Category Archives: College Selection

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

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.


Selecting and Connecting with Colleges

springstudentSpring semester junior year is typically when high school students seriously start thinking about college. For many students, this can make them feel overwhelmed or anxious, as they don’t know how to start putting together a college list. I strongly encourage students to write down their fears along with their dreams, then find a trusted advisor to help talk through each concern and wish. Students (and parents) often get stressed out when they hear about college-related things other people are doing. From my experience, the best way to combat this anxiousness is with that old saying, “Knowledge is Power”. Students should get to know themselves better and focus on putting together a list that supports their values, not someone else’s. I encourage students to focus on creating a list of five or six college qualities that they believe will be important to their success and self-efficacy. Then use these qualities to create a best-fit college list. Qualities can include majors and programs, or simply the ability to let students explore before choosing a major. They can also include location, size, alumni support, study abroad programs, academic support, small class sizes, internship or research opportunities, school spirit, specific activities, and on and on. Students and families should also consider financial needs as part of this exercise. Continue reading

College Presentations Near You

The T stop at Harvard

Of course, the best way to get to know a college and discover whether it is a good fit for a student is to visit the college in person.  But with the average number of colleges on students’ lists consistently growing, it can be an expensive and time-consuming proposition to visit every college a student is considering. According to The American Freshman Report  46% of private school students and 25% of public school students applied to seven or more colleges in 2015, up from 17% overall in 2005. Given that demonstrated interest is becoming more important to many colleges, what can students do to get to know colleges and show demonstrated interest without visiting?

Besides the steps discussed in this recent blog post, students (and parents) should research if and when colleges will be visiBoston U presentationting their area, and plan to make a connection.  Some colleges still have room in their schedules and budgets for individual high school visits.  A high school’s counseling office should have a schedule of these spring and fall visits to share with families, and students should plan to attend the visits offered from colleges of interest to them.  But many colleges aim for more bang for their bucks by conducting joint presentations with other colleges and universities or by hosting their own informational events at a more central location.  If your student is looking to make connections, learn more about certain colleges and show demonstrated interest, check out this list of upcoming College Presentations in Portland, Oregon, as well as sites to check for future visit dates in your area: Continue reading

Developing a College List

Summer for rising seniors is filled with college “stuff”: college visits, college list-making and college applications. While it is ideal for students to visit schools in person to get that “gut feeling” about fit, for most families it is challenging or impossible to visit every school students are considering. Even if students can visit in person, schools often start to blend together, as they profess to offer the same “great” things. So how do students know what schools to put on their lists?

It is easy to let friends, family and the media lure students towards certain colleges when putting together their list, but I try to help students determine what schools are likely to be the best fits for their needs. Students should be asking the questions: What is the school going to do for me and my future? What type of environment do I need to be successful (and happy)?

Consider the following factors when researching a school: Academic, Financial, Social and Physical Fit. Here are some points in each category to consider (rate each school from 1-10 on the following):

Academic Fit:

Job placement outcomes: Often hard to find on a college’s website, but a good question to ask the admissions office or an undergraduate advisor. College Results Online lists average salary for graduates 10 years post graduation. Nerd Wallet lets you compare colleges’ employment rates, often by major (when reported by the college).

Access to Teachers: Ask current students. If you don’t know any, try College Prowler (Niche) or Unigo, but take the reviews with a grain of salt. Students with extreme opinions about their college are usually the ones contributing to the discussions. You can also check out the General Information tab (for a specific college) in College Navigator to see the number of full-time, part-time and graduate assistants teaching (full-time means they will be on campus more!)

Your major and how strong is the program: You can use US News & World Report’s ranking of college programs as a start of schools to consider. Then check the college’s website for breadth, depth and types of courses offered in the program. Use College Navigator to see how many students graduated with that major in the past year, and ask the college about job placement and graduate school placement rates.

Class sizes: Find this on the college website or College Data, under the Academics tab, which lists the percent of classes with certain sizes.

Internship & Research opportunities: Search the college website and ask colleges for the percent of students doing research or internships, how early they can participate, and what support is provided in finding these opportunities.

How do I compare to current students? Use College Data (check the admission’s tab) and the college’s website. Compare your GPA and test scores with current students to see if you are a competitive applicant. The more selective the school, the higher your test scores and GPA should be compared to the average in order to feel good about your admission chances.

