet The SAT’s Environmental Context Dashboard

There is a new SAT score that colleges will see on your student’s college applications this fall and beyond. The Environmental Context Dashboard (aka, The Adversity Score) has quietly been used by a few colleges (including Duke, Yale, and Florida State) but many more colleges (100-150) will be seeing this score in the 2019-2020 admissions cycle.  

As the debate continues over the predictive value and fairness of the test, the SAT’s intent is to offer colleges information about a student’s socioeconomic and educational environment; thereby helping colleges understand how much of an achievement a student’s SAT score is in light of their background. Students, parents, and high school counselors, however, will not be able to see the score attached to students’ files.

How is it calculated? The ECD index has three components (see photo below). The first attempts to put SAT scores in context using the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentile of SAT scores from the student’s high school (3-year average). The second includes information on the high school, including senior class size; percentage of students who meet federal eligibility criteria for free and reduced-price lunch; rurality/urbanicity; and average first-year SAT score of colleges students from that high school attend, the percentage of seniors taking an AP Exam, average number of AP Exams taken, average AP score from that high school, and the number of unique AP Exams administered at that high school (3-year average).

Finally, the score considers contextual data on the neighborhood and high school environment, measuring both the neighborhood and high school environment that the student comes from. This information includes Median Income & Poverty, Single Parent Households percentage, Education Levels, Housing Statistics, and FBI Crime Statistics, and is calculated using data drawn from a combination of publicly available sources (e.g., NCES and U.S. Census Bureau), and aggregated College Board data. The neighborhood and high school measures are rated on a nationally normed scale between 1 and 100. The two scores are averaged to get the ECD index score, with 1 indicating low “adversity” and 100 meaning the most.

The Environmental Context Dashboard

Every student in the same neighborhood gets the same score, and every student in the same school gets the same score. However, the Dashboard and resulting index are currently only visible to colleges.

Even though race is not a factor in the formula, colleges using it report that students with higher index scores are “more likely to be students of color” (John Barnhill, Florida State University’s assistant vice president for academic affairs). Proponents of the new index hope it will help colleges find “diamonds in the rough”, recognizing students relative achievement and potential for future success, instead of expecting all students to reach the same bar.

The index is not without its critics, including, with many questioning the need for a tool that runs the risk of being taken at face value without individual context. “Promotion of ‘adversity scores’ is the latest attempt by the College Board to defend the SAT against increasingly well-documented critiques of the negative consequences of relying on admissions test results,” according to Robert Schaeffer, Public Education Director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest). Others add, “If the score on your standardized test requires a separate algorithm to determine if the score is actually a valid measure of ability, then perhaps it’s time to fix the test itself rather than contextualize its scores.”

College admissions staff already work hard to understand a student within the context and environment they come from and their evaluations often use more nuanced information than a standardized score can offer. However, colleges that are currently using the score appreciate its ability to bring certain students to their attention that might otherwise have been missed.

David Coleman from the College Board responded to criticism about the new score and to the inherent flaws in the calculations. “The score is a measure of your achievement but it doesn’t measure what you’ve overcome and the situation you have achieved that in. How resourceful are you and have you done more with less?” But even David Coleman agrees that the Environmental Context score is not a measure of individual adversity, as students in affluent zip codes may have overcome plenty of academic and personal obstacles; likewise, students from low socioeconomic backgrounds may have received scholarships to attend a school with a “low adversity” score.

The ACT, while admiring (the SAT’s) good intentions, announced the organization does not think it is a good idea. Michael Roorda (the ACT’s CEO) commented, “Scores that affect students’ futures require transparency, validity, and fairness. The algorithm and research behind this adversity score have not been published. It is basically a black box….and is another example of not being transparent.” He goes on to state what we are all thinking, “If parents, teachers, and counselors know test scores will be re-equated for adversity, some will attempt to manipulate and game the system. That is easy: You can use an address of someone you know who is living in a poor neighborhood or report lower family income.”

