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  • Lora Lewis

    Title: Educational Consultant
    Company: Lora Lewis Consulting

    • verified

    College Specializations
    University of California-Berkeley, University of California-Davis, University of California-Los Angeles, University of Colorado Boulder, Lewis & Clark College, The Evergreen State College, Stanford University
    Years of Experience

    Colleges I Attended
    UC Berkeley, Boston University, Mills College, St. Mary's College of California
    Master's Degree
    College and Career Counseling
    Professional Affiliations
    Prior Job
    Alameda Community Learning Center
    Prior Title
    Administrator and Post-Secondary Adviser
    About Me
    I am inspired by guiding young people as they plan and dream for their futures. I truly believe that education is the key to creating a peaceful, progressive world, and I strive to support all students in realizing their unique potential and becoming life-long learners. I've mentored students on their collegiate journeys to schools including Wesleyan, UC Berkeley, Harvard, Stanford, Bennington, Beloit and many others.

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  • Admissions Expertise

    • Any tips on getting the most out of campus tours and info sessions?


      All too often, prospective students and families invest time, money (and sometimes torturously long journeys) to make college visits, then leave having gained little more than knowledge of the campus map and the dining hall menu. Make the most of your campus visits and get the information you need to make informed decisions about whether or not a school is the right fit for you by planning ahead, taking advantage of campus tours, and then venturing off on your own.

      * Arrange to visit schools when classes are in session. It's impossible to get an authentic sense of a school's cultural and atmosphere when the quad, hallways and dorms are empty. If this means skipping a few days of school yourself, so be it. Missing a couple of high school classes is a worthwhile trade-off for the ability to make a smart decision about choosing a college.

      * When possible, try to visit during "normal" periods of the school year, when you are most likely to get a realistic picture of what day to day life is like on campus. The start of the year, Greek rush, big football games and the like are all an awesome part of campus life, but they're only exciting days and weeks that punctuate longer periods of study, study and more study. Don't visit at a time that will give you an idealized picture of campus life and possibly create unrealistic expectations about what college will be like.

      * If you're from the West Coast and planning to head East of the Rockies, do yourself a favor: Check out the schools' virtual tours to get an idea of what campus looks like in the picturesque fall and spring, but visit during the winter so you really know what it's like to live in weather. Many California students have found that ski weeks in Tahoe aren't quite the same thing as long semesters in upstate New York.

      * Schedule a campus tour. While you're on the tour, ask questions. Lots of them. Ask ahead of time if you will be able to tour dormitories, sports facilities, art studios or whatever matters to you. If not, ask how you can arrange to do so.

      * Schedule a meeting with an admissions officer. These meetings are short, informal, and are a great way to both get your questions answered and get yourself on the radar of the admissions office.

      * Arrange to sit in on a class in a subject of interest. It's a great way to get a glimpse of your future life as a college student. Though it's not always possible, you might also email a professor in advance of your visit to see if he or she would be willing to briefly sit down with you during office hours to discuss your major field of interest.

      * Have a meal or two in the different dining options on campus. While you eat, pick up some of the campus publications and take a look at what's going on. If you've got time, find an event or two to check out that evening. See a film on campus, go to a sporting event, or attend a local performance.

      * Talk to some people. Most students are more than happy to answer questions or tell you about their experiences at college. Unoccupied cashiers at campus stores, library clerks, and random loiterers at cafes and on stairwells can be excellent sources of inside information.

      * If you have a special interest or need and want to get an idea of how that might be served on a particular campus, go hunting for information. For example, visit the student disability services center, find out where and how often different support groups meet, arrange to talk to dining hall administration about special dietary needs.

      You're going to be living at college for at least four years. The quality of your education is paramount, but so is the quality of your life while you're there. Campus visits are an excellent way to find out if a school fits you not just academically, but personally.

      Decide in advance what you want to know, then hit those campuses and find out all you can. As in all things related to college (and life), information is King.

    • Are guidebooks, relatives, and rankings useful in choosing a school?


      There's an abundance of information about colleges out there, as well as plenty of friends and relatives who are more than willing to give you advice about where you should apply. Choosing a college that's right for you is a complex process, and while it's wise to do your research and gather information from as many sources as possible, don't let publications or people have undue influence on your choices. A college might be ranked #1 in the nation, but that doesn't mean it's the #1 college for you. Aunt Sadie might have had an incredible experience at University X, but University Y might be a better fit for your personality and educational goals. Do your research, ask questions, and seek opinions, but remember that your most reliable expert in selecting a college is YOU. Use the tools that are available to you to explore your options, but when it comes to making a final decision, trust your own heart and mind first.

    • Are there activities/organizations that impress highly selective colleges?


      Rather than looking for extracurriculars that you hope will impress the highly selective schools, find and pursue activities that are meaningful to YOU. Colleges want to see that you can cultivate and pursue extracurriculars in which you have an authentic investment and participate in them over time simply for their own rewards...not because they might impress the admissions office. Activities and organizations that you participate in should be about helping you grow as an individual and become an active member of your community. Your experiences and what you gain from them will influence your life long after your undergraduate career is behind you. That's what really matters.

    • Can colleges revoke admissions offers? What behaviors can cause this, and how can students protect themselves?


      Colleges can indeed revoke admissions offers. Reasons an offer may be withdrawn include failing grades senior year, failure to complete coursework indicated on one's application, the discovery of falsified information or plagiarism on one's application, and disciplinary actions such as suspension from school.

      Protect yourself by:

      * Reporting accurate information on your applications and composing your own essays.

      * Maintaining average grades of C or higher in all classes.

      * Completing all coursework reported on your applications.

      * Steering clear of behavior that could land you in trouble with your school or law enforcement.

      Getting into college is a challenge and an achievement! Don't let lapses in judgment or laziness jeopardize your admission. If you do run into trouble, be sure to contact the admissions office at your (hopefully) future college as soon as possible; they can give you a clear picture of how your admissions offer will be impacted and what, if anything, you can do to maintain your spot in the freshman class.

    • Can the number of times you contact a college impact your chances?


      Contacting colleges with meaningful questions or meeting with admissions folks during campus visits or college fairs certainly can't hurt. It demonstrates your sincere interest in the school, helps you get to know people at the school, and, most importantly, lets you get your questions answered by the experts.

      When you talk with an admissions officer, either by phone or in person, be sure to get his or her name and contact info. It's always nice to be able to follow up if you have more questions, and you should always send a brief thank you note or email.

      While it's always fine to reach out with questions, be careful not to go overboard. Hounding admissions won't help your chances, and it may even hurt them.

    • Do colleges look more favorably on applicants who can pay full tuition?


      Like everyone else, colleges have been hit hard by the current economic climate. In some cases, it is to a school's advantage to take as many highly qualified students who can pay full tuition as possible. This has definitely been the case in the University of California system, which has seen a rise in admitted applicants from out of state (who bring higher priced out of state tuition along with them).

      Do some research to find out if the colleges you're interested in are "need blind". This means that they consider all applicants equally regardless of ability to pay.

      All colleges want to give the greatest amount of opportunity to the most highly qualified candidates no matter what their financial situation. Their ability to do so depends on many factors and is framed by complex revenue streams, which are often out of their control. Don't be discouraged if you cant pay full tuition, but do be sure you apply broadly enough to include schools where the ability to pay isn't a major factor in admission.

    • Do rich kids have an automatic advantage in college admissions?


      No one has an "automatic advantage", but some schools do take into account an applicant's ability to pay as well as whether or not he or she has family members who were alumni (and possibly made financial contributions to their alma mater). That being said, some schools are also "need blind" and actively recruit first generation college students and under served populations.

      Don't worry about whether rich kids (or poor kids, for that matter) have an unfair advantage. Work at your absolute best, craft stellar applications, apply to an appropriately diverse range of schools, and you'll create your own admissions advantage.

    • Do you need to have a prospective major, or is it okay to be undecided?


      The college years are a time to explore your interests and discovery what you're passionate about. Most schools encourage students to take courses in a wide variety of subjects before declaring a major (usually by junior year). Some even allow you to create your own major and/or take courses free of any prescribed requirements at all. In other words, being "undecided" is just fine.

      There are some colleges, though, that require students to declare a major upon application (on the West Coast, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is the most notable). Be sure to research a school's requirements before applying. If you're not comfortable committing to a path of study as a freshman, there are plenty of other colleges that will accommodate your desire to try different subjects and find the major that inspires you.

    • Does class size matter?


      The question is, Does class size matter to you?

