Friday, July 12, 2013

College 3 by 5: Three Things about Five Colleges
International Relations Programs
Compiled by Emily Standish

As the world becomes smaller and smaller, with immediate internet access to global culture and political developments, teenagers are keenly aware of interconnected world events. The number of colleges and universities that have majors in International Relations continues to grow. Programs in International Relations are multidisciplinary curricula that encompass history, economics, and political science combined with languages, anthropology, geography, law, and human rights. Here are five colleges with well-respected majors in International Relations:

American University, Washington, DC,
·         AU students have the opportunity to choose internships from forty countries and 900 private, nonprofit or governmental institutions
·         The Global Scholars Program is an accelerated program within the School of International Service that awards the BA degree in three years and the MA degree during the fourth year at AU
·         By the numbers: 44% acceptance rate, ACT mid-range: 26-30, 37% of students receive merit aid

Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA, .
·         Nearly all International Relations majors study abroad in their area of concentration and most IR majors become fluent in at least one foreign language
·         Students can choose to live in Residential Colleges such as Global College, Languages and Cultures College, Social Justice College, Humanities College, and more
·         By the numbers: 27% acceptance rate, ACT mid-range 27-31, 10% of students receive merit aid

Claremont McKenna College, Claremont, CA,
·         Beyond required courses in government and economics, CMC students may take elective courses within a thematic or geographic focus.
·         Summer internship opportunities abound, at world-wide locations such as the United Nations, The Carter Center, Doctors Without Borders, and the CIA
·         By the numbers: 14% acceptance rate, ACT mid-range 30-33, 7% of students receive merit aid

George Washington University, Washington, DC,
·         At the Elliot School of International Affairs at GW, students begin with a core curriculum in the humanities, social sciences, sciences and foreign languages, then focus on an internationally oriented major
·         The summer seminar “US Foreign Policy in a Global Era” allows undergraduates to participate in discussions with graduate students and professionals from around the world
·         By the numbers: 33% acceptance rate, ACT mid-range 27-31, 43% of students receive merit aid

Macalester College, St. Paul, MN,
·         Macalester offers many majors with an international focus, including Human Rights and Humanitarianism, International Development, International Studies, and Community and Global Health
·         Macalester’s Model United Nations delegation routinely wins awards at National MUN
·         By the numbers: 35% acceptance rate, ACT mid-range 28-32, 10% of students receive merit aid

There are dozens of other colleges and universities in the US with strong undergraduate programs in International Relations. Check out Earlham College (IN), Davidson College (NC), Dickinson College (PA), Georgetown University (DC), Johns Hopkins University (MD), Lewis & Clark College, and Tufts University (MA), or search “international relations” at

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Supreme Court Ruling (or Non-Ruling) on Race and Admissions

Since the decision by the Supreme Court a week ago to remand the case of Fisher vs University of Texas at Austin back to the Fifth Circuit Court, many of us involved in college admissions have been trying to figure out what that means and how it will effect the students we work with.

Here, in a New Yorker article by Louis Menand, is the best analysis I have read. It's really worth reading the whole article, but if you won't, here's my favorite part:

"People often talk about affirmative action as strictly a benefit to the minority student. But it is equally a benefit to the majority student. It puts that student in intellectual contact with people who come to college with very different experiences and viewpoints and expectations from life. Dealing with that contact is one of the ways people learn how to think. Discussing “Huckleberry Finn” in an all-white or all-non-white classroom is completely different from discussing it in a mixed-race classroom. So is discussing race-conscious admissions policies."

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Jodi and Emily's Memphis to Nashville College Road Trip

In advance of the annual Higher Education Consultants Association conference, we took a college tour along the music highway.

In three days we saw:

Rhodes College
Memphis, TN

Vanderbilt University
Nashville, TN

Belmont University
Nashville, TN

Middle Tennessee State University
Murfreesboro, TN

Christian Brothers University
Memphis, TN

University of Memphis

University of Mississippi
"Ole Miss"
Oxford, MS
Y'all should check out these schools!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Goodbye to School Counselors

Philadelphia public schools took the Draconian measure of cutting all staff at each school other than a principal and teachers. What does this mean for rising seniors who attend a Philadelphia public school? No college advising, no school profile or counselor recommendations, no one to send transcripts or coordinate visits from admission officers.

How should we expect college admissions offices to deal with this reality? There has already been the controversial change that allowed school counselors to opt out of writing recommendation letters if they were too busy. I don't think there is enough data yet to determine whether that hurt the acceptance rates of students whose counselors opted out. I can't imagine how a college could or would consider a student if no transcript is available. Will schools try to fill the gap with volunteer parents taking on many of the tasks? Will colleges accept self-reported grades and class lists?