Most people agree that students who have faced adversity should be acknowledged for their achievements in context. Those taking the SAT will have to trust (hope) that the data is used not as an unfailing numerical piece of information, but as a possible sign that admissions staff should look deeper into a student’s background when viewing their accomplishments. It remains to be seen if the SAT’s new college offering is the right tool to help, and if it can do so without creating more unscrupulous opportunities.

Stories Behind the College Sweatshirt


College Decision Day is here! It is certainly exciting to see social media posts with happy students excitedly sporting their college swag and reading about how proud parents are of their children and their accomplishments. Students should be excited, and parents should be proud of them. There is nothing better for a parent than to see their child succeed, be recognized, and triumph over struggles or challenges. But the tradition of having students sport their chosen college sweatshirt on May 1st doesn’t give students (or parents) the opportunity to share their whole, unique stories, nor does it advertise all they are accomplishing by choosing the name on their sweatshirt.

Today, some students will be donning sweatshirts with the names of highly selective and prestigious schools. These students will receive wide-eyed and amazed responses such as, “Wow! How did you get in there?” These focused and driven students have worked extremely hard are doing amazingly impressive things, while balancing multiple tasks and pressures with grace and tenacity.

There are also students that will be sporting sweatshirts with names of colleges that people might not recognize, and they might not receive the same gushing admiration as the prestigious shirt-wearers. Yet their stories and accomplishments are just as important. These students might have stories about hurdles they had to overcome and chose a college that honors and supports their learning styles, or where they earned a great scholarship and will graduate with zero debt that will set them up for opportunities down the road; or where they get two years to explore majors before having to decide their future path.

Other students will be wearing state school sweatshirts and will likely have a lot of company in hearing, “Oh, good for you,” or “Your mom must be happy you are staying close by.” These students will have multiple different reasons for choosing to “stay in-state” but all of them will share the fact that this was “the best choice for them because….” There will also be students not sporting a college sweatshirt. Maybe they are late bloomers taking a Gap Year, or maybe their talents are more applied in nature than in the classroom.

Students’ future success is based more on their individual characteristics than it is about where they go to college. But choosing to go to a college where a student feels they belong and where they will feel supported is critical to their mental health. Additionally, it is equally important that students and families understand the risks associated with student loan debt, and choose a financially-fit college for their family situation. That might be at an Ivy League school, or it might be a liberal arts college, or it might be starting at a community college. With colleges reporting the rates of mental health issues among students on the rise, it is extremely important for students to honor all of their needs when choosing a college, and for the rest of us to applaud them for doing so.

Regardless of what name is or is not on a student’s chest on May 1st, there are important reasons and stories behind each decision. When I work with students on putting together their list of best-fit colleges, we not only examine what college qualities they are searching for, but we also examine what they value. Sweatshirts don’t always tell the world that a student has gotten into the very best school that supports his/her values. They don’t say, “I will get to pursue chemical engineering here, and get to study abroad, and play my favorite sport.” They don’t print, “Will graduate with zero debt”, “Will be accepted for my….” or “Will have great academic support for my learning disability here.”

As we celebrate “Decision Day”, I encourage everyone to remember that regardless of college rankings, most students are wise enough to choose a college not based on an arbitrary list, but rather based on their stories and their values. Congratulations to all seniors! I look forward to seeing a thousand different names on sweatshirts today.


OSU: Will graduate from state honors college and two, 6-month paid co-op internships in Computer Science.


Tips For High School Seniors

senior-unsplashCongratulations to high school seniors on your college acceptances and (hopefully) deciding on your college of choice.  With College Decision Day coming up on May 1st, here are few reminders before you proudly sport your college sweatshirt and officially get Senioritis!

  1. Notify other colleges

Most colleges make it easy to let them know you will not be attending in the fall. By turning down the admission offer, it could open up a spot for someone on the waitlist. It is also professional and nice for you to let colleges and admission officers know you will not be attending. Plus, the colleges should take you off their mailing lists and you’ll stop receiving communications from them that you do not need.

  1. Thank everyone

There are probably many people who helped you sometime during the college admission process. Some of the helpers may include your school counselor, teachers, letter of recommendation writers, coaches, parents, and family members. It was a long process and a lot of people helped. Thank them for their help and let them know where you will be attending in the fall. Let your helpers celebrate your success and future plans.

