Category Archives: College Planning

Challenges & Opportunities

openroad2The Coronavirus pandemic has brought on new opportunities and challenges unique to the HS classes of 2021-2023 concerning college admissions.


Students have equal access to colleges! All students can attend virtual admission sessions, take a virtual campus tour, meet virtually with an admission staff member who will be reviewing their applications, and connect with current students to learn more about life on campus. Previously, this access was only available to those able to pay for travel and find room in their schedules.

Additionally, you have access to an online college fair that includes presentations (live and recorded) on college admission topics and insights into what specific colleges are looking for in applicants.


Colleges will expect you to take advantage of these resources before you apply. If you are too busy now, understand that you will need to prioritize connecting with your colleges and learning more about them later.

Colleges either care about demonstrated interest and will take that into account when evaluating you for admission, honors programs, and scholarships OR they will care about how well you articulate your fit with the college in your application essays. In the rare case that your school does not care about demonstrated interest and doesn’t ask a “why this college” essay, where you go to college is a big decision. In all situations, you need to learn about them. The resources to do so are waiting for you.

Activity Challenges

Many of you worked hard to come up with activities for your spring and summer, and now plans are canceled or at risk of being canceled. Spend time now preparing a back-up plan.


This will require you to be more creative and take initiative, but those are exactly the qualities colleges love to see! Creating your own activity also shows leadership without needing a title or elected position. Colleges look for “intellectual vitality” too. You can pursue an intellectual passion. Embrace the free time you have by doing something to move you towards your future goals. If one of your strengths is compassion, there are endless ways to volunteer. Even simple acts of kindness show this characteristic.

Challenges with Grades or Lack of Grades

Continue reading

Support for Seniors Making Their College Decision

let go of the pastI am thinking about all seniors who are frustrated with what school and event cancelations have meant in terms of lost plans and dreams. Please know that people care and will do what they can to make it up when the time is right. For now, my advice is to acknowledge your feelings of loss and frustration, but then turn your energy towards what you can control.

In some of my seniors’ college applications, students were asked, “If you had an extra hour in your day, how would you spend it?” You now have that extra hour to read for pleasure, learn a new skill, or reconnect with a friend or family member (online, of course). Speaking of online, I suggest that you check out MOOCs.

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are online classes open to everyone, many for free. Right now, these include free courses from highly selective universities covering everything from Georgetown’s Quantum Mechanics to MIT’s Computer Science and Programming using Python. I just signed up for Yale’s “The Science of Well Being.” Check it out!

For more information on MOOCs and how they work, go here. Then use these sites to browse courses:

For Seniors Trying to Make Their College Decisions

Here are some resources to use to help you get a sense of your best-fit college without visiting in person.

Virtual Tours: Many colleges offer virtual tours and admission sessions on their websites. Start with the college’s undergraduate admission page for the latest offerings. Then try online college tour resources like Campus Reel (virtual tours of more than 300 colleges) and YouVisit (over 600 college tours).

Social Media: Most colleges have Facebook groups for admitted students. Join them to connect with other admitted students and read the discussion. Search for YouTube videos on your colleges of interest to find students sharing information and experiences about their colleges. Continue reading

Coronavirus Impact on Standardized Tests: SAT, ACT, AP & IB Exams

coronavirusemoji2Every day, the College Admission Landscape is being altered in response to the Coronavirus. Here are a few very new and important updates on what has recently changed.

How Colleges Are Reacting to the Canceled ACT and SATs

Multiple colleges have announced they will be going test-optional next fall and cite the Coronavirus and test cancelations as the reason. Case Western Reserve University and Boston University, for example, will both be test-optional just for the 2020-2021 application season. Both Oregon State and the University of Oregon have announced they will be test-optional going forward (although the majority of merit-based scholarships at the University of Oregon will still require test scores). Tufts University announced it will have a 3-year trial with test-optional admissions next fall. MIT, while still requiring the ACT or SAT, will no longer consider subject tests. 