As I head to the annual Higher Education Consultants Association conference, I think about the realities that have contributed to the increase in independent college counselors nationwide. These are sad and scary times for school counselors. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Being Supportive During the College Admissions Process

When my husband is sick, he likes to be fussed over. He feels loved if I offer to bring him chicken soup, cups of herbal tea, check out books or videos from the library and tell him I understand how rotten it is to feel rotten.

When I get sick I want to be left alone. Period. Fussing makes me immensely grumpier.

If you are a parent of a high school student, I am sure you have very good intentions about being helpful during the college search and application process. But what feels helpful to your student? That is wildly different for each kid. What is perceived as loving support by one, is nagging interference to another. So instead of guessing--ask--and be respectful of the answer you get.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Communication Verification

Last week I texted my tenant about some repair people who would be coming by this week. Today when I went to the house to check on the repairs, my tenant was happy they were being done, but upset that he hadn't been notified in advance. I pulled out me cell phone and went to my sent message folder to show him I had indeed communicated. Unfortunately, I sent the message his work phone number which doesn't accept texts!

How does this apply to college applications? You will be sending lots of required documentation--transcripts, recommendation letters, standardized test scores, etc. and colleges cannot read your file until they have a completed application packet. Most colleges give user a user login so you can check your application status online. If you do not check on a regular basis, you will miss out on the chance to follow through if there are any problems.

What should you do if some documentation is listed as missing? First and foremost, don't blame anyone! For example, if the colleges claims that your ACT scores were not received, you would check your account on the ACT website. If the site shows that they were indeed sent, you would call the admissions office and say something like this:

"Hi, this is (insert your full name here) and my applicant ID number is X. On Y date I checked my application status and it showed that you have not yet received my ACT scores. I checked with the ACT folks, and they do show the scores as sent to you electronically on Z date. Could you please check my file again to see if they have arrived?"

If you are told that your scores are not there, then politely ask how you should rectify the problem. Do you need to send them again? Do they want you to check back in a few more days?

Even if you feel frustrated, stay polite and express your appreciation. Demonstrate empathy for what it must be like to be the admissions assistant at a college who is sorting through thousands of pieces of mail and electronic paperwork to match up the right documents and applicant.

I feel disappointed that my tenant may think I'm a poor communicator, so I'll be diligent to confirm that he has heard/seen any future messages I send. When I am the person trying to communicate, it is my responsibility to make sure the information is received.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Before College: Eliminate Your Life Skills Deficits

Before students can graduate from our local high school they have to prove they can cook a meal and change a car tire. Back in the "olden days" (as my kids call the 1970s) a required class for my high school graduation was Life Skills.

Nowadays, many students head off to college with some life skill deficits. Here is a great article by Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz entitled 30 Practical Things Students Need to Know How to Do Before Heading Off to College.

My addition to her list is that all college freshman should also know basic self-defense. Many local police departments offer free workshops, which are worth taking over the summer.

Per Marjorie, "Now is the time to start working on the above list. If you are a student, go through and circle the items about which you want to know more and talk with your parents or friends who are already in college about the issues. If you are a parent, set aside a time to sit down and go through the list with your teen. Dinnertime is good for these discussions. Use the list as a checklist and one by one, help your student identify an issue, gather information, talk about what's involved and then act on, learn about or practice what is needed (or set up another time to do that)."

Thursday, June 6, 2013

College Search Support from the TSA?

Not many people I know love to go through airport security, but a Transportation Security Administration employee is my latest role model. When I got home from my  tour of Pennsylvania colleges, I opened my suitcase to find the below note, left for me by the TSA. "1924-Good luck choosing a college!"

As a 50+ adult, it certainly made me smile when I realized that the TSA worker must have seen my large stack of viewbooks and thought I was a high school student checking out college options. I puzzled a bit about the "1924". My guess is that it's a TSA employee ID number, but I haven't been able to confirm that or figure out how to send back a thank you to this well-wisher.

Mostly, I appreciate the thoughtfulness of this worker. I pinned the note above my desk because it reminds me that even when I feel swamped, taking the time to be extra kind to a student or colleague is always worthwhile.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Kevin McMullin's Advice: Design a List for Success

I am a regular reader of Kevin McMullin's WiseLikeUs blog. You should be too! His post from May 29, 2013 is copied here because it echoes the advice I have been giving to juniors and their parents for the past few months.

Design a list for success

If I could give one piece of advice to juniors who are about to begin the college search process, here it is—build a college list designed for success.