      You've had a lot of experience as a student in the past twelve years. If you take the time to reflect on your academic career, you should be able to identify how, when and where you learn best. Are you a person who loves to interact with the teacher and your classmates? Do you thrive on discussion and collaboration? Do you prefer to sit near the back and take notes quietly, only speaking when you have a question or are called upon?

      What does your ideal learning environment look like? If it's intimate and allows for frequent discussion and interaction as well as close relationships with professors, then small class sizes might be an important feature of the colleges you consider.

      Does the idea of sitting around a table discussing literary theory with ten students and a professor make you sweat? If you're more comfortable working independently (and even anonymously) and don't feel the need to form connections with professors and classmates, then large or lecture hall-style classes might work just fine for you.

      Whether your classes are big or small, what matters is that they enable you to learn and achieve to your potential. Only you can know what works for your personality and learning style.

    • Early, rolling, regular: When should you apply?


      As with so many aspects of the college admissions process, this depends on the individual. There are some benefits to applying early, including a "competitive edge" and the ability to receive a decision from the college(s) well before the usual March date. The drawbacks are that you have to submit your application early (obviously!) and, in the case of Early Decision applications, you are entering into a binding agreement that you will attend the college if admitted.

      Many students find that regular decision applications give them the most breathing room in terms of submitting apps and keeping their options open. It's up to you to decide whether the perks of early admission are worth the drawbacks.

      If rolling admission is an option, there is flexibility as to when you apply, but don't take this as an indication that there are no deadlines at all; even schools with rolling admissions often have deadlines for "priority admission" and scholarship consideration, and it's always in your best interest to submit your application well in advance of those dates.

    • How do you build a good relationship with your high school guidance counselor?


      In these days when counseling departments are regularly hit with budget cuts, many students don't even know who their counselor is, let alone have a good relationship with him or her. This doesn't mean you should give up and go it alone.

      Counselors are in the profession because they love working with kids, and if you're proactive, it's very possible to form valuable connections with your guidance counselor. The best way to start? Make (and keep) appointments to see your counselor. Go to your meetings well prepared and with a list of questions. Check in regularly, and don't wait for the mandatory junior and senior year meetings to reach out. View your counselor as an important resource, and share your appreciation with him or her. Spend time in the counseling office looking at view books and searching for scholarships; this will give you a chance to chat with counselors and also show them that you're serious about college and taking the initiative to do research.

      It also can't hurt to say hi when you pass your counselor in the hallway. :)

    • How do you deal with overbearing parents during the college process?


      The college admissions process can be a challenging time for families. Both parents and kids often aren't prepared for the surge of conflicting emotions that can arise around choosing and getting into the right college. Parents have the best intentions: They want their kids to be ell educated, happy, and have bright future opportunities. Sometimes, though, their anxiety and over-involvement can become detrimental to the admissions process.

      I often remind parents that college is the first major step young people make toward adulthood and self-sufficiency. It's important that they support their kids, but that they resist the urge to try to steer or control the process. As a private consultant, I'm frequently a "buffer" between kids and parents, addressing the concerns of each individually and serving the needs of both parties while still focusing on the primary client, the student.

      I use the analogy that we are running a race as a team: In the beginning, we're all running along together. Some distance into the college process, the parents drop off the the sidelines and the kid and I run together. By the end, I've also stepped aside and the student is running on his or her own, empowered by having successfully navigated the road to college and bolstered by newfound confidence in his or her ability to tackle a challenging rite of passage and make good personal decisions.

      Parents need support through this time of change and letting go. I encourage them to take care of themselves and their emotions by talking with other adults who've survived the college craziness. I also remind them that this is the last year they will live in their same house with their child full-time...and that stress and conflict shouldn't compromise this special stage of life. The more they can relax, trust, and offer non-judgmental support and resources to their soon-to-be college student, the more peaceful and productive the admissions process will be for all involved.

    • How do you indicate to a school that they are your first choose besides early decision?


      Don't be afraid to reach out to admissions officers to let them know that you're applying and that their school is at the top of your list. Get in touch by email or phone and ask thoughtful, relevant questions about the school and its programs that will make your sincere interest apparent. If you have the opportunity to meet admissions folks in person at college fairs or on campus visits, this is also a great way to make contact. Strive to make your interactions with officials courteous and professional, and while it's fine to get in touch a few times, don't go overboard: No one wants to be an "admissions stalker".

    • How do you know if community college is right for you?


      Community colleges are an incredibly valuable part of the American higher education system. They truly serve the community at large, and can help you meet your educational goals, whether you're planning to transfer to a 4-year school, become certified in a trade or professional field, or simply explore your own interests. In these challenging economic times, when more and more people are finding the sticker price for four years of college impossible or unwise to take on, community college can be a cost-effective way to pursue higher education.

      Community college might be right for you if:

      * The cost of tuition and expenses for four years at state or private college doesn't fit your budget, or you are uncomfortable taking on student loan debt. Following a program of coursework that will make you eligible for transfer to a 4-year college as a junior, you can complete the first two years of your education for a tiny fraction of what it might cost you at a state or private school. By attending community college for two years and then transferring, you are essentially cutting your college costs in half.

      * You're still exploring your interests or are uncertain if 4-year college is right for you. Community college will give you access to classes in many different disciplines and vocational/professional fields. You might discover a new passion that will help provide you direction in your future choice of a 4-year school. You might find that college isn't the right path for you, and decide instead to pursue training in a professional or vocational career.

      * You want to get to work as soon as possible. In two years or less, a community college can prepare you for a variety of career options that could carry higher salaries than some jobs that require undergraduate degrees.

      * You're just not ready for college yet. Even though "everybody else is doing it", there's no law that says you have to be ready and eager to go to college right after high school. Choosing to take your college journey more slowly (perhaps by exploring classes at a community college) doesn't mean that you are somehow lagging behind your peers. In fact, it takes more courage and self-awareness to recognize that you're not quite ready to commit to 4-years of school than it does to leap blindly into college just because all your friends are going.

      Wherever you are in your college search, it can be smart to keep community college as one of your options. Financially, personally, and professionally, it just might be the best academic decision you could make.

    • How many schools should students apply to?


      It's important to apply to enough schools from a wide enough range of selectivity that you have an excellent chance of acceptance. Many students these days apply to upwards of 15 colleges, but this is unnecessary. Applying to 2-3 "safety" schools (where you are well above the average admitted student profile), 2-3 "target" schools (where you meet the average admitted student profile) and 2-3 "dream" schools (where even the most highly qualified kids don't stand much of a chance) is usually sufficient.

    • Is it better to stick close to home or go to school far away?


      College isn't a one-size-fits-all experience. Whether it's better for you to go away or stay near home depends on your own needs, personality and situation. Going far away will offer many new experiences and push you to explore outside your comfort zone, but it is also more expensive and has the drawback of taking you away from family and friends. Staying near home may be more economical and let you keep in closer touch with those you care about, but it can also make you feel like you haven't really "gone" anywhere.

      When you start thinking about where you'd like to attend college, do an honest self-inventory of what really matters to you in your college experience and what you need to be happy and learn best. Ultimately, you can get a good education three miles away or three thousand; you want to be sure you're in a place where you have the right balance of challenge and security to enable you to take advantage of all college has to offer.

    • Once accepted, how do you choose between colleges?


      In the current financial climate, I see more and more students using financial aid offers as the primary factor on which to base their decision. In some cases, it just makes so much more sense financially to select one school over the other that it's almost a no-brainer.

      If this isn't the case, do second campus visits if possible. Sometimes what seemed very appealing in spring of junior year has lost it's luster by spring of senior year, and you might be able to eliminate some options.

      Still stuck? Make a thorough list of what you want to get out of your college experience. Choose the school that meets the largest number of your requirements. It's a cheesy approach, but it can help clarify your priorities in your mind and see how each school really stacks up.

    • Should students approach the college process differently in this economy?


      Tuition is up, employment is down, and interest rates are high. Rather than set yourself up for disappointment and be forced to turn down acceptances, it makes sense to be practical early on about what your family can realistically afford and do an honest assessment of how much debt you're willing to take on.

      Even if it's highly likely you'll receive merit aid, consider whether you'd be willing and able to cover the entire cost of attendance without it. Figure out how much loan aid you'd need to attend, then use a student loan repayment calculator to determine what your future monthly payment will be on that amount. Then, consider how likely it is that you'll be able to find (within six months of graduation) a job that will enable you to make that payment.

      College is a time to learn about oneself and the world, make friends, and explore the world. It's also just one phase in a lifetime of learning. It's a huge investment. You want to be happy and have fun, but it also pays to be practical.

    • Should students consider taking a year off in between high school and college?


