The Perfect List of Schools to Visit



I received a call in early May from a parent of a rising senior. They wanted to visit colleges but they did not know where to go or how to begin. They felt they needed to see schools all over the East Coast but they did not have a sense of which colleges should be on their list. This made me think of a conversation that I had with a friend over the winter. This family was planning to visit relatives in New Hampshire and they had me take a look at the list of the schools they were going to see while they were traveling. And this list was perfect! They came up with it on their own but it is exactly what I would have given them. If you are beginning the college search and do not know where to start, you can take a page from their book.

When a family is just starting out, I suggest that they go see a cluster of schools that will allow their student to explore different types of campuses. Teenagers don’t always know what they want but they are quick to identify what they dislike. Most students can tell right away if they like a small campus, an urban school or a large state flagship. If you visit schools that are small, medium, large, rural, suburban and urban, I bet your teenager will be able to narrow the focus. And once their focus has narrowed, you can explore other schools that meet your child’s criteria. I will show you the list that the family I mentioned above and why this list works.

  1. Dartmouth College-Dartmouth is a highly selective medium-sized school in a rural setting.

  2. The University of New Hampshire-UNH is a large state flagship in a suburban setting.

  3. Colby Sawyer College-This is a small, liberal arts college in a rural setting.

  4. Plymouth State University-This is a medium-sized public school in a suburban setting.

This student will see a great range of schools with varying degrees of selectivity. The only thing that this group of schools does not include is an urban school. If you want help coming up with a cluster of schools that you could go see in a day or two, please reach out.  I would be happy to help!


Decisions, Decisions…

Today is April 20th and the clock is ticking toward the May 1 deposit deadline. If you have a senior, you must submit a deposit to one school, and only one, by May 1st. I have been fielding phone calls from families that are crisscrossing the country to attend open houses for admitted students and trying to come up with an answer as to where they will be heading in August. They are running out of time to make a final decision and it is stressful. Some of these kids are looking at apples to apples colleges. Others are trying to decide between state flagships and small, liberal arts colleges. If you are a parent of a child that is trying to make this decision in the next 10 days, I have a few suggestions:

1) $$$-Take paper to pencil and write down room/board/tuition for each school and add up the cost of attendance. Do not include books or personal expenses. Once you have that princely sum, subtract any scholarships or grants. Do not include loans in this number. If travel to and from this school requires airfare, add what you think the travel costs will be for freshman year. The next step is to take this number and multiply by 4. Do this for each school and if you anticipate tuition going up, please factor that into your four-year costs. Do this for each college that your child is considering attending. When your family sees the four-year expenses at each institution, it will provide some important data that could impact the decision.

2) Distance-Revisit the idea of distance. It is easy for a 10th or 11th grader to believe that they want to go to college on the other side of the country. It is an entirely different thing to actually do that. They will be making this move in about four months. As this becomes reality, they might have a change of heart. Evaluate this aspect and make sure that your child is comfortable with going away.

3) Major-If your child thinks they know what they want to study, take a deep look at the program that each school offers. This may impact the final decision.

4) Mum is the word-When your child returns from a visit, or you are traveling home from an accepted students day together, say nothing. I have no doubt that you will have opinions, possibly strong opinions, you might even feel panicked at the prospect of your child at this school. But I beg you to say nothing and be aware of your body language too; just remain neutral. If your student wants to talk, listen, otherwise, say nothing. Allow 24-48 hours for the dust to settle and then talk about it.

5) Boundaries-If your child is still deciding where to attend college in late April, it might be all you think about. You might be mulling the choices over in your head 24/7 and have pros and cons lists lying all over your house. Do not bombard them with your thoughts, which are going around your head like a ticker tape. I suggest that you do not talk about this except at designated times. Use this time to take your senior out to dinner and limit your conversations about college to those specific times.

One last word on this phase of the college admissions process; at some point in their college career, your child is likely to have a rough patch. They are going to have a moment when they look in the mirror and think that College A was not the correct choice and that they should have attended College B. It is imperative that your child own this decision and that is why you need to stay neutral and let them evaluate their choices after a visit, without your input. If you feel like your child is really going down the wrong road, after you have given them time and space to evaluate their options, then you can speak up and offer them guidance. Good luck!