A high school counselor emailed me this morning seeking advice for one of her seniors who wasn’t accepted to any colleges.  I asked where the student applied, and the list sounded like a who’s who of US News rankings—15 of the most selective schools in the country.  Not a single school on the list accepted more than 20% of its applicants.  That's a list designed for failure, not success.  Six months ago, there were hundreds (and hundreds) of good colleges she could have applied to that would have admitted her with open arms.  But this student chose to play the admissions lottery, and she didn’t win.

If you have a dream school or two that are out of your reach, by all means, take your best shot so you’ll never have to wonder if you could have gotten in.  But fill the rest of the list with schools that are likely to accept you.  If you say you don’t like any of those schools where you can surely get in, you’re showing symptoms of a severe case of namebranditis.   Get over it.  You’ve worked too hard, and there are just too many great colleges out there for you to hang your admissions hopes on a list of schools with prestigious names who reject most of their applicants.

Building a list for success does not mean lowering your college standards.  It does mean you can expect more offers of admission, more financial aid and scholarships, more choices, and more control of your college future.

Do your research, find schools that fit you, and ask your high school counselor to gauge your chances of admission before you settle on the final list of schools to apply to.  Then you’ll get to enjoy the fruits of building a list designed for success.

Monday, May 27, 2013

What's the Best College?

I frequently have parents and students ask some version of, "What's the best college?" Just yesterday a mom in my office stated that her philosophy is that her son should go to "the best college that he can get into." The problem is that we would have to define "best".  "Best" according to what standards or whose opinion?

I was fascinated by this recent analysis by the Portland Business Journal which rated the colleges in Oregon according to the Return On Investment (ROI) of tuition versus salary. While this is not a criteria that I have often seen, in today's economy it is certainly not an unreasonable metric. In this ranking system, Oregon Institute of Technology came out #1. Now I know a lot of Oregonians who would argue strongly that OIT is not the best college in our state, and therefore, this analysis must be flawed.

My point is simply that the answer to, "What's the best college?" is "It depends." By my standards, the best college for any individual student is a place that is an academic, social, emotional. spiritual, cultural and financial match; a place where the student can thrive, develop ways of thinking and skills that will be useful no matter what route her life takes, and graduate with a minimum amount of debt.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Be In, Be Real, Be Bold: YouSendIt's Corporate Values Applied to Writing College Admission Essays

In a New York Times interview with Brad Garlinghouse, chief executive of YouSendIt, he talked about the company's values: be in, be real and be bold. These values align perfectly with my advice about writing a great college admission essay.

Be In: Brad explains, "Be in is all about passion." Your essay will interest the reader when you write about a topic for which you have great passion. You can't fake that.

Be Real: Brad says, "Be real is really about being authentic in our communication." Your essay should sound like you--no big vocabulary you wouldn't normally use, no forced attempts to be impressive. Be yourself and let your voice ring true on paper. (Telling your story into recording/transcribing software can be a great was to start a first draft.)

Be Bold: Per Brad, "Great cultures encourage risk and are tolerant of failure." So do great colleges, and admissions officers admire students who take a writing risk. Don't pen a predictable essay. Use dialogue, or humor, or unexpected metaphors. Most importantly, write a story that only you can tell.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Teacher Recommendation Requests

Only school counselors are required as part of their job description to write you a recommendation letter for college. Everyone else who agrees to write one is doing you a favor. Make it easy for your teacher recommenders!

Compose a letter to each teacher you are asking (two is the norm) that contains the following components:
  • A request for a college admission (and scholarships) letter of recommendation. Make sure it is worded in a way that allows her/him to gracefully decline.
  • Three specific examples or stories that you remember from your time in that teacher's classes. For example, you might describe the carton you built for your physics egg drop, the Lincoln/Douglas debate in which you came in costume and argued against slavery, or the math class talk you gave explaining that some infinities were larger than others.
  • Tell the recommender what characteristics you are hoping to highlight in your essays. These are the three words or phrases have decided really represent who you are beyond your grades and test scores such as "creative problem-solver, analytical and reliable."
  • Ask the teacher to save the completed letter electronically in case you have addition places (such as scholarship opportunities) that come up later.
  • Thank the person for his/her time and effort.

In addition to the request letter, it is a good idea to give the teacher your academic resume. If you don't know how to create one, see the samples at

Current juniors should consider giving out these requests before school ends. Some teacher don't like to do any school work over the summer, but other teachers love the chance to get a head start on the fall recommendation rush. By asking early you give the teacher the option to write a letter whenever it is best for him/her.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Be Like Captain Kirk

My son, Vic, and I saw Star Trek: Into Darkness the other night and he commented that the theme of making decisions and constantly re-examining them was the centerpiece of the film. At what point do you decide for yourself and how much should you take into account other opinions? What if you pick a contrarian option? How wholeheartedly should you embrace your choice and move forward with certainty?