      Taking a gap year, especially if you are feeling uncertain about college or just needing a break from strict academics, can be a very valuable experience. It can even help make you a more attractive candidate to some colleges, as those who pursue a well-planned gap experience often come back with more maturity and self-confidence and are better prepared for the challenges of higher education.

      If you are planning to attend a private college, it might be an option to apply and be accepted to a school, then defer your admissions for one year while you go on a gap year. Public universities typically won't grant deferrals, but it is possible to apply for admission for the following academic year while you are on your gap year.

      Remember, a gap year doesn't mean sitting around playing video games and sleeping all day. If you plan to take time off, be sure it is productive and that you are either pursuing a formal gap program (there are many excellent reputable companies offering gap year experiences around the world) or are doing a valuable internship. The idea is to develop new skills and gain exposure to the world around you. It will benefit you in college and for the rest of your life.

    • What are freshman retention rates and why do they matter?


      Freshman retention rates let you know how many of a school's entering freshman class returned for their sophomore year. These rates are important because they are a great way to gauge the student body's overall satisfaction with their college experience. If retention rates are high, it indicates that most students found the academic, social and financial aspects of their freshman year at least sufficiently acceptable for them to choose to return. Lower rates may indicate that more students struggled with or were not satisfied by their educational experience, their social lives, their ability to finance their studies, or some combination of these. While it obviously shouldn't be the only figure by which you judge a school's quality, retention rates can give you a quick, baseline idea of how many freshman found their first year so worthwhile that they chose to come back for more.

    • What are the most important factors to consider when choosing a college?


      Is the school a good match for you, personally and academically? Only you can know what you need in a school and what matters to you most. Location, cost, academic programs, social life, sports--any or all of these might have a major influence on your choices.

      Rather than worry about what others think is important or getting caught up in a college's rankings in a variety of areas, figure out what you want out of your college experience and do good research to find the schools that will provide those things.

      The most important factors to consider are those that are important to you.

    • What are the quickest ways to research colleges?


      It's easier than ever to access information about colleges. Official websites, guidebooks, and online college resources like Unigo offer many ways to learn about potential schools and explore whether they might be good fits for you.

      If you have a list of things your future college must (or must not) have, such as a particular major or extracurricular, location or size) it can facilitate your search to use a search engine that will narrow down possibilities based on your criteria.

      Once you have this initial list, however, your research should be anything but quick. It takes time and effort to learn about what a college has to offer, and even more time to reflect and assess thoroughly whether it is a place where you will thrive. As with most aspects of the college admissions process, be prepared for this step to take time--a LOT of time. Don't cut corners here, and you'll likely end up saving yourself time later on.

    • What are women's colleges like?


      Women's colleges are like any other college...without the men. For some, learning in an environment that is free of potential gender bias is liberating, both personally and academically. Much of the boy/girl social focus that can be such a large part of the co-ed college experience is significantly diminished, often freeing students up in many ways to invest their energies in learning, personal growth, and the development of friendships.

      Keep in mind that women's colleges aren't nunneries; boys certainly aren't everywhere you look, but I've never heard a student at a women's college complain that she never met members of the opposite sex. The real world is always just beyond those college gates, and the guys are always still out there.

    • What can high school seniors do to enhance their chances of admission?


      Keep up your grades, re-take SAT/ACTs to improve scores, and keep the application process on track. By senior year, it's too late to worry about making significant gains in your GPA or getting involved in a new extracurricular. Some schools will never even see your fall semester grades until after you've been accepted, and an activity you begin in September or October won't make an impression at all.

      Focus on creating strong college applications, going that extra mile to make contacts with admissions officers to express interest in their schools, and working hard academically.

    • What extracurriculars are most important?


      The most important extracurriculars are those that are important to you. Colleges don't have a short list of activities you need to participate in if you want to be accepted. They want to know what inspires and excites you, and to see that you've participated in these activities in a meaningful way over time. It doesn't matter if your extracurricular is a sport, a leadership role, a creative pursuit, volunteer work, or...if you've done it with passion and commitment and you can write about it with authentic self-reflection as to its influence on your life, admissions officers will take notice.

    • What if you can't visit a school?


      It's not always possible to visit schools, especially in the current economic climate. Fortunately, this great technological age in which we live provides many opportunities to virtually" explore campuses and their surrounding locations. If you invest some time and effort, it's possible to learn a lot about a college without leaving your desk. Making connections with admissions people, current students and alumni are other great ways to get information about a school and it's culture without setting foot on campus.

      Increasingly, students are applying to schools they've researched well, then waiting to see where they are accepted before making plans to visit. This makes for some whirlwind trips between March and the May 1 acceptance deadline, but it can save you thousands of dollars in travel expenses.

    • What is "need blind" and "need sensitive" admissions?


      Need blind means that a college evaluates your suitability for admission without regard to your ability to pay the cost of attendance. Need sensitive means that they take into account your ability to pay when deciding whether or not to offer you admission.

    • What kinds of students should consider hiring an independent college counselor?


      An independent college counselor can be valuable to any student, whether he or she is shooting for the Ivy League, a state college or university, or a unique liberal arts or art school. A good counselor helps students build a broad, balanced list of colleges where they will thrive and assesses their chances of acceptance at each; their goal is to help clients get into the schools that are the best matches for their goals and needs. She or her will also provide expert guidance in crafting an exceptional essay and application that truly reflects the student's "best self", academically and personally. Counselors help students find their stories and tell them in compelling ways, and often uncover unique strengths and characteristics the student didn't even know he or she had. Of course, counselors are also indispensable for addressing the many complexities and confusions that arise during the admissions process, and may help families maintain an even keel during the often stressful time by serving as an "intermediary" between parents and kids (who wants to spend senior year nagging and fighting over college applications?).

      Unfortunately, given the funding cuts many high school counseling departments are struggling with, school-based counselors have less and less time to devote to college advising. Almost all kids and families can benefit from working with an experienced, professional college consultant. Organizations like the Higher Educational Consultants Association and the independent Educational Consultants Associations are great ways to find quality, reputable counselors, as are recommendations from other families.

      Hiring a college counselor isn't a necessity, but a knowedgable, supportive guide can definitely smooth the road on what can be a rocky, uncertain journey toward higher education.

    • What should high school students do before the summer of their senior year?


      Ideally, students will have made significant progress in their college process during junior year and will already be developing a list of potential schools and batting around idea for essays. Given the intensity of 11th grade, however, most kids are still at the beginning stages of the process when summer rolls around.

      Of course, it's crucial to have good grades in rigorous courses under your belt up through junior year, and to have been engaged in a few solid extracurricular activities during your high school years. These are things that you can't start making up for as a rising senior; if you haven't got them taken care of, it is, essentially, too late.

      What you CAN do before school gets out for summer is take the SAT Subject tests while the material from your junior year classes is still fresh in your mind. You can be sure that you're signed up for a full course load of rigorous classes (no slacking off! Senior year isn't synonymous with a five period day).

      You should also talk with the teachers who you'd like to write letters of recommendation for you, and, if they're willing, get their summer email addresses so you can send them brag sheets, Common Application recommender invites, and other necessary materials. If you can provide them with the info they'll need to write you a thorough recommendation before you leave in June, so much the better; teachers often prefer to write letters over the summer, when they aren't burdened with academic year paperwork (and they tend to write better letters during the relaxing days of summer as well).

    • What should you do if your high school doesn't offer advanced classes?


      Colleges assess your academic achievement in relation to the opportunities your high school provides for students. If your school doesn't offer AP or honors placement classes, you won't be penalized by colleges. They want to see that you've taken the most rigorous coursework available to you, and you can't take what isn't offered.

      This doesn't mean, however, that it isn't worthwhile to pursue advanced learning opportunities outside of your high school. Consider taking summer or evening classes at your local community college. Not only do these courses carry the same "grade bump" as AP or HP classes, but they demonstrate to potential colleges your ability to do undergraduate level work. University extension classes an summer courses that carry college credit are other options (though they are more costly than community college).

      It shows a lot about your enthusiasm for learning and your initiative as a student if you find educational opportunities to fill in the gaps in your high school curriculum. This can be just as impressive to colleges as a transcript full of APs.

    • What's the best time to visit a college campus?


      You should absolutely visit when school is in session so you can experience what a campus is like in action. Without students there, even the most impressive college is really just a bunch of buildings.

      If possible, try not to visit during the first month of school or other time of peak activity like sports playoffs, when the temporary hustle and excitement can give you a false sense of what regular day to day life is like.

      If you're from a warmer geographical area and are considering school in a different clime, consider scheduling your visit for a month when the weather is at it's worst; that way, you won't be surprised when those first snow flurries start to fly and it turns out that, in some parts of the country, winter really does mean cold.

