Category Archives: Summer planning

College Essay Tips

person-woman-apple-hotel.jpgSummer is the best time to work on college essays because the process requires time to self-reflect, something that is difficult to do during the busy school year. Here are my Top Ten Tips for writing college essays:

  1. The college essay is not an English paper assignment. There are no requirements for a thesis statement with three supporting paragraphs and a nice, neat conclusion. The best essays often start in the middle of the story, grabbing the reader’s attention. The purpose of the college essay is to bring your personality to life.
  2. Write well. Even though it is not an English paper, colleges want to know that you can write well. In college, you will be expected to write a lot. Make sure your essay is organized and coherent, as well as engaging and expressive. Check and re-check for grammar and spelling errors.
  3. Be prepared to write many drafts. Great essays take many drafts. Don’t get too invested in your first draft. Every word should be important and add something to your story.
  4. Write like you are a teenager. Do not let whoever edits your paper rewrite it so much that your personality is lost. It should be your voice coming through the pages. Use words that you would normally use but beware of slang. When you ask someone to read it, ask them if it sounds like you.
  5. Write about you, not someone else. Your grandfather might have an amazing story of hardship and hard-earned success, but colleges want to know your story. Let the reader know how you think, how you talk, how the situation or relationship you share changed something about you.
  6. Answer the question. This point may seem obvious, but many applicants end up writing essays that do not answer the essay prompt. Colleges ask specific questions for a reason and will be frustrated if you squeeze in a story that does not address their questions.
  7. Share deep, personal reflections and insights into who you are and why. To help colleges get to know you, you need to include personal reflections in your essays. Otherwise, the essay may sound trite and generic. The most important thing to share is “why” you are sharing the story; the topic you choose to write about is secondary to what it reveals about your character.
  8. Let colleges know what you will bring to the college community. Colleges want to know that you will add to the community in some way. They are looking for a diverse group of students willing to come together to share ideas, backgrounds, and experiences with one another.
  9. Do not repeat information. Instead, expand on it in an enlightening way, OR choose to highlight a complementary or even opposite personality trait. For example, you may have top grades, test scores, and a long list of amazing activities, but to stand out among all the other high achievers in highly competitive admissions, you might consider writing about something unexpected. You may be an athlete that spends most of your time on your sport. Instead of writing an essay about the “big game” or losing the championship, focus on your intellectual interests and other passions.
  10. Never use the wrong college’s name in an essay! This mistake often happens when essays and applications are rushed. Give yourself enough time to walk away from your “perfect” essay for a day, then read it again before sending it to your colleges.


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

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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.

Important Upcoming Events

pexels-photo-273025.jpegAttention College-Bound High School Students, put these dates on your calendar*:

The PNACAC (Pacific NW Association for College Admission Counseling) College Fair is Sunday, April 22nd from 12pm-3pm at the University of Portland’s Chiles Center. For a list of attendees, check here. It is highly recommended that you pre-register here:

Juniors should review the attendee list to see which colleges on their list are attending.  If your prospective colleges are coming, you should make every effort to attend.

Freshman & Sophomores: check out the list and consider attending as a chance to explore what different colleges have to offer, as well as what courses or activities they might recommend in preparation for your area of interest.

For more information on how to navigate a college fair and questions to ask, read my blog for tips:

SCAD: If you are interested in art, design, film, or architecture, consider attending a presentation in Portland by SCAD (Savannah College of Art & Design).  For more information and to register, go here:

Exploring Educational Excellence: Join Brown, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell and Rice for an information session for prospective students and their families on Wednesday, May 23, 2018, at 07:00 PM at the Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel, 8235 NE Airport Way. Register here:

Exploring College Options: Check back later this month for information on Exploring College Options: A joint presentation from Duke University, Georgetown University, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Stanford University.