Harvard University has stated that 2021 applicants will not face penalties if they are not able to submit AP or SAT Subject Test scores. More colleges will likely announce application changes for next fall soon. Sign up for my blog to be kept up-to-date on major changes.

No May IB Exams

On March 23rd, the International Baccalaureate announced that this year’s IB exams, which were supposed to be given from April 30th to May 22nd, will be canceled due to COVID-19. The IB made this decision based on worldwide school closures and the need to maintain a single grading scale for the 200,000 students in IB courses all over the world.

The IB’s statement details how schools should handle the semester’s remaining coursework, which may include projects and oral examinations (for language classes).

IB exams are normally a key part in determining which students are awarded IB Diplomas or IB Course Certificates. This year, however, students will receive their diplomas or certificates based on their course performance only, rather than on exam scores. These diplomas and certificates are still awarded by the IB, but they’ve extended the deadline for schools to send in their students’ coursework and final grades.

IB exam scores also play a role in college credit. Just like AP exams, IB exams are standardized, so colleges often reward high scores in certain IB exams with course credit in the same areas.

How will colleges assess course credit for students in IB courses with no exams? The IB’s statement did not provide a definite answer to that question, but stated that its members have “consulted with universities and in order to support students [the IB] will continue to work closely with universities and colleges as they receive results.”  Continue reading

High School Course Selection Tips

bookstackThe high school transcript is almost always the most important piece in a student’s application. While an individual student’s abilities and interests must be considered, there are general tips for success:

1. Take a balanced set of classes. Most colleges have preferences beyond what is required for high school graduation, and the most competitive colleges like to see students take courses each year in English, science, math, the social sciences, and a foreign language.

2. Know the admissions guidelines for your top choice colleges and interests. Research college preferences to learn about course requirements for specific colleges and majors. Additionally, review the admission policies of out-of-state public universities, which often have different requirements than your home state.

3. Take advantage of college-prep courses. Students don’t need to take every AP or IB class, but colleges like to see students take advantage of the academic opportunities offered. A student’s course choices will depend on the selectivity of the colleges they want to attend as well as how the student has done in previous courses.

4. Show colleges a positive trend. Colleges like to see a high level (or an improving level) of rigor and success throughout a student’s high school years. If a student thinks they could get a B+ or higher in a higher-level class, they should consider taking the higher-level course.

5. Take a strong senior year of courses. Colleges want to admit students that seek challenges, not avoid them. Be honest about your choices. For example, are you deciding to be a teacher’s assistant because you love the subject and helping others, or because you are avoiding a class that would push you? Continue reading

College Admissions: The Year in Review

ChangeThe year 2019 did not disappoint those who love change in college admissions. Here are highlights prospective students should be aware of.

Changes to the NACAC Code of Ethics

Last year, the Justice Department stated that the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s (NACAC) rules violated antitrust laws and reduced student choices. In order to preserve the organization (and avoid a costly legal fight), NACAC members reluctantly voted to remove four key protectionary provisions at their annual conference. 

How will this impact students? 

The deleted protections prevented colleges from offering exclusive incentives to students applying Early Decision (e.g., special housing or scholarships), and rules that prevented colleges from recruiting students once they committed to a college. With the restrictions removed, admission experts predict many colleges will begin “poaching” students after the May 1 deadline in order to fill their classes (May 1st is the enrollment deadline for selective colleges, but an increasingly irrelevant deadline to many others); others predict colleges will raise their deposits in order to avoid being raided by other colleges for their students. 

The Admission Scandal and Admission Changes

Of course, the most publicized event of 2019 was the Varsity Blues College Admission Scandal. While there will always be individuals who manipulate the system, the vast majority of those who work in college admissions (including NACAC, HECA, and IECA members) do follow strict ethical guidelines. Time will tell if there will be any positive, systemic changes as a result of the scandal, but many colleges took it as an opportunity (or responsibility) to review admissions policies, especially around recruited athletes. 