    • What are some questions to consider before applying to an online school?


      First, be sure to do your research. It's essential that the school you're considering be reputable and accredited. Don't be afraid to ask pointed questions about the school's history and track record.

      Second, do an honest self-assessment to figure out how successful you can be in an online learning environment. Many people find it challenging to stay on track and complete assignments when they don't have the incentive and inspiration of classroom-based meetings. If having person-to-person contact is necessary for your learning, it could be tough to get the interaction you need in virtual classrooms. Look at your personality and learning style and your track record of motivating yourself to work hard. Online education is a new and very different experience for most of us, and it pays to be sure it's a good fit for you before you log in.

    • What are the benefits of taking AP exams in high school?


      High scores on AP exams are a good indication to colleges that you will be successful in college-level classes. Most schools will also grant undergraduate credit or waive certain requirements for up to a certain number of AP exams taken with a score of 3 or above. Look for a college's policy on AP exams on their website to find out if taking the exams can earn you this advantage.

    • Can what I post on Facebook affect my chances of getting accepted?


      Yes. As the use of social media grows, more and more colleges are viewing applicants' Facebook pages as additional avenues by which to learn about potential candidates. While it may amuse you and your friends to post questionable, controversial or highly personal information on Facebook, it can also send colleges the wrong messages. Refrain from posting anything in the public areas of Facebook (or anywhere) that you wouldn't want your grandma/priest/boss to see. It's better to be safe than sorry.

    • We don't have time or money to visit some schools I'm really interested in. What can I do?


      These days, a lot of families are short on time and money. It's increasingly common for students to do considerable research, apply to the schools that seem like good matches, and then visit only those where they are accepted to help them reach a final decision.

      Even if you don't have the resources to visit all of the schools you're considering, there are many ways you can learn about their programs, facilities, and culture.

      1. Attend local college fairs. Most areas hold at least one college fair every season, and these often bring representatives from hundreds of colleges. Go prepared with questions to ask the reps from the colleges you're considering. Be sure to take their business cards so you have a resource for follow up questions.

      2. College websites are gold mines of information. Almost all schools now offer "virtual" campus tours that will give you a sense of what the campus and its surroundings are like. Don't just visit the home and academics pages. Really explore and click through the site and you'll learn about everything from study abroad opportunities to student clubs to quirky school traditions.

      3. Access digital copies of student newspapers and other publications. They're a great way to find out what's current on campus and to get a sense of a school's culture and politics. It can also be informative to set up a Google Alert that will send you links to news stories about your campuses of interest when they hit the wires.

      4. Seek out current students. There are more ways than ever to get in touch with current college students online and to get an "inside view" of what it's like to attend certain schools. Remember, though, that the information you receive through casual contacts like these will be subjective; don't let any one person's opinions sway you toward or away from a particular school.

      Most importantly, don't give up on particular schools just because you can't visit them. Utilize the plethora of information that is available with a little time, effort and strategic mouse-clicks, and you'll be able to learn more about your collegiate options than you ever thought possible...all without leaving your bedroom.

    • If I haven't found the right extracurriculars, can I still appear to be a dedicated student?


      Extracurricular activities should be genuine learning experiences. A single activity undertaken for an extended period is often more valuable than ten you do only once. It’s even better if the activity lets you develop a variety of skills. One student worked only at a youth radio station, but she produced radio shows, learned web design, led a public service campaign, and mentored new participants. She not only got into her first choice school but was accepted to all the schools she applied to. Choose extracurriculars that inspire you, and then commit to investing the time and energy to learning all you can.

    • What are the most significant, avoidable mistakes students make in the admissions process?


      It sounds like common sense, but don't overlook the importance of reading each individual college application and making certain you are accurately providing the requested information. Every admissions season, many intelligent, highly qualified students who would be excellent candidates for admission damage their chances of acceptance by failing to read applications thoroughly, follow the instructions, and write to the prompts that are provided. Don't assume that you know what an application is asking for and fill in blanks indiscriminately. Don't write essays that wander off topic or fail to address the topic entirely. Don't ignore word and character counts. Don't copy and paste the same essays and information from one application to the next. Applying to college is a detail-oriented process that takes time and close attention. Don't compromise all the hard work you've done in high school by cutting corners and sending in sloppy applications. Instead, let your applications do justice to all you've achieved and have to offer.

    • As a high school junior, what are the most important things for me to do before senior year?


      1) Take the most rigorous high school courses available to you and do very well in them. 2) Continue to pursue your extracurricular activities.

      3) Take the SAT Reasoning Test or the ACT in the spring and the SAT Subject Tests (if needed) in May or June.

      4) Research an develop a preliminary list of colleges to apply to.

      5) Begin brainstorming possible essay topics and taking notes.

      6) Kindly ask two to three teachers if they will be willing to write recommendation letters for you over the summer, and prepare a resume and brag sheet to help guide them in their writing.

      7) Plan for and take any college tours/campus visits.

      8) Relax and enjoy the college planning process knowing that you are on schedule and taking care of business.

    • Tuition aside, what benefits and drawbacks exist by going to school in-state vs. out-of-state?


      Taking on a new college, city and state all at once can be an opportunity to venture outside your comfort zone and find out who you really are and who you really want to be. Without family and friends nearby, you’ll quickly become more self-reliant and empowered to manage your own life. Homesickness is inevitable, but distance can deepen connections with family and friends and enable you to appreciate these relationships in new ways. While not for everyone, an out-of-state education can be a great way to begin discovering yourself and exploring what the world has to offer.

    • How many colleges should I apply to? How many reaches? Safety schools?


      These days, it's not uncommon for students to apply to upwards of 15 schools. In some cases, this is because they can't narrow down their schools of interest, but more often it's a strategy born of fear, and the belief that the more applications you submit, the better your chances of being accepted.

      While this may have some element of truth, you should also consider the possibility that submitting tons of applications may backfire. In the rush and stress to complete so many applications, quality often suffers. When you're struggling to complete 15 applications and the 30-35 supplement essays likely to be required for this number of applications, mistakes are much more likely to happen. The quality of writing will go down. Important questions may be overlooked or addressed incorrectly.

      A better strategy is to find between 6-8 colleges that are great fits for your personality, needs and goals, then put your best effort into making those 6-8 applications an authentic, engaging reflection of who you are as a student and individual.

      Apply to 2-3 safety schools, 2-3 target or likely acceptance schools, and 2-3 reach schools. It's important to develop a list of schools with a broad range of selectivity. If your list is well balanced and you've done good research as to a school's typical acceptance profile, you'll be successful in getting into at least one (and probably more) of your choices.

    • What exactly are the differences between early action and early decision?


      Early admission programs give you the chance to express your sincere desire to attend a certain school (or schools) and also have the added benefit of letting you know whether or not you were accepted in mid-December of your senior year.

      Early Action is a non-binding agreement. You can apply to as many schools EA as you like (though some schools do have restrictions; be sure to read the applications carefully). Because EA expresses your strong desire to attend but doesn't ask you to make a commitment, it carries a bit less weight than Early Decision.

      Early Decision is a binding agreement. You can only apply to ONE school early decision. When you sign the dotted line, you are committing to attend the college if you are accepted. You should only use an ED option if you are absolutely, positively sure it is your number one school and you will be jumping for joy if you get in. ED is not to be trifled with, but it can be a valuable tool for those who know where they want to go and are looking for a little extra edge to show how seriously they want to attend.

    • Do college admissions officers look at applicants' Facebook profiles?


      They might. The media is full of stories these days about students whose less-than-impressive antics have been revealed to colleges through social media. You can never be sure if a college will check your Facebook profile, so why risk it? Keep your public photos and comments PG-13.

    • How is a student whose grades improved throughout high school evaluated?


      Admissions officers like to see an "upward trend" in a student's grades. Freshman year, especially, can be a time of rocky transition for some kids, and grades from the 9th grade may not be a reflection of the student's true capabilities. If you're making progress by sophomore year, and even more in junior year (and taking a rigorous course load), colleges will recognize your improvement as a sign that you have matured intellectually and started to discover yourself as a learner.

    • In all of your years working with students, what were some of the most unexpected admissions successes you witnessed?


      Lisa had a 4.3 GPA, a near-perfect SAT math score, and impressive extracurricular activities, but she was convinced she’d end up studying astrophysics at a large state university. Her dream school, she confided, was Harvard. “But I’ll never get in,” she lamented. “They take 7% of applicants.” “That means somebody gets in,” I said. “Why not you?” She applied to Harvard and several other colleges that were far less selective. That spring, against the odds, she became one of the Harvard 7%. It just goes to show: You’ll never know unless you apply. Breathe deeply and go for it!