Financial Fit:

Your net price vs. your budget: Determine your total cost for one year, including tuition & fees, room & board, transportation and miscellaneous costs, minus expected or offered scholarships and aid. Google “X College Net Price Calculator” for a link to a resource that calculates your estimated cost at that school. If you have already received an offer from a college, ask what EFC (Expected Family Contribution) they are using to calculate aid if it isn’t listed on your award statement. Compare your Net Price to your budget. Keep in mind that a good rule of thumb for loan limits is to borrow no more than your expected first year salary.

4 & 6-year graduation rates: Most college graduation rates listed are for 6 years. Make sure you know what the 4-year graduation rate is. The national average is 33% for public colleges and universities and 53% for private, non-profit colleges and universities. Your cost of college goes up considerably if you do not graduate in 4 years.

Social Fit: Most of this category can be determined from a campus visit, and asking good questions of your tour guide, admissions officer, and students you meet on campus while visiting.

Are your “people” there? This is that “gut feeling”.

Diversity fit (can include all categories of diversity). College websites usually list percentages of ethnic groups on campus, the number of international students, and the number of students receiving Pell grants and other financial aid (socioeconomic diversity). College Prowler (Niche) or Unigo are also good resources to hear how real students feel about the amount of diversity on campus.

Are there activities available that you enjoy? Check out the “Student Life” section of the college’s website, and ask admissions staff about weekend programming and residential life activities.

For athletes and artists, are you able to pursue your passions here? Athletes and artists need to start conversations with their respective departments early on in the college process to determine the likelihood of being recruited or accepted into special programs.

Places where you will be comfortable. This could be clubs, a specific living/learning community or dorm, or cultural center. It’s a good idea to identify five resources/people on campus to help you acclimate, such as residence assistants, mentors, big brothers or sisters if you are considering joining the Greek system, academic advisors, academic tutoring services, learning disability services (if needed), and the counseling center.

Party scene/weekend activities: Ask current students or use College Prowler (Niche) or Unigo. Does it sound like you could find your social scene?

Campus safety. This is a big one. Check out this Binge Drinking and Sexual Assault article for resources and questions to ask colleges.

What is the retention rate (% of students that return after freshman year)? This is an indicator of student fit and happiness (along with affordability), and measures how many students return after freshman year. Try College Scorecard or College Results.

Physical Fit:

How does the campus feel to you? For this, visiting is key. Do an overnight if possible, and sit in on a class.

Geographical location vs. home: Consider how important this is to you. Can you make the best of any location?

Ease of getting home and cost of traveling home: Is it a plane ride or long drive away? How often will you be able to travel home?

Setting of the school and access to a big city: Does it have the access you want? Is it in or near a college town? Do I feel comfortable there? What is transportation around the campus and to nearby towns/city.

Dorms and food: If you have special dietary needs, do they offer alternatives? Ask current students or use College Prowler (Niche) or Unigo.

Exercise and outdoor options: Most colleges are spending money on student athletic centers these days, and tout them on their tours. If not, ask colleges about this and their outdoor recreation programming.

Once you have considered these characteristics and listed your ratings, a number of colleges should stand out and a list will emerge. The number of schools on a student’s list will vary, but usually includes 5-12 schools. Make sure your list has at least two colleges or universities where your admission chances are highly likely, and where you would be happy to attend.

*I highly recommend that students visit a college at least once before accepting an enrollment offer, even if they choose to wait until after they are admitted for their first visit.

Colleges Will Lose Access to Students’ College Lists

By Kristen Miller, 8/27/15

The Department of Education announced on August 13th, 2015 that the 2016-2017 FAFSA will no longer share a student’s list of colleges to all of the schools on the student’s FAFSA form. When students and their parents fill out the FAFSA, they can list up to ten colleges they wish to receive their financial information. Prior to this change, all schools listed on a student’s FAFSA could see the order a student listed the schools. Studies have shown, and most colleges believe, that students list the colleges in order of preference; and some colleges have used this information to determine admission and scholarship decisions.

There has been a lot of attention and complaints lately on this strategic enrollment practice. The National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) was one of the outspoken groups. NACAC’s members of high school and independent counselors were upset with member colleges not abiding by the Statement of Principles of Good Practice (SPGP) which prohibits colleges from requiring or asking “candidates or the secondary schools to indicate the order of the candidates’ college or university preferences.” Additionally, federal law prohibits the use of FAFSA information for anything other than awarding financial aid. Continue reading