Coast-To-Coast TourThis is a joint travel partnership among Dartmouth College, Northwestern University, Princeton University, University of California-Berkeley, and Vanderbilt University. Check back early this summer for dates on their appearance in Portland:

Colleges That Change Lives: Interested in having small class sizes, mentoring relationships with your professors, opportunities for leadership and the ability to double major and minor? Check out the Colleges That Change Lives at one of their summer fairs: They will be at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland on Wednesday, August 1st. Find out more here:

National College Fairs: The NACAC (National Assoc. for College Admission Counseling) College Fair will be traveling across the country again this fall, and will stop in Portland, Oregon on October 28th and 29th.  Hundreds of colleges from across the country will be present, with representatives available to answer last minute questions for seniors, as well as provide information on programs and offerings to freshman through juniors.  Mark it on your calendar:

NACAC Performing and Visual Arts College Fairs: Interested in pursuing a college degree in music, theater, art, dance, or other related disciplines? Check out NACAC’s college fair featuring universities, colleges and conservatories specializing in art programs on October 1st (6:30-8:30pm) at the Portland Art Museum. For more information or to find this event in other cities, go here:

National Portfolio Day: For students preparing a portfolio for their applications into art, design, film or architecture programs, mark your calendars for early January 2019. National Portfolio Day is an event specifically for visual artists and designers. It is an opportunity for those who wish to pursue an education in the visual and related arts to meet with representatives from colleges accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.  Representatives will be available to review your artwork, discuss their programs and answer questions about professional careers in art. Check back here for the specific date, as well as tips for preparing to attend:


*Some dates are specific to Portland, OR, but all programs host events across the country.

College-Bound Advice

GraduationTo College-Bound High School Graduates (and their Parents),

Congratulations on your college acceptances and deciding on your college of choice.  As you prepare to leave home, I encourage you to do a few things to set yourself up for a great start in college. Taking the time now to go over financial and communication expectations with your parents, as well as discussing guidelines with your future roommate(s) will prevent frustration and conflict later.  Here are a few things to consider doing:


  • Read this letter on Campus Safety
  • Read this letter, Six Ways College is Different Than High School
  • Discuss the FERPA and HIPA policies with your parents, now that you are 18 (or will be when starting college). Unless you sign these documents and give your college and your parents a copy, they will not be able to participate in health or educational decisions on your behalf.
  • Start to take charge of your health and well-being, if you have not already done so. Make your own doctor and dentist appointments for this summer and winter break. Make sure your immunizations are up-to-date.
  • Make more of your own meals and don’t expect your parents to remind you to get up and out the door on time.
  • Make sure you know how to do your own laundry, manage your debit/credit card accounts, navigate public transportation, read a map, cook a few meals, etc.
  • If you will be bringing a car to campus make sure you know how to change a tire, check tire pressure, change the oil and fill the gas tank.
  • Talk to your parents about what their expectations are for your personal choices, financial responsibilities, and academics.
  • If your parent is not listed on your bank accounts, consider setting up a Durable Power of Attorney. This authorizes your parent or another adult to make financial decisions on your behalf if you are not able to do so.  It needs to be signed by a Notary.
  • Be honest about your personality and needs when picking a roommate. Discuss ahead of time what your expectations are regarding lights out, girlfriends/boyfriends, noise, cleanliness, etc. Here is a sample Roommate Contract for ideas about issues that might come up.
  • Remember that successful college students do three things: have a goal they focus on, are involved in at least one group outside of the classroom, and develop at least one positive relationship with an adult (professor, advisor, counselor).

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Summer Tips for High School Students: Planning is key!

I was recently inplanningphototerviewed by Stephanie Kralevich with KPTV’s More Good Day Oregon about what high school students should be doing this summer to get ready for the college application process.  Below are the recommendations that I shared with her for summer planning, general tips for preparation, and advice for visiting colleges.

Stephanie: What should current high school students be doing right now to get ready for the college application process?

Kristen/College Bound & Ready: The best advice I can give to students right now is to use their summers wisely.  Summers are a great time for students to explore their interests and develop their leadership skills, whether that is through volunteering, working in a job or internship, or learning a new skill.  Colleges are very interested in how students spend their free time, so I encourage students to demonstrate their leadership, initiative, and impact in the activities they choose.  Below is my general timeline for students throughout their high school experience:

Student, Typing, Keyboard, Text, WomanFreshman Year: Be the best student you can be: work to achieve good grades, learn how to ask for help, and create good study habits. Start making your summer plans early. The best internships and jobs for teens often have early (February/March) deadlines. Here are two popular, Portland-area options for teens: OMSI Teen Science Alliance and Portland Parks & Recreation. Continue reading