    • In what cases would you recommend applying early decision?


      If you're absolutely, positively sure a school is your #1 choice, go for early decision. But if you can even remotely envision a scenario where you receive an acceptance from your ED school and you aren't literally jumping for joy, stick to Early Action or Regular Decision.

      Early Decision is a binding agreement, which means if you're accepted, you've got to attend. That's a commitment many students aren't prepared to make.

    • Do I have a better chance of getting accepted if I apply early action or early decision?


      Yes, but how much of an advantage varies. Some colleges take a significantly higher percentage of applicants who apply using an early program, while other take only a handful more. It's fairly easy to find statistics on the percentage of applicants a certain school took in early action, early decision and regular decision cycles (check the school's website or do a web search to find statistics compiled by numerous periodicals).

      Keep in mind, though, that early decision is an option you should only use after a great deal of consideration. Early decision typically gives your application a generous boost toward acceptance, but it is a binding agreement (meaning that if you are accepted, you're bound to accept the school's offer). Don't make this choice lightly. A lot can change in senior year, and the school that you were ready to commit to whole-heartedly in November might not be the one you want to attend come March; if you've be accepted under early decision, you don't get to change your mind.

    • Is early decision really binding, or can I still get out of it?


      Binding means binding. In rare cases where you absolutely cannot afford the cost of attendance and the school can't help you cover the costs, you might be able to get out of your commitment. You certainly can't say "no, thanks" just because you decided you prefer another campus or you want to go to school where your new girl/boyfriend got in.

      Do your research before you apply, both to make sure the school is absolutely, positively your first choice and that you will be able to afford it given the average financial aid package the school offers. Save yourself and the school grief and don't apply ED if you're counting on receiving every scholarship they offer in order to meet the cost of attendance.

      For many people, early action (non-binding) and regular decisions are more comfortable options. Only you can can decide if ED is best for you. Just remember that signing on that electronic line is as serious as a quadruple pinkie-promise; once you make it, there's no going back.

    • Why do some colleges have supplements to the common application?


      Colleges often want to know more specific information than is requested on the Common Application, especially as it relates to their particular school. Supplement questions may ask you to think about why you want to attend the colleges, why you think you'd be a good fit, or what you can bring to the campus. You may also encounter questions that help the college to get a broader picture of who you are as an individual and a student. This information can be helpful for schools not just in their admissions decisions, but in making scholarship offers. Be sure to give each supplement as much effort and attention as you do the main Common Application.

    • Can students apply to college online?


      Yes. All schools have an online application option, and most prefer it over paper applications. Increasingly, colleges discourage paper apps and many don't accept them. At some colleges, application fees will even be waived if you apply online.

    • Do colleges view online applications the same as paper applications?


      Yes. In this green and technological age, many colleges no longer even accept paper applications. Your application will be viewed in exactly the same way, whether it's composed in pen and ink or on a computer screen.

    • What are some common red flags that can hurt an application?


      In terms of the application itself, failure to follow application directions can really hurt you. Sloppiness and mistakes that might indicate cutting-and-pasting between applications should also be avoided.

      With regard to your academics and background, periods of low grades, gaps in coursework, and very limited or too many extracurricular activities can be warning signs. Think critically about your application as you put it together. If there is something that might stand out and catch an admission officer's eye as a "red flag", acknowledge it and briefly address it either in your essay, the additional comments section, or via a reference letter from your counselor. Colleges are much more likely to move past a "red flag" if it's clear to them that you acknowledge it as such and are able to offer an explanation.

    • What exactly is the common app?


      The Common App is a single application used by most private schools. If the colleges you're applying to are Common App members, you fill out one application, write one main essay, upload your school and reference information, and it all goes to every college you indicate. In addition to the main Common App, many school also request that you complete a school-specific supplement, which is also part of the Common Application.

    • What are the most important components of the application?


      All the components of your application should work together to create a strong, complete picture of who you are as a person and a student. In this sense, every part counts! Envision your application as puzzle pieces that you're fitting together to form a rich and unique presentation of yourself and your accomplishments. Grades continue to be the most important factor colleges consider in admissions decisions, so be sure you take the most rigorous courses available to you. Depending on the school you applying to, test scores can also be a key element. Since the essay and supplement essays offer the most wide-open opportunity to show who you are, they are very valuable pieces of your application and deserve your absolute best effort and attention.

      Remember that the application is usually the only part of the admissions process over which you have complete control. Once it's gone off to the colleges, what happens next is out of your hands. Be sure your application is an honest and thoughtful reflection of who you are and who you'd like to be, the let the rest of the process take care of itself.

    • How can students get the best high school teacher recommendations?


      Ideally, students should have one recommendation from a teacher in the humanities and one in math/science. Your recommenders should be teachers who know you and your work well, and who have taught you in the last two years (junior year teachers are best).

      When you've decided who you'd like to write your recommendations, ask those teachers in person if they are willing to compose a letter for you. Approach them in the spring of junior year, NOT in the fall of senior year (teachers often write better letters in the more relaxed summer months). Before you leave for vacation in June, give them a reminder that you'll be sending more information about the letter you need in a few weeks.

      Provide your teachers with a "brag sheet" or resume detailing you academic and extracurricular accomplishments, including any work experience. It's also helpful to write a brief paragraph about specific papers or projects you did in their class (this can help jog their memories as well as give them evidence to use in supporting their discussion of your academic abilities).

      Be sure you check any boxes and sign any agreements on your recommendation forms indicating that you waive your right to see the recommendation letters. It's fine if the teachers later want to show you the letters, but recommendations are only considered valuable information by colleges if you haven't seen them prior to their submission.

      If you are using the Common Application, send the invitation link to your teachers as soon as it becomes available. Check periodically to see if the letters have been uploaded; if not, it's fine to send a kind reminder.

      Once the letters are complete, send handwritten thank you notes to your teachers. Writing recommendation letters can be time consuming and challenging; most teachers are more than happy to write them, but it's always nice to show your gratitude.

    • How can planning increase a student's chance of getting great teacher recommendations?


      High school teachers are asked to write many recommendations every school year. Most requests come from seniors in the fall, when the school year and admissions season are already in full swing. Teachers are busy teaching classes, they've got papers to grade as well as piles of recommendation letters to write. This is not a good scenario for the creation of a stellar recommendation letter.

      If you want to get a great letter, ask your teachers in the spring of junior year if they'd be willing to write a letter supporting your application. If they agree, provide them with a resume, brag sheet, and a few "memory joggers" describing projects you've done or papers you've written in their classes. If you have actual hard copies of class work you can copy and give them, so much the better. Let them know which schools you'll be applying to, and why each is on your list.

      Let them know that you'll be contacting them over the summer with more specific instructions about submitting their letters (typically, you'll send them a link from the Common Application that enables them to upload their recommendation). Be sure to get the email addresses where you can reach them over the summer.

      Be thankful and appreciative. Be available to answer any questions they might have while writing.

      When they've sent in your letters, always follow up with a thank you note. The really do mean a lot to teachers.

    • Do students commonly get in off the waitlist?


      As with so many things in college admissions, it depends. Some schools don't even maintain wait-lists. Some take several students from the list, some take very few. This is also true of individual schools from one year to the next. A college might take 15 students from the wait-list this year, but next year only take three.

      Your best bet is not to stress about your chances of turning that wait-list status into admitted. Express your ongoing strong desire to attend the school via a letter, then put your wait-list worry aside and focus on choosing from among the colleges that have already offered you a spot.

    • What is the best way to handle getting waitlisted or deferred?


      First, don't let it get you down. Being wait-listed usually means that you met all of the college's admission criteria and were an excellent candidate, but they just didn't have the space to admit you. But since you can't know the reasons you were put on the wait-list, it's not worth wasting energy trying to figure it out.

      If you want to remain on the school's wait-list, let them know by responding to their offer. If you're extremely interested in attending the school, send them a brief, thoughtful letter expressing your continued desire to attend and letting them know about any NEW information or accomplishments that was not included on your application. Talk up what you've been doing during senior year and show them that you're finishing senior year with the same commitment and enthusiasm that you hope to bring to their campus in the fall.

      It varies a great deal from year to year and from college to college how many people are admitted off the wait-list. Give it your best shot, but don't hold your breath. Put your time and energy into choosing the best option from among the colleges to which you were officially admitted. One of them will more than likely turn out to be the school of your dreams.

    • How important are standardized test scores compared to other pieces of the application?


      Standardized test scores are important because they provide colleges with a common standard by which to evaluate your achievement. There is no consistency in the ways teachers grade, so a B at one school might be an A at another; on the SAT or ACT, however, there's no possibility of inconsistent assessment.