Kirk and Spock each made some flawed choices in the film, but they played them out with gusto rather than timidity. So if you are a senior who has sent in your deposit and are starting to have those nagging, "what-if-I-had-chosen-one-of-my-other-options" moments, please let it go. Move towards your college with full commitment. Boldly go where you have never gone before and make the most of your adventure!

Friday, May 17, 2013

College Admission and Prom Pranks

Dear soon-to-be high school grads,

You must be super excited about your upcoming graduation and all that lies ahead. You have worked hard and deserve to celebrate!

I know prom is this weekend, and I have had some experience with smart students making dumb choices related to prom. Please remember that colleges can (and often do) revoke your offer of admission if you are caught in a disciplinary or legal infraction. It's not my role to give you a lecture about vandalism, drugs, alcohol, etc. so I certainly won't, but I do advise you to think twice about questionable behaviors. If you would be embarrassed if your mom or grandma saw your actions, then you probably should reconsider.

Have fun, and feel free to email me a prom picture.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Independent College Coaching Metrics

This weekend I have the joy of attending my daughter's college graduation from Olin College of Engineering. She has had an amazing four years there, it was the perfect match school for her, and she is ready for her next adventure.

A while ago the dad of a prospective students asked me what metrics I use for evaluating the success of my college coaching with a student. My answer surprised him because he expected me to say that it was the list of schools the student is admitted to. My response was the following:
  • Was the parent/child relationship preserved or enhanced throughout the application process?
  • Can your child answer with a fair amount of certainty why he is going to college and what he hopes to get out of the experience?
  • Is she truly excited about her chosen school and committed to making the most of her college experience?
  • Are his writing skills better than they were when we met?
 Of course the most important metrics are known much later:
  • Did she have a satisfying college experience, learn something of value, make friends, graduate in four years (unless otherwise planned in advance), and feel prepared for her next step in life (whether that be work, grad school or a volunteer experience like the Peace Corps)?
  • Did he mature into an adult that you would like even if he wasn't your son?
 Those are the metrics I'd like to evaluated against.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Wait List Shenanigans

I am not a fan of college wait lists. Usually, when a student asks me if he/she should stay on a wait list my response is "no". I think wait lists often prevent students from feeling really committed to and getting excited about college. Being in limbo is unsettling for anyone.

Once in while, I do have a student who opts to be on a wait list and try to convince a school to move her into the accepted group. This NY Times article made me smile. Is it a surprise that sending cookies to the admissions officer probably won't do the trick? Remember, college is primarily an academic pursuit. I suspect that carrying on an email conversation with a professor studying something that fascinates you, creating a list of courses you hope to take next fall or letting the college know about the research internship you have for the summer after high school would be more compelling than having a parent call and offer to send the admissions officer two pizzas a week for the entire school year.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Listening to My Own Advice

This week I was trying to make a tough decision and I realized that the advice I posted earlier about making a college choice was equally applicable in my situation--choosing a car.

I knew three months ago that my car was dying and I needed to find an alternative. I tried to convince my husband that we were ready to be a one-car rather than a two-car family, but he was not quite ready for that level of coordination and sharing.

I encourage my students to be careful researchers and use a variety of resources when selecting colleges for their list, and I was similarly thorough in my car hunt. I set a budget, and used impartial data sources to learn about reliability, safety, performance and customer satisfaction (the car equivalents of collegedata and collegenavigator). Then I went on chat websites and read more anecdotal evidence (the car equivalents of collegeconfidential and collegeprowler). Then I took my list of seven potential makes/models and went for test drives (the car equivalent of college campus visits).

The above steps narrowed my list to two options: a used Toyota Camry or a new Honda Fit. Both had pros and cons, and because I was trying to make a rational decision I got stuck in analysis paralysis. It was the first time in many years that I could actually feel the stress my students go through when trying to choose by that May 1 decision deadline.

In the end I needed to follow my own advice. The intellectual-decision making was done at the time I narrowed my list to seven good-fit cars. Now I needed to trust my gut instinct, imagine myself happily driving my two final choices for the next ten years, and pick the car that felt right. See the photo below to discover what I chose.

Jodi and her Honda Fit

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Paper Dilemma

I love college viewbooks. The pictures of happy students and sylvan settings make me smile even though I know they are part of a marketing machine.

So here's my dilemma. When I visit colleges (which I do a lot) I bring home literature. It's not a very "green" practice, as I know that trees were sacrificed and some of the ink used in the printing process is environmentally toxic. Then I have to file it, which takes time and space in my office.

Most students are perfectly happy to troll a school website for info and pictures. I doubt any of them will feel sad if I stop collecting viewbooks, college literary magazines and aerial view posters of schools. Yet, I think of the times I pulled something magic out of my cabinet and a student was convinced to add a great fit school she never heard of onto her college list.