A recent Bloomberg article reports that Yale, Pomona, and Bowdoin are performing “spot checks” with this year’s application cycle, taking the time to verify information students put in their applications. “Beyond athletics, we will be implementing measures to reduce the risk of fraud in all applications,” Peter Salovey, Yale University’s president, stated in a letter. The goal is to encourage students to be honest – even about the little things. 

Standardized Test Changes

The College Board, which administers the SAT, started a firestorm when it revealed last spring that it had been quietly sharing an Environmental Context Dashboard (aka, the “adversity score”) on students’ SAT reports with a few colleges (including Duke, Yale, and Florida State) and that many more colleges (100-150) would be seeing this score in the 2019-2020 admissions cycle. 

The adversity score was made up of the average of two rankings, one for the school environment and one for the student’s neighborhood environment. The intent was 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, were told they would not be able to see the score attached to students’ files.

The announcement immediately sparked a rush of criticism about both the predictive value and fairness of the test. The College Board responded by agreeing to provide additional background information with colleges instead of one arbitrary score, changed the name of the dashboard to the less objective Landscape, and agreed to share details with the public on Landscape’s methodology. 


In October, the ACT announced big changes to what it will offer students this fall. Starting with the September 2020 test, the ACT will offer Section Retesting, a listed Superscore, and online full-length tests with faster scoring (two business days).

Section Retesting will allow students to retake one, two, or three sections instead of having to retake the entire test, but is only available to students who have already taken a full-length test. There is no limit to the number of times students can retake sections. While this sounds enticing to ACT test-takers, experts argue it favors the wealthy and will drive up the scoring curve. 

The ACT will also be adding a student’s calculated “Superscore” (a composite of a student’s top section scores across multiple test dates) to students’ Section Retesting report. The ACT is strongly encouraging colleges to allow superscoring (which would save families additional fees when sending multiple reports), but colleges set their own policies regarding test scores. It remains to be seen if and how colleges will change their policies in light of ACT’s enhancements.

Test Optional?

A coalition of advocacy groups filed a lawsuit in November against the University of California, demanding that its nine undergraduate campuses stop requiring applicants to submit ACT or SAT results. The group argues that the standardized tests are inherently biased against the poor. If the UC system becomes test optional, many predict this will drastically change the college admission landscape and more colleges would follow. A review of SAT and ACT relevance by a UC task force is expected to conclude by the end of the 2019-20 academic year.

Other Trends in College Admissions

To learn about other trends in College Admissions, read NACAC’s State of College Admission Counseling Report. Highlights include:  

-Colleges are increasing their use of selecting Early Decision applicants to fill a large portion of their classes.

-More colleges are offering to put students on their waitlists, but admit very few of them. 

-A high Student-to-Counselor ratio remains in schools (in 2016–17 each public school counselor was responsible for an average of 455 students).

-Admission Offices continue to identify grades, high school curriculum, and test scores as top factors for first-time freshmen.

-Colleges, on average, accept 66.7% of their applicants.


Kristen Miller is an independent college counselor in Portland, Oregon and is the founder and owner of College Bound & Ready.

Being Deferred or Denied by your Top Choice College

man at computerThis time of year for seniors is often a mix of elation and heartbreak, depending on what students are hearing back from their top-choice colleges. It is wonderful when a student’s hard work and unique talents have been recognized and rewarded with an admission offer. But for students who feel disappointment by a college rejection or deferral, please read on for perspective and advice. Additionally, for younger students preparing to apply in the coming years, the end of my blog features some tips to prepare or even avoid being rejected by colleges.

Denied by a College

College denials are almost certainly final. If you were denied by a college that you just can’t forget about, read here for options on how you might eventually attend a college following a denial. 