      Standardized test scores are valuable tools for college admissions officers to use when evaluating applications, but they are only one piece of a larger picture of student achievement. Depending on where you apply, elements like the essay, teacher recommendations, extracurricular accomplishments, and creative portfolio will factor into the decision.

      High school grades remain the number one most important factor in college admissions. Strive to do well on the SAT or ACT, but even the best scores can't replace top grades earned in very rigorous classes.

    • How can you get in off the wait list?


      Send a letter expressing your strong continued interest. If you're comfortable, let them know that you're committed to attending if admitted off the wait-list. Share any new information, including improved grades, honors you've received, or other spring term accomplishments that weren't noted on your application last fall.

      After this, cross your fingers and get on with making the best choice from among the colleges that accepted you. Don't waste your time with hounding or gimmicks like cookies for the admissions staff; they won't help your case, and they might even hurt it.

    • Standardized tests: Which ones? When? How many times?


      Almost all schools accept either the SAT or ACT. Some students find that one test works better for them than the other. If possible, take the PSAT and PLAN tests your sophomore year to get a sense of which test you're more comfortable with. If you can't do a "pre-test", visit the SAT and ACT online to try some sample questions and get a sense of how the tests are organized.

      Ideally, you should take the SAT or ACT in the spring of junior year, leaving time to re-take the test in late spring of junior year or early fall of senior year if necessary. Re-taking the test can be helpful, but taking it more than two or three times rarely results in improved scores and may even backfire and result in lower scores overall.

      If you're applying to colleges that require the SAT Subject Tests, it's helpful to take tests in subjects you're currently studying as close to the end of junior year as possible. The information will still be fresh in your mind and you won't have to go back and bone up on skills and concepts after having been out of class for several months.

      Keep in mind, though, that you can't take the SAT reasoning test on the same day that you take the subject tests. Be sure to construct your testing timeline carefully so that you have adequate time to complete all tests, especially if you are planning to apply early decision or early action, as the colleges will expect all testing to be completed by the November administration.

    • How can a student figure out which standardized tests to take, when, and how many times?


      Students can do "test runs" of both the SAT and ACT by taking their pre-tests, the PSAT and PLAN. Almost all high schools offer the PSAT for sophomores and increasingly give the option to take the PLAN as well.

      If you aren't able to take pre-tests at your school, try the practice tests on the SAT and ACT website or check prep books out of the library and try their practice tests. This should give you a good idea of which test feels most comfortable for you and best allows you to demonstrate your knowledge.

      Many people take the SAT or ACT more than once in the hope that their scores will improve. This seems to be the case if more intensive prep work is done between the first and second tests. After the second test, though, results often become skewed, with scores that were low going up while the scores that were higher taking a drop. There is no "need" to take the test more than once; twice may show some benefit; more than three times isn't recommended.

      As for the SAT Subject Tests, it's obviously a good idea to take tests in the areas where you excel. It's also a good strategy to take subject tests in May or June in the subjects you're just about to complete (so the information will be fresh in your mind and you'll avoid the possibility of "summer brain drain". If you choose to take a foreign language test, be sure to always take the listening component as well, as colleges typically require it.

    • How can I work with schools to boost my financial aid? Are there other sources of student aid?


      Many families are facing financial uncertainty these days, but help and resources are available. Financial aid officers want to help you afford college. Contact the financial aid offices at your prospective colleges to find out which types of aid best meet your changing financial needs. Options may include grants, loans, scholarships and work-study. Before you call, have copies of your FAFSA and be ready to provide accurate information about your family’s current financial situation. If you need support in this process, visit your high school counselor or contact a private counselor or community-based college readiness program for guidance.

    • To find scholarships, where should I look, what's needed of me, and which ones seem craziest?


      Take advantage of online search engines to locate scholarship opportunities that are good matches for you. Check for new scholarshipsregularly, both online and in your school counselor's office. Have an “adaptable” essay and references ready. Be sure to meet scholarship deadlines, and devote an appropriate number of hours weekly to completing applications. Scholarships may reduce the amount of financial aid (especially loans) you are eligible to receive, but are preferable because you don’t have to pay them back. If you spend an hour applying for a scholarship and receive even $250, you just made $250 for an hour's work!

    • Is it possible to negotiate the school's offer?


      Don't try to "bargain" with schools, but it's acceptable to inquire if adjustments to the financial aid offer are possible. The student (not the parents) should contact the financial aid office to discuss his or her situation. It's most likely that greater aid will be offered in cases where there has been recent financial hardship (job loss, illness, etc.), and there is typically more flexibility at private schools than at public schools, but any student who is really committed to attendance and needs more money to do so should reach out.

    • Can students appeal a rejection? Does that ever work?


      Some schools will accept appeals, but they very rarely result in admission. An appeal is really only appropriate if you have new and very compelling information to offer that wasn't included on your initial application. If you did a great job with your application and nothing new and incredible has happened in your academic or extracurricular life since then, accept that "no means no" and concentrate your efforts on choosing from among the schools where you did get accepted.

    • If rejected from my top choice, is it worth it to apply again after a year at a different school?


      Most highly selective schools take very few transfer student, so if we're talking about Stanford or Yale, it's not worth it. You're better off investing yourself in the school you're attending and putting your all into being there rather than spending time and energy strategizing another application

      If you're considering a transfer to a mid-tier school, you might have better luck, especially if you have a compelling reason to transfer. In general, though, the same advice applies: Don't waste your education at one school trying to find a way to get to another. Take advantage of what your current school has to offer and commit yourself to making your education the best it can be.

    • How can students make the most of their second choice?


      If your initial college list was compiled appropriately, there shouldn't be a "second choice" school (or third or fourth choice). Every school on your list should be one where you'll be happy and receive an excellent education. If you did your homework before applying, be confident in your choices and know that you're headed off to a school that is an excellent fit for you. Let it become Your College right away. Buy a sweatshirt. Start networking with other incoming freshman. Go to the accepted students' day with an open heart and mind. It's up to you to decide what kind of college experience you'll have; commit to making it an amazing one.

    • How important is ranking and reputation in evaluating a college?


      Your college search should be about finding the college that's right for you. Don't be influenced by the rankings game, which an increasing number of even the most "prestigious" colleges are declining to play. Conduct a thoughtful and diligent search to discover the schools that are the best matches for your interests, needs and goals. You'll find that there are many incredible colleges out there that you've never even heard of, and one of them could be just the school you're looking for.

    • How important is the official website in evaluating a college?


      The official website is very useful for statistics and for learning about a school's academic programs, professors, facilities and processes for things like applications. If you're looking for facts, this is the easiest and most reliable place to turn for information. Facts and figures can get muddled out in cyberspace, so don't rely on second or third party sources which may be out of date or simply inaccurate. Go straight to the school itself.

      But a website can only do so much to convey a sense of a college's culture and atmosphere. To really learn what it's like to attend a school, there's no substitute for campus visits and overnight stays if at all possible. There are many incredible colleges out there that have humdrum websites, so use them for fact gathering, but don't judge a school by it's webpage.

    • What are the best ways to get unbiased opinions about a school?


      There is no such thing as an unbiased opinion. Whether you're talking to a school's admission officer, a current student, or a twenty-year alum, they're comments are all going to be influenced by their own experience. Seek out information about schools wherever and from whomever you can, but it's up to you to filter their comments wisely.

      Whenever possible, find ways to form your own opinions about schools. Visit campuses and sit in on classes. Explore the research and other work faculty and students are producing. Hang out on campus both on a weekday and a weekend. Spend time looking and listening, then decide what YOU think.

    • What are some important facts or statistics to consider when evaluating a college?


      Different things matter to different students. Some might want to know how many students study abroad in a particular year, or how many participate in research opportunities, or the percentage that are part of the Greek system. Look for stats and facts on the aspects of colleges that are important to you.

      But if you want to check just a few stats that will give you good insight into students' satisfaction with a college, look at freshman year retention rates and graduation rates. This will tell you how many people were happy enough with their education after freshman year to return for sophomore year and how many people valued their experience enough to remain and earn a degree.

      Particularly with public universities (many of which are currently facing budget woes) it can also be helpful to check out schools' four-year graduation rates. If significant numbers of students are taking five years or longer to earn a degree, it can be an indication that they aren't able to get the classes they need to graduate in a timely manner...and are therefore continuing to pay college expenses and delaying entry into the work world. This could be very valuable information if you have a certain timeframe to complete your education or if you are working within a budget.

    • How important is the essay?