Got an opinion? I haven't stuffed my recycling bin yet, so share your thoughts!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Farewell to Arms v47

When I work with students on college application essays I insist on an easy versioning system. Whatever the student names the initial draft is followed by v1 (which stands for version 1). When I make comments I change it to v2. As we dialogue back and forth the student has the odd numbered versions and I have the even numbered versions.

Last year Simon & Schuster published a new version of "A Farewell to Arms" that contains all 47 alternate endings written by Ernest Hemingway. This caused some controversy, as many people thought that Hemingway had made a reasoned decision about which ending to use and therefore the others should remain private. Other people (like me) were thrilled, as it seemed like a peek into the mind of a brilliant author.

The main reason this stuck with me is because most students I work with are not used to doing a lot of rewrites for school papers--maybe 2 or 3--but certainly not 47. The care Hemingway used to communicate character and content is a great example for college personal statements. How can the student tell a story no one else could tell, in an authentic voice? It may take several revisions.

By the way, students who work with me do usually opt to rewrite their personal statement 47 times.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Judge a Book by its Cover

I smiled when I read The NY Times article about the increase in book sales of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" now that an edition with a Hollywood cover has been released. As an ex-marketing executive I love to see how stunning visuals can impact purchasing decisions. Although we tell people, "Don't judge a book by it's cover" they obviously do!

One of the rules in our household when my kids were growing up was that if they wanted to see a movie that was based on a book, they had to read the book first. Although this generated some pre-teen grumbling, it helped turn our kids into avid readers. It also led to great post-film discussions about the differences between any given film and the literature.

There's plenty of research that shows that enthusiastic readers do better in school (and on standardized tests). If it takes a sexy cover shot of Leonardo DiCaprio to entice a teenager to read, I am all for it!

Monday, April 29, 2013

College Essays: Finding Your Voice

For me, the biggest thrill of being a college counselor is guiding students to find their voice as a writer. One reason it is more fun for me (and beneficial for the student) to start earlier is that there is more time for the process to unfold.

One of my students, Jacob, said, "Heck yes!" when I asked if I could share this scholarship essay as an example of writing that allows your personality to shine through. The prompt was "Which elementary school teacher was most memorable or influential in your time and why?"

Ms. Ross was a cool teacher. First grade, much like every grade to follow, felt like the biggest educational leap yet. I remember using various Lego-like manipulatives to learn about fractions and singing the “Days of the Week” song (sometimes, I still have to sing it!). I recall one of my classmates, Madison, breaking Ms. Ross’s favorite “123 ABC” mug. Madison apologized quickly, and though obviously frustrated, Ms. Ross completely forgave her. I was not directly involved, but seeing this interaction gave me a poignant picture to recall when someone wrongs me, and I am given the opportunity to quickly forgive them. As any normal first grader would do in the library, probably encouraged by my facetious colleagues, I wrote a letter addressed to the principal from Ms. Ross. In the letter, written in red marker, of course, I (Ms. Ross) informed the principal that I was divorcing my husband in order to marry him (the principal). After I, personally, delivered it to the front office and went dutifully back to class, the principal’s voice came over the loud speaker. “Ms. Ross? Do you have any information about a note that was just delivered to my office?” I could hardly contain my laughter seeing Ms. Ross’s confusion. Without prompt, I stood up and left the room, marching straight to the principal’s office. I cannot quite describe the feeling I had at the time. I was joyously embarrassed, pleasantly ashamed, or even shamefully delighted. The principal made note of the humor, and requested I not do that again. Ms. Ross laughed about it and moved on, as only a first grade teacher can. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Seize the Moment: Part 2

I don't know when Emily and I will get back to Pennsylvania again, so our intention was to make every moment of our trip terrific. Why stay in a normal hotel when we can experience lodging unique to the area?

The night before we visited Gettysburg College and Dickinson College we stayed at The Lady Linden B & B in York, PA.

Prior to Bucknell University and Susquehanna University we enjoyed the topiary giraffe and cow at Phillips Motel in Shamoken Dam, PA.

Before our touristy day in New Hope and our spur-of-the-moment visit to Princeton University we had a fabulous dinner and overnight at The Inn at Phillips Mill.

After our busy day at Lafayette College, Lehigh University and Muhlenberg College we restored out energy at the Fulton Steamboat Inn in Lancaster, PA. We awoke after a night of ersatz rocking on the river well-rested for our tours of Franklin and Marshall College and Ursinus College.