While it feels like a personal rejection, it often is much more of a reflection on what the college needs or wants than it is a judgment on the student’s abilities and qualities. I encourage students not to have a “first choice” until the admission decisions and financial or merit aid offers come in, but that is very hard to do when colleges ask students to pick their top-choice school by offering restricted early admission options (Early Decision and Restricted Early Action). It is important to remember that colleges have institutional priorities that guide their decisions each year. 

In the case of highly selective schools (those with admission rates at or below 20%), they also regularly deny students who are qualified and would be good fits for a school, but they have more applicants than spots to offer to qualified students. Many valedictorians and National Merit semi-finalists are rejected from selective schools each year; U Penn and Duke reject 3 out of 5 valedictorians each year, and Harvard rejects 1 in 4 students with perfect test scores. When a college says they practice “holistic admissions,” it doesn’t mean they do not care about grades, course rigor, and test scores (unless they are test-optional). It means they will consider reasons why a student might not meet their average data points, as well as what unique qualities a student has to offer the college community. Colleges are a business and the data does matter. They are looking to increase their rankings, prestige, and donations as well as create a well-rounded class of students with many unique qualities, talents, and backgrounds.   Continue reading

The Four Pieces to a Complete College Application

checklistWith one month to go before the November 1st application deadlines that many students are trying to meet, it’s time to review the parts necessary to make an application complete.  For a student’s application to be reviewed, the following items need to arrive at the colleges by or BEFORE the deadline:

1-An Admission Application

2-Financial Aid Applications

3-Official Test Scores

4-School Report/Transcript (and possibly Letters of Recommendation)

1-Students are responsible for submitting a complete (and thoroughly checked) application that may or may not require supplemental essays. This is the most important piece of the application for students to get in on time! Sometimes colleges will give students a short grace period for test scores and recommendations to come in, but not always…so don’t count on it. But they will never accept a late application.

Well before the application deadline, it is wise for students to spend time reviewing every question they are asked to answer on an application, as well as carefully read the “Application Requirements” page on the college’s website. Each college has different preferences and requirements; it’s the student’s job to understand and follow these directions.

If supplemental essays are required, these should not be answered directly in the application, but first researched, reflected on, and drafted in a Word or Google document, then edited and reworked several times. Colleges know they are “a top-ranked institution” and are in sunny California or bustling New York City. Students need to go beyond generic answers and show how the programs and qualities of the college will help them achieve their goals.

Students will also be asked to answer, “What are your first and second choice majors at X College?” Many colleges carefully consider how prepared a student is for their intended major (i.e. if a student selects “Business,” colleges will be looking at the student’s math courses and scores on the SAT or ACT). Students should spend time researching if they will be evaluated based on their major choice, and make sure there are schools on their list that will admit them into their desired program.

Have someone double-check your application. It is easy to miss something when you are anxious about getting a college application turned in; a second set of (calm) eyes can be very helpful! Continue reading

College Factors: What to Let Go and What to Embrace

round silver colored wall clock




It is that time of year when seniors feel that the college process is getting real!

In just two short months, the early application deadline of November 1st will be here, so now is the time to focus on what you have control over and to let go of what you do not.



Factors outside of your control (recognize these, but then let them go):

-competitiveness of the applicant pool

-a college’s preference for in-state vs. out-of-state applicants

-# and competitiveness of students applying to your major

-needs of the university

-how admissions staff measure the desirability of applicants

-the essay questions you are asked to answer

-competitiveness of your high school

-biological and background factors (race, income, etc.)

-the mood and perspective of your reviewer

Factors within your control (prioritize these, and give them your best effort):

-your course selection

-the quality of your essays and application

-what is on your resume (how you’ve chosen to spend your free time)

-who writes your recommendation letters

-your desired major

-where you apply

-how you engage with colleges

-seeking out resources in your school and community

I could write about all of these in-depth, but today I will focus on quick tips for the things you do have control over. Continue reading

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

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