      Very. While grades still remain the most important factor most colleges consider in their decision-making process, the essay is almost always the only opportunity a college will have to "hear" your voice and learn about who you are. It also allows them to evaluate your writing and critical thinking abilities.

      Put a great deal of thought and effort into your essay. Don't write it at the last minute. Use those 500 words to share things about yourself that colleges can't learn from other parts of your application. Let your personality and voice shine through. You never know--it could be your essay that gets you in.

    • Is it ok to have someone proofread your essay?


      We can all use a second set of eyes sometimes, especially if we've been looking at the same five paragraphs over and over for months. It's fine to have someone with strong skills in grammar, spelling and usage proofread your essay for errors and typos. It's not fine to have someone write any portion of or make substantial changes to your essay. Colleges want to hear your voice and ideas and no one else's. They don't expect a publishable essay (would you really need college if you could already write a publishable essay?) but it should be highly polished, thoughtful, and very strong.

    • Is it okay for parents to help edit their child's college essay?


      You absolutely should have a second and even third set of eyes help you edit and proofread your essay. Be sure to pick readers who have strong skills in grammar and usage. If your parents fit the bill, there's no reason they shouldn't help you polish your essay, but students often find it easier to work with a teacher, counselor or other adult. Parents can become emotionally involved and/or try to influence the content of the essay, which is something you DON'T want. No matter who helps to edit and proof your work, it's essential that your writing remain your own.

    • What are some do's and don'ts for the admissions essay?


      Do address the essay prompt.

      Do brainstorm ideas before writing.

      Do write your own essay.

      Do let your unique voice and personality come through in your writing.

      Do have a teacher, counselor, parent or friend with strong writing skills proofread your essay.

      Do write as many drafts of your essay as it takes to make it shine brightly.

      Don't wait until the last minute to start writing.

      Don't be overly influenced by others' ideas or essays other people have written.

      Don't let anyone else write any part of your essay.

      Don't exceed the word limit.

      Don't settle for "good enough".

    • What makes a great college essay?


      You've filled in all the applications. Your teachers have submitted their letters of recommendation. You've sent in your transcripts and SAT scores. The only thing left to do is the thing you're dreading the most: Write your admissions essays.

      The blank page can be daunting, and those short little essay prompts can be downright intimidating. But if you're willing to put in the time and effort, you can write a compelling essay you'll be proud to submit. Here are five things to keep in mind before your fingers hit the computer keys.

      A great college essay:

      1) Addresses the prompt (assuming a specific prompt is given). While you are drafting and revising, stop to ask yourself: Am I answering the question the college is asking me?

      2) Reflects your unique voice. Don't waste time trying to sound "collegiate" or scouring the thesaurus for big words to make your essay sound formal. Your essay should sound like you and let the reader "hear" who you are and what makes you a unique individual. That's what colleges are interested in; not (unless you're studying acting) in how well you can pretend to be someone else.

      3) Is genuine. You don't have to spill your guts in your college essay, but it's important to be authentic in your self-expression. Write about your own ideas and experiences and do so from an honest place in your heart. Forget about trying to guess what colleges want you to say and simply say what's meaningful to you.

      4) Is well-written. Your essays doesn't have to be perfect (if you could write a publishable essay, why would you be going to college in the first place?), but it should adhere to the standards of a high quality essay and be relatively error free. One draft won't do it. Write, get feedback, revise, proofread. Repeat.

      5) Be your own essay. Writing college essays is stressful, especially if you don't consider yourself a strong writer, you're pressed for time, or you're otherwise struggling. When you feel like so much is riding on a single piece of writing, the task can be daunting and even paralyzing. Persevere and resist any temptation to put forth an essay that is anything less than 100% your own work. Getting feedback, suggestions and proofreading help from friends, teachers, parents and counselors is fine, but it should never go beyond the level of "workshopping" support you'd receive in any classroom writing situation.

    • What are the most popular extracurriculars?


      Sports and clubs are the most common extracurriculars, but any activity that you are involved in over time and in depth can be a valuable addition to your college applications. Rather than collecting numerous brief extracurricular activities, choose one or two that you really enjoy and find meaningful and stick to those throughout your high school career. Whether it's yearbook or the accordion, drama or tutoring, what matters is that you invest significant time and energy into your pursuits and are able to reflect thoughtfully on how they've contributed to your overall development as a student and individual.

    • Will athletics take away from my academics?


      They can if you let them. Be conscientious about striking the right balance between sports and school. It can be tough to juggle long after school practices with the homework and study load that comes with rigorous classes. Unless you are planning to attend college on an athletic scholarship and are being actively recruited by college coaches, always make academics your top priority. College care far more about your grades than your success on the field or in the pool.

    • How can a student prepare themselves best for a college interview?


      First of all, relax! An interview isn't an interrogation, but a conversation. This means the student has to play her or her part in the process. Prepare for your interview by learning all you can about the school and then developing genuine questions you'd like to discuss. Put some time into thinking about your strengths, your challenges, and why you believe the school is a match for you.

      Be sure to dress appropriately (ties, jackets and high heels aren't necessary, but no flip flops or shorts). Have something to eat and drink beforehand so you're not distracted by gnawing hunger or thirst. Take a book you're currently reading along with you; it will come in handy if you have to wait and can also be a good ice-breaker to start conversation with the interviewer.

      Most importantly, be yourself. Remember that you have a lot to offer and let all that you can bring to the school community shine through.

      And, of course, don't forget to breathe.

    • Are there things a student should never say during a college interview?


      An interview is a professional contact, and you should treat it as such. It's good to be personable, but not too personal. Unless you feel very strongly about sharing any personal problems and have thought deeply about how to present them, it's usually best not to address issues such as alcohol or substance abuse, eating disorders, or emotional health challenges.

      Keep your discussion positive. If you're asked to talk about your challenges, show your maturity by taking responsibility for them and demonstrating self-reflection; don't blame your shortcomings on your teachers, parents, or society.

      It's also not very impressive to tell an interviewer you want to attend their school because you like the weather, the party scene, or the because you've heard the campus is full of hot men/women.

    • What questions should students with learning differences be asking during the college search?


      Before you begin your college search, it's important to have a very clear, honest idea of who you are as a learner. Work with your family, your teachers, and your resource support to clearly identify your needs and how you learn best. When you begin to explore colleges, do so with the goal of finding those that best meet your unique needs for educational support.

      Remember that your rights to accommodations will no longer be protected under IDEA (special education law) as they were during high school; from here on, you will receive accommodations under Section 504. Section 504 is very different from IDEA. You will still be able to receive the accommodations to which your testing and documentation entitle you, but this doesn't mean you'll receive an organized support program. Colleges are allowed to determine the levels of support they offer; again, some offer a great deal, while some offer very little.

      Depending on the types of support you'll need to be successful in college, you might ask:

      - What levels of support does the college disability support services offer?

      - What documentation will the college need to support my request for accommodations and/or learning support? How do I request services?

      - What resources are available? Does the campus learning center have the personnel, technology, and programs that I need?

      - How are students selected for services?

      - Are the additional fees to use DSS services?

      - Are the tutors available professionals in the field or students?

      - Is there a summer orientation or transition program I can take advantage of? Is there one that is required?

      It's important to find a college that has the programs and personnel to support you in achieving success. Know your needs and look for the schools that can fill them.

    • Should students with learning differences contact the admissions office during the application process? Before applying? After applying?


      This depends on your personal situation. There is no requirement that a student disclose their learning differences, and colleges cannot discriminate against applicants based on their unique learning needs. If it might be helpful to the school to know about your LD when evaluating your application, it could be appropriate to inform them. If not, there is no need to disclose.

      Students with LD who have questions about a school's services or how to receive services should contact the DSS or Disability Support Services at the college. They will be able to answer all of your questions. If you are not planning to disclose your status to admissions, don't be too concerned that DSS will somehow flag your application or otherwise let admissions know that you are seeking services. The two offices typically operate very separately from one another.

      Once you've been accepted to a college, it's a good idea to register for the services you are entitled to even if you don't think you'll use them. The first semester of college will be a period of major transition, and you may find that the help you didn't really need in high school is definitely required at the college level. You'll save yourself time and energy if you're already set up to receive services and can begin taking advantage of them as soon as you recognize the need.

    • Are there certain schools that cater to students with learning differences more than others?


      Absolutely. The amount of support and services colleges offer for students with learning differences can range from very minimal accommodations to full spectrum, highly individualized support.

      There are several private schools that are designed specifically for students with LD. These may offer four-year degrees, two-year transitional support in transferring to a 4-year college, or a post-graduate year between high school and college to enable students to become better prepared for the challenges of higher education.