Emily is the queen of quirky trip planning!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Seize the Moment: Part 1

My business partner, Emily, and I are on a Pennsylvania college tour. At each school we visited we met enthusiastic students taking advantage of the opportunities at their schools. Here are some examples: this week at Lafayette you could have seen former president Jimmy Carter, at Franklin & Marshall you could have heard satirist Joe Queenan and you could have been serenaded by the amazing a capella Ursinus College Bearitones.

It's not so much where you go to college that matters as what you do once you get there.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Still Undecided on Your College? Try Guided Visualization

As May 1 decision date looms closer, many students are still undecided about which school is the best fit. See my earlier post about why this is no longer an intellectual decision.

One technique that has been very effective helping my students decide is guided visualization. Before the visualization do the following:

1. Narrow the list to three schools you are choosing between (more is too many for your psyche to handle)
2. If at all possible visit all three (whether it is the first time or a repeat visit)

The visits may be enough to help you decide. If not, ask a parent or friend to talk you through this scenario for each of the three schools.

  • sit comfortably in a relaxing spot
  • take 18 deep breaths
  • picture the school you are considering
  • imagine yourself at orientation
  • introduce yourself to three freshman and listen carefully as they introduce themselves to you
  • go with your three new friends to a spot on campus you like
  • share something you hope to get out of your college experience and tell them why you chose X college. Listen as they do the same
  • go early to a class to meet with a professor. tell her/him about a research project idea you have and get her/his reaction
  • participate fully n a class. Pay special attention to the professor interactions with students and the student engagement in the classroom
  • go to the dining hall, grab some food, and sit with people you don't know. Join the conversation and pay attention to what is being discussed
  • go back to your dorm and connect with your roommate
  • go with your roommate into the dorm lounge and hang with other students. Notice the interactions and activities
  • fast forward to your college graduation. You are the valedictorian. In your speech, share your three favorite memories from your four years in college

Use the same guided imagery for each school you are considering. Do not talk about the experience until you have completed the visualization for all of the schools. How did you feel after each? Where could you most easily picture yourself for the next four years. My experience with students is that if you are willing to be honest with yourself (set aside outside pressures and thoughts about the prestige of each choice) you will instinctively know where you belong.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Old-Fashioned Advice: Send a Thank You Note

My mom told my children that if they didn't send her a handwritten thank you note after each present she shipped them, no more presents would be forthcoming. My kids grumbled and complained that they should be able to email or call, but the desire for presents prevailed and they developed a positive habit.

Seniors, now is the time to send handwritten thank-you cards. Who should get them? Everyone who helped you throughout your college application process:
1. Your school counselor (and independent counselor if you used one)
2. Anyone who wrote you a recommendation letter
3. Tutors and test prep providers
4. The volunteers/staff at your high school college and career center
5. Any mentors who gave their time to you
6. The admissions officer assigned to your region at every school that accepted you (including all those you chose not to attend)
7. Any relatives or friends who will be helping fund your college education
8. Any organizations that have awarded you a scholarship
9. Your parents

Here's a sample:

Dear X,

Thanks so much for your support during my college application process. I am thrilled to report that I will be attending X college in the fall.

Your willingness to X (write me a recommendation letter, help me find great fit colleges, help me improve my SAT score, read my application, offer me a spot in your freshman class, help fund my college education, etc.) is truly appreciated!

Your Name

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Rude Financial Awakenings

This is my plea to parents of 7th-10th graders: get a financial reality check for college now! Yes, I know it might be scary and your expected family contribution (EFC) may be more than you feel you can afford. It's easy to put off unpleasant tasks and pulling out your tax returns and filling out financial estimators is not anyone's idea of fun. But hey, those taxes for 2012 should be just about filed by now, and this is the perfect time to use that paperwork for another purpose.

Your student deserves to know before he or she creates a college list what the financial parameters are. If you get tough news now, at least you will still have a few years left to deal with it.

Use the Expected Family Contribution calculator on a site like Calculate the numbers twice--once using federal methodology and once using institutional methodology (save the info!) You'll have a ballpark idea of what is expected of you, and you and your student can make rational decisions about next steps.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Inside the College Admissions Process

If you are a college junkie like me, you may have seen the recent movie Admission with Tina Fey or read the book The Gatekeepers by Jacques Steinberg. Both paint vivid pictures of the admissions process at a highly selective university.

For an abbreviated version of that point of view, read this article from the A & T Register (Making the Grade: Inside the College Admissions Process) which provides a peek into admissions at Lehigh University (which I am visiting next week). My takeaways: most admissions officers care deeply about students, character matters and demonstrated interest continues to be an important factor during the decision-making process. No big surprises, but good confirmation.

Monday, April 8, 2013

College Visits in Your Own Backyard

I live next door to Lewis & Clark College. I sometimes think of their beautiful grounds as an extension of my backyard.