  1. Submit housing paperwork and deposit

Many colleges have deadlines to get the housing application in to guarantee your housing spot in the fall. Pay attention to the deadlines and submit all required housing documents prior to the deadline. You should also make sure you are honest when filling out the housing questionnaire. It is important for you to answer the questions about who you are and not who you think you are or who you want to be. For example, if you are a little messy, don’t say you are neat. The questions on the housing application will help the housing office match you with a roommate who has similar habits. When students have polar opposites habits, such as sleep patterns, it could cause some conflicts.

  1. Watch your email and mailbox

The college may contact you to request information over the summer. The requests might have deadlines and are sometimes non-negotiable. Therefore, make sure you open every piece of mail and every email from the college to ensure you respond to any request they may have. Missing a deadline or not submitting a requested document could jeopardize your enrollment in the fall.

  1. Update Financial Aid

If any information was incorrect when you filled out the FAFSA, log back in and make changes. In addition, if the college is requesting any financial aid documents, such as tax forms, send in the documents right away. If you’re like many students, the financial aid award letter played a large role in your final college decision. Therefore, make sure the financial aid office has every they need by the date they need it because if they don’t receive everything, your financial aid may be affected. In addition, if your finances have changed, make sure to contact the financial aid office to discuss special circumstances. Continue reading

It’s College Fair Season

travelThe weather is heating up and so are colleges’ travel calendars. As colleges wrap up their Class of 2023 students (2019 high school graduates), they are heading back out on the road to market their colleges to juniors, sophomores, and freshmen. A college fair is a great educational opportunity for students and parents as well as an opportunity for students to demonstrate interest in a college (as your attendance and communication with individual colleges are tracked). The fair can be overwhelming if you don’t have a plan, so keep reading to learn about tips to make the most of your college fair visit, as well as a list of upcoming college fairs and events.

It is a good idea to decide on some schools in advance that you want to check out and to head to those tables first. Do some basic internet research ahead of time, so that you are not asking questions that have readily available answers on the school website. If a parent is unavailable, go with a friend. Have the friend take notes for you while you are talking about your interests and asking questions. You do the same for her/him. Once you have spoken with a few colleges, it’s easy to get confused about which college had which program. These notes will help you when it comes to filling out college applications, so keep them in a place where you can find them and be sure to record the date you spoke with the rep and get his/her name.

Walk up to the college’s table/booth. Shake hands firmly with the admissions representative. Offer your name, graduation year and your school, and make sure you have them scan your barcode.

Potential questions to get you started:

  • What can you tell me about your _______________ department/program?
  • What are some distinctive, special or unique programs to your college?
  • What type of students do well at your school? What kind of student finds it a poor fit?
  • What programs do you offer to help first-year students adjust to college?
  • What programs do you have that serve (insert your needs/background here)?
  • What kind of tutoring or academic help is available?
  • Do you have any special housing options?
  • What do students do for fun on campus? (Ask about specific clubs or activities in which you are interested).
  • Do you offer buses or transportation to a city or other off-campus programs?
  • Do you offer Greek (fraternities & sororities) life? What percentage of students participates?
  • Does your school meet full demonstrated need? If not, what percent of need do you typically meet? What percentage of students receive merit aid? Is there an early scholarship deadline? What is the average debt of graduating students?
  • What companies recruit on campus for __________ majors? Where do students get hired?

handshake.jpgShare your interests, as it will allow the representative to highlight programs in which you may have interest.

Grab his/her business card and send a thank you email when you get home. Let the rep know what you appreciated learning about the school. Make sure to check your grammar and spelling. Continue reading

UK University Tour


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Each year, I work with students curious about attending colleges outside of the US, and they are most often interested in Canadian or UK universities. So, I jumped at the invitation this past February to join a group of 30 US and international college counselors on a 6-day Northern England University Tour that included nine UK universities: Newcastle University, Northumbria University, Durham University, University of Leeds, Sheffield Hallam University, University of Sheffield, University of Manchester, Liverpool John Moores University, and the University of Chester. My trip concluded with a day in London to network with 21 London university representatives (including Imperial College London, University of Exeter, University of Liverpool, and the University of Nottingham) as well as attend a UCAS application workshop (the application used by most UK universities).