    • How should students address their learning differences on the application?


      This depends very much on the individual student's academic history and personal situation. Applicants are in no way required to disclose their LD diagnosis on college applications, but if you think it could be valuable information for admissions to use wen evaluating your application, you should consider it. Don't use your LD as an excuse for underachievement, but if it i a legitimate contributor to the level of your test scores or grades in certain areas, provide admissions with the information they need to adequately assess both their ability to provide you with the best quality education and your ability to be successful at their institution.

      Most applications offer an "additional information" section that provides a good place to briefly but thoroughly describe your learning differences. Your counselor might also make reference to your LD and accommodations are part of his/her recommendation.

      Don't, however, make your LD the focus of your admissions essay. Your learning style and differences are just a part of who you are and the way you take in and relate to the world around you. Use your essay to reveal a broader picture of your spirit and individuality.

    • Grades and test scores aside, can a learning difference affect a student's chance of acceptance?


      As with so many things in college admissions, it depends. Some schools don't even maintain wait-lists. Some take several students from the list, some take very few. This is also true of individual schools from one year to the next. A college might take 15 students from the wait-list this year, but next year only take three.

      Your best bet is not to stress about your chances of turning that wait-list status into admitted. Express your ongoing strong desire to attend the school via a letter, then put your wait-list worry aside and focus on choosing from among the colleges that have already offered you a spot.

    • How do colleges view a gap year?


      If your gap year is structured and productive, colleges will likely view your "time on" very favorably. A gap year can provide students with the opportunity to learn, mature and discover what inspires them (all very valuable for success in college). It's even possible that taking a gap year may make you a more desirable candidate for college, especially if you make good use of the time and experience.

    • In what ways, if any, can taking a gap year be beneficial for an applicant?


      A gap year can help you mature, gain real world experience, and learn how to live independently. They also require you to step outside your comfort zone (sometimes WAY outside), and can be instrumental in helping you discover your passions and sense of self. Colleges appreciate these qualities in applicants; they also like knowing that a student who successfully completed a gap year certainly has the maturity, intellectual curiosity, initiative and self-discipline to be successful in higher education.

    • Do colleges keep parents informed of their child's academic progress?


      College students are young adults. Most students are also over the age of 18, which means they are "legally" adults who assume full responsibility for their own lives, including their educations. It's up to students whether or not they share their academic progress with their families. Colleges don't send grades to parents or otherwise keep parents apprised of their student's educational progress, even if the parents are financing or contributing to the cost of that education.

      This can make parents uncomfortable. How can they be sure their student is doing well? What if he is flunking out? What if she dropped most of her classes, joined the circus, and is keeping it a secret?

      There are definitely scary stories out there about parents who believed their kid was doing perfectly well in college until she came home at the end of term and finally admitted that she had been placed on academic probation or had already been kicked out of school. For better or worse, it's up to the kid to decide what and how much he tells his family about his academic progress. The good news is that, even in the worst academic probation or dismissal cases, there are still ways for kids to complete a college education. It's never the end of the world.

      Parents who want to know how their student is doing in college should ask him or her. They'll get more honest, valuable information if they've established a supportive and trusting relationship with their student when it comes to academic matters. Kids don't want to disappoint their parents, and if things are rough, they might not let mom and dad know right away. But they're more likely to do so before the situation becomes dire if they know their parents will ultimately be supportive and will try to help them resolve academic challenges in a constructive way that is satisfactory to everyone involved.

    • What should parents do during campus visits?


      Campus visits are exciting for both students and parents. They can also be stressful, especially if travel and/or multiple campus visits during short time frames are involved. To minimize parent/child conflict and help make the visit valuable to the whole family, parents should help kids prepare for campus visits, organize logistics, and then take a calm, objective backseat.

      Before the visit, spend some time with your student to make a list of what she wants to see, do, and find out about while visiting. Help her make a list of questions to ask and a prioritized plan of what she'd most like to accomplish at each campus; when you start to run out of time on a visit (and you always do) it's much easier to just hit your top three tasks or locations than it is to squabble over what you each think is most important.

      If there are things you'd like to do on the visit that don't make it onto your student's list, ask her if she's comfortable with you adding a few items. Be flexible. If you're dying to check out the athletic facilities at each school but your student has absolutely no interest in sports of any kind, agree to go your own ways for part of the visit: You visit the sports complex while she explores one of her top choices.

      It makes sense that parents will probably organize travel arrangements for campus visits. Because students are likely to be overwhelmed by the experience of touring, it can also be helpful for parents to take care of scheduling tours, obtaining maps, and even helping to identify key locations on that map in advance. Again, be flexible. If your student becomes enthralled by a particular location or decides she wants to see something on the spur of the moment, don't insist she stick to your original plan.

      While it may be tough, the most important thing parents can do to support kids during campus visits is give them space. Think back to the time when your student was a toddler, and was starting to venture out on the playground alone, but still made frequent checks over her shoulder to be sure mom or dad was still right behind her. Things aren't so different now. Your kid wants to independently check out the place she might call home for the next four years, but she also wants to know you're there for her. Ask her how you can help during the visit. When she seems uncertain, confused or stressed about what to do or where to go next, ask if she'd like some suggestions or if it might be a good time to grab lunch or a coffee and regroup before continuing. Let her know that you have confidence in her ability to handle the visit on her own, but you're there to share in her excitement and discovery, and to provide advice and support if she needs it.

      You're bound to have opinions about schools, to make judgments about some things and get really jazzed about others. Unless your student asks, keep your criticisms and enthusiasms to yourself. The college your kid chooses needs to fit her, not you. Even though she'd likely rather die than let you know it, your opinions do influence her and matter to her. Try not to throw more variables into her decision-making process or color her views of a particular school by being too vocal with your own thoughts and feelings.

      While it's fine to ask questions during information sessions, if your student schedules a meeting with an admissions officer, don't tag along. If you have specific questions, ask your kid if you can write them down for her to ask during the meeting. She may ask your questions; she may not. If she doesn't, let it go. You're bound to be able to find the information you're seeking elsewhere. What matters most is that she gets her questions answered, and that she goes to the meeting not as your child, but as a college bound young adult.

      While she's in admissions, head over to the student union and buy her a school sweatshirt. She may end up with ten different sweatshirts from colleges she doesn't ultimately attend, but for the next year or so, they'll be a reminder of the visits you made together, and of all the possibilities that await her after high school.

    • What should students consider before making the decision to transfer?


      If you're transferring from a two-year to a four-year college, all of the considerations for choosing a "best fit" college apply. Be sure to choose schools that offer the programs, activities and atmosphere that will enable you to thrive (and be sure you can transfer most if not all of your lower-division coursework).

      If you're transferring between 4-year colleges, take an honest look at what's motivating you to switch schools. Are you moving to escape a social situation? Did you get discouraged by a bad quarter or semester? Are you feeling pulled away by a family situation or the desire to be with someone far away?

      Transferring is a time consuming process and will result in big change. You will, essentially, be starting all over again. You will likely find that some of your coursework at your current school won't transfer to your new school. There will definitely be complications.

      While transferring might be right for you, make sure it's not a permanent solution to a temporary problem. If possible, give it another semester before you make a decision to move, and see how things look in a few months' time.

    • What are the best ways for students to make sure all their credits transfer?


      Have your transcript analyzed by the admissions office at your new college. If you are transferring from a community college, you can often use course descriptions from both schools to get a good idea of which classes will transfer (this is especially true if you are applying to state colleges, as many have online systems that allow you to easily determine which courses satisfy which lower division requirements). You can only be sure, however, when your transcript has been formally evaluated by your new school. In most cases, this doesn't take place until after you've been admitted, but if you're concerned about transferability of courses, give the admissions office a call and see how they can help.

    • What do students need to know about transferring?


      It's important to be aware that the transfer process can be complicated and variable. It you are transferring between four-year colleges, be sure to explore whether or not your credits will transfer and what additional coursework you might need to complete toward your major or general education requirements. Be sure to take care of as many prerequisites as possible before you apply.

      If you are transferring from a community or 2-year college to a four-year school, it's very helpful to use the guidance of a transfer counselor. If you are planning to apply to colleges within your state system, there are likely specific coursework patterns you can follow to facilitate or guarantee your transfer. Again, you'll want to be sure that you've completed the necessary prerequisites for your intended major (and these may vary by campus).

      Transferring can be a great step in your education and an exciting opportunity, but it has its challenges. If you aren't on top of requirements, you can end up taking the wrong classes or classes that aren't transferrable or necessary for your major. The best way to avoid missteps is to meet with your counselor several times to develop a transfer plan and track your progress as you move toward the big move.

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