One of the tasks I assign to all sophomores and juniors who work with me is to visit a small, medium and large college. I want them to experience the differences, rather than making a judgment based on hearsay. Fortunately, we have small, medium and large college options within easy driving distance of Portland.

For small, I recommend students check out Lewis & Clark, Reed, Willamette, Linfield or University of Portland. For a medium, I suggest Western Oregon, Gonzaga, or Western Washington. For large, the student could try out University of Oregon, Oregon State, Portland State or University of Washington.

When it comes to college, size matters, and it is important for a student to learn about his/her preferences. Although I sometimes encounter resistance from students who claim they don't want to look at anything so close to home, I explain that if they tell me they love X local college I can tell them about some similar colleges in alternate geographies.

A family without discretionary funds probably shouldn't spend money to travel across the country to look at schools. That same $1,000-$2,500 could be saved for college tuition, or reserved until April of senior year when the student has acceptances and financial packages in hand. That's a smart time to visit.

Friday, April 5, 2013

A Computer, Not a Person, May Be Grading Your Essay

My favorite part of college counseling is guiding students through the essay process. No doubt my background as a high school English teacher, corporate communications director and magazine editor predispose me to like the writing aspect of the work. I am a huge fan of storytelling and secretly harbor a fantasy of getting my PhD with a dissertation about the effectiveness of sharing personal stories in corporate environments. But I digress. My blog post today is to express mixed emotions related to the controversy surrounding computer graded essays.

EdX (the MOOC partnership between MIT and Harvard) announced an essay grading software system that will instantly grade student papers, provide feedback, and allow the student to immediately rewrite for the chance to improve the grade. Brilliant academics are facing off on both sides of this issue.

There is certainly data that proves most people learn better with instant feedback. And I understand that it is unrealistic to provide personal  feedback if you are the professor of a MOOC that has 300,000 enrolled students. The financial model for keeping the cost of MOOC courses low (or free) means there must be an automated grading system and it's valuable to include writing rather than just multiple choice tests.

Since I read about 500 essays each applications season, I can personally attest to the fact that some high schools students are excellent writers, and others have a ways to go before their writing is college-level. Whichever end of the spectrum a student starts on, it saddens me to think that personal mentoring--heated discussions at the local coffee bar or in the professor's office--might be replaced by an artificially intelligent piece of software. My daughter's on-campus job as a writing tutor would be a relic of a bygone time.

What disturbed me most about the New York Times article was the ending (excerpted below).

"With increasingly large classes, it is impossible for most teachers to give students meaningful feedback on writing assignments...critics of the technology have tended to come... from very prestigious institutions where, in fact, they do a much better job of providing feedback than a machine ever could. There seems to be a lack of appreciation of what is actually going on in the real world.”

I stopped being a high school English teacher when my classes became too large for me to give meaningful feedback on writing assignments. I believed a student should write an essay each week, but I couldn't comment on 225 essays per week. If I couldn't do the job up to my standards, then I needed to find another job. The article writer implies that public college professors are all in the same situation I was in as a public high school English teacher. I hope not. While computerized essay grading may become acceptable for MOOC courses, I hope it will not become the standard used at colleges where students are in actual (rather than virtual) attendance. If it does, more students (and their parents) will question the value of attending college in person rather than via the internet.  

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Broken Lawnmower and Learning Opportunities

Saturday I went into Bridgetowne Hobbies & Games. My mission was to buy my son Vic some sort of kit that he could put together in his experimental science class that would help him figure out if he is interested in a career as an electrician.

The spry store owner, Bill Daemke, graciously spent time describing multiple options, but they weren't the sort of get-your-hands-really-dirty-experience I was hoping to find. Then Bill started describing his experimentation as a teenager repairing broken mechanical objects and I got excited. Bill graciously offered to bring in a broken lawn mower and give it to me at no charge for my son to repair or dismantle.

Since Vic had been anticipating something like a remote-controlled helicopter I wasn't sure how he would react to the news that he was getting a broken lawnmower instead. I was thrilled when he got really excited and started describing ideas for using the lawnmower motor and wheels to make a mini-car. He even sketched some ideas and did internet research over the weekend!

Sometimes students I work with think that learning opportunities are confined to school and more traditional didactic methods. I encourage them to pursue passions outside the class--learn to make pasta from scratch,  try out geocaching, take apart a broken radio and figure out how it works.

Whatever creation Vic makes with those lawnmower parts, I'll deliver a picture of the end result to Bill, so he knows that his infectious attitude about mechanical innovation is spreading!

Friday, March 29, 2013

My Goal: To be the Thomas Menino of Independent College Counselors

Often my students answer an essay prompt about a person living or dead they would like to meet. I hadn't thought about it much myself until today when I read an article in the NY Times about Boston mayor Thomas M. Menino. He is now at the top of my "want to meet" list. Excerpts from the article might explain why.