It was an incredible trip, as not only did I get to see the beautiful English countryside, Medieval castles, and diverse universities, but I also learned a lot about what kind of student would and would not be a good fit for earning their undergraduate degree abroad. Below is a quick summary of the most important things I learned about the differences between the UK system and the US system.

Things I learned:

1-Students in the UK finish their degree in three years instead of four. UK degrees do not include general education requirements or university core curriculums. Instead, students jump right into their course (major), so the degree length is shortened. Master’s programs are one year in length instead of two. For students wanting more than just a study abroad semester but are not quite ready to be abroad for three years immediately after high school graduation, a one-year master’s program abroad is a great option to consider.

2-Students need to know what they want to study when applying to UK universities, as students apply to specific colleges and often specific courses of study. Additionally, it is unlikely that a student can change colleges once they have applied. Students might be able to change courses (majors) within a college early on, but it is not guaranteed. Some colleges offer “dual honors” where students can study multiple subjects, but this is usually only offered in the College of Arts and Social Sciences. Since at least one-third of US undergraduates change their major at least once (according to Inside Higher Education), this is important to consider before applying to UK universities.

3-Since students apply to a specific college or course, each course can have different admission requirements. Some courses (majors) have higher academic requirements than others. Additionally, students are mostly surrounded by students within their specific college in both their housing and their classes; this is in contrast to US universities, where students take more than half of their classes (general education courses plus electives) with students from different colleges and disciplines.

4-When students write their admission essay on the UCAS (UK) application, they should not write an insightful, “slice of life” story demonstrating their character like they are asked to do on US applications. UK universities and colleges want students to advocate for why they are a good fit for the academic course they are selecting.

5-The grading system is very different. In the UK, university grades are given on a percentage scale. Anything below 40% is a fail; 40-50% is a Third; 50-60% is a 2.2; 60-70% is a 2.1, and anything over 70% is a First. A student might be told that a good grade is 60% or above and that an excellent grade is 70% or above. Additionally, students are not regularly quizzed or graded on multiple assignments and tests. Students in the UK might receive a course grade for only one or two comprehensive exams.

6-Accommodations are different. In the US, it is part of the first-year experience to share a room with a randomly-assigned roommate and survive at least a year of dining hall food. In the UK, most “accommodations” are single rooms with a small kitchen. It is rare for students to have meal plans, as they do in the US. There are food venues on campuses, but most students live in self-catered housing where they are responsible for their own meals.

7-The legal drinking age in the UK is 18, and university students are known for their Pub Runs. Students should be prepared to take it slow. Read more here for social tips.

8-The cost of an education in the UK can often be less expensive, especially given the shortened length of time to graduation. In the UK, the government sets the limits for tuition fees, and each individual school sets its own fee up to that limit. According to a law passed in 2012, universities in England may charge up to £9000 (approximately $14,300) per year for UK residents. Fees for international students can be higher, and accommodation costs vary widely, so you need to do your homework. In the United States, the government has very little control over higher education costs, and instead let supply and demand dictate what universities charge and what they discount for merit, financial need, or talent.

9-Athletics are part of the social life here, but athletes are not treated with as much reverence as they are at US colleges. Top athletes in the UK are removed from the traditional education experience earlier, so student-athletes that attend UK universities all prioritize their academics over athletics. Most athletes join teams in a more casual way (coming to tryouts the week prior to classes), and athletic scholarships are very small in comparison to the US athletic scholarship system. UK university athletes are part of the general population instead of having separate dining halls and housing, and athletic facilities do not have the bells and whistles or high-tech amenities that US colleges use to attract recruits.

10-Students studying the UK need to be very independent. Students at UK universities do not rely on administrative staff for support and direction as much as students have been trained to do in the US. For the right student, a UK education could be a wonderful experience and education.

For summaries of each of the universities I visited, visit my website’s College Visits page later this month or contact me for a consultation.