“I am here with the people I love, to tell the city I love, that I will leave the job that I love,” Mr. Menino, 70, the city’s longest-serving mayor, told the standing-room-only crowd of well-wishers. He said essentially that he was not up to the job, at least not the way he wanted to do it. After illnesses last year that left him hospitalized for two months, he said he could not keep up his schedule of attending every ribbon-cutting, every dinner for a new homeowner, every school play — the small events that filled his days and threaded him to the city’s residents.

The Globe poll affirmed an eye-popping tidbit from previous polls -- that Mr. Menino had personally met more than half of Boston's 625,000 residents, an astounding feat for the chief executive of a major American city.

My personal goal is to be the "Thomas Menino" of independent college counselors. In the past few weeks I have watched students at the state dance competition, the national qualifying tournament of Oregon speech and debate students, and at spring jazz and choir concerts. I may not fit in every school play, every sports competition, every awards dinner, and every graduation party, but I tell students that if they invite me, I will do my best to be there. Why? Because I love the students I work with - who they are now and who they will become - and it is one way for me to show I care and appreciate the trust that they and their parents have placed in me. I have the best job in the world!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Making a College Choice: Go With Your Gut Instinct

Hopefully you did your homework before you decided which colleges to apply to. Whether you applied to three schools or nine schools, every school on your list is a good academic match. It has the programs that interest you and top-notch professors. My point is that you did the intellectual decision-making at the time of application. That means you have all good choices!

This is the week when I get a lot of calls from students and parents asking for help choosing between great options. My advice is pretty consistent. Eliminate all options that are not within your financial comfort zone. Now narrow the remaining options to three. Your criteria could be financial or geographic or any other reason that makes sense to you. Try to reduce the scope of your decision to three choices by April 1. Three seems to be a reasonable number that most psyches can juggle.

Now is the hard part for all my brilliant students to hear. It's no longer an intellectual decision. You are picking between three options that all make sense and you need to trust your gut instinct. If you can visit each of the three that is optimal (even if you saw them before), but I realize that is not possible for every student. Since you are making a decision that includes social, emotional and cultural criteria, now is the time to use subjective tools. Join the Facebook group for admitted students. Chat with current students on College Confidential. Imagine your prospective peers as your future best friends. Spend an overnight in the dorms. Sit in on a class. Talk with a professor, and if you can't do that in person ask one to Skype with you. Do you feel valued? Picture yourself there and happy for the next four years. Your college experience will be as  fabulous as you make it, so listen to your heart and pick the community that feels right!

Monday, March 25, 2013

F.W. Olin College of Engineering : Think Like an Engineer

It's been a good press week for my daughter's soon-to-be-alma-mater Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. There was a segment on WGBH-TV's Greater Boston profiling how much the school has achieved in just ten years. BostInno published an article: How Greater Boston’s Most Overlooked College Has Revolutionized Education. Product design collaboration between Olin students and area seniors was featured in a Boston Globe article about Engineering for Humanity. As a parent, do I like it when my daughter's school choice is validated by the larger community? Absolutely! Yet, my fondness for Olin runs much deeper.

My daughter wasn't the typical engineering student. She chose to go to engineering college despite the fact that she knew in advance she probably wouldn't work as an engineer. Her rationale was that she wanted to think like an engineer, since problem solving is needed in every profession. Through Olin and its partners Wellesley and Babson, she has had intellectually stimulating classes, inspirational professors, and most importantly, a circle of supportive friends I admire. When the world is run by young people like her classmates, I will feel extremely confident about our future.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Oregon Third Worst Slasher in the Nation

According to the Center On Budget and Policy Priorities, Oregon slashed budgets for public higher education by over 46% since the recession. Ouch! That makes us the third worst "slasher" in the nation - not a third place we should feel proud of.

This is a good moment for activism. Send the linked graphic to your state representative and express your outrage. Maybe he or she will get as mad as I am and do something to reverse this despicable trend.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Regnition versus Achivement

Many students I work with take a values assessment as part of the process of discussing majors and careers. We often chat about recognition (getting a pat on the back from someone else for a job well done) versus achievement (giving yourself a pat on the back for that job well done). There's no doubt that recognition is nice, but it's out of your control. A sense of achievement is a gift you give yourself. During the admissions process, at college, and afterwards, valuing achievement over recognition will probably increase your life satisfaction.

So sure, an acceptance letter from a college you applied to is great recognition for all you have accomplished so far. But regardless of whether each envelope is fat or thin (or the digital equivalent) I hope that the process of reflecting on all you have done throughout high school and sharing those stories, encouraged you to give yourself that pat on the back.