Waiting On The Waitlist

One of my clients in this application cycle landed a spot on the waitlist at a highly selective school in early March. I spoke with the parents and we agreed to “wait on the waitlist” until all the colleges had released their decisions. So here we are in early April and it is time to talk about what to do if a college that you love has offered you a spot on their waitlist. Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Sort through the list of schools that HAVE accepted you and figure out which one is the best in terms of academics, cost, location and overall fit. Attend an accepted students day at that school, spend time on their website, get in touch with anyone you know that attends this college and get REALLY excited about matriculating at this school. I am not kidding here; you must engage and get involved with a school that you can actually attend, not pine for a school that MIGHT take you off the waitlist. The number one path to peace when you are on a waitlist is to not be dependent on a yes, but be happily planning on attending another school. And remember that you must submit a deposit by May 1!

 2. Accept the spot on the waitlist. Every school will have steps that you need to take to accept or deny a spot on the waitlist.

3. The waitlist will be used by the college to help sculpt the class. If they determine that more boys than girls have accepted spots, they will be looking to take girls off the waitlist. They will use the waitlist to fulfill institutional goals and there is no way of knowing what those goals are from year to year.

4. The waitlist can be a gentle no. Sometimes schools use the waitlist to avoid sending a denial letter to legacies.

5. Some schools put as many students on the waitlist as they admit. I am not kidding! In 2017, Dartmouth accepted 2083 students and put 2021 on the waitlist. Amherst accepted 1198 and offered the waitlist to 1144. And Pomona actually put more students on the waitlist when they accepted 760 students and sent waitlist letters to 934.

6. Waitlists do not start to move until May, but when they move, they move quickly. A few years back I had a client on the waitlist at a highly selective university. They got a call that they would need to commit to coming as a full pay student before the school would consider admitting them. You need to be prepared to make a swift decision.

7. Waitlist candidates will often not receive financial aid. Many schools have disbursed their funds and will use the waitlist to capture full-pay students.

8. You could get a call from an admissions office at the end of the summer when you are packing to attend a different college. This can be a challenge when you are mentally heading to another school. I have seen students turn down a late summer acceptance because they are already invested at another campus.

So what can you do to strengthen your position?

~Write a succinct letter highlighting why you are the ideal candidate for this school and that you will attend if admitted.

~In the letter above, add any new information, awards or achievements.

~Ask your school counselor to touch base with the school. They can reiterate your commitment to attend if admitted and possibly get a sense of where the school is with their enrollment and if they anticipate going to the waitlist.

Take a look at this fabulous piece from The Princeton Review with all sorts of waitlist statistics so you can get a sense of the statistics at different schools. Enjoy!


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The Final Leg of the College Admission Journey

“A decision is not a measurement of your worth. A decision does not validate or invalidate your life or experiences. A decision is not a culminating experience or the end of the world.”

 -Latasha Boyd, “A Letter for You”

We are entering the final stage of the college admissions process. In the next two weeks, the last decisions will be released and seniors will have one month to decide where they will matriculate in August. This period can be intense because some of the most selective schools are the last ones to send their letters (or emails) to their applicants. For some students, it is the culmination of years of sleepless nights, sacrifice and hard work. And when the letter is positive, it can all feel worth it. But when you are applying to a college with a sub-10% acceptance rate, that acceptance letter is hard to come by. And when a student is rejected from a school after the sleepless nights, sacrifice and hard work, it can be bitterly disappointing; perhaps the biggest disappointment that a teenager has ever experienced.

I found a lovely piece on the MIT admissions blog about this very issue. Despite MIT’s stunningly low admissions rate, they have an inviting blog about college admissions that could help anyone. As Latasha Boyd says, “Your story is not wasted if you do not receive an affirmative decision.”

I often tell clients with strong profiles that they are going to be in the pile of admissible students, but the school might not pick them from that pile to be accepted. I find that students understand this and it can help if they do not get the answer they were hoping for. I hope that Latasha Boyd’s piece gives you perspective whether you are admitted to your college of choice or not.



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Fit Happens​

“…the right fit.” This seemed to be defined as El Dorado in college form, where everyone would share this young person’s worldview and interests—and the food was great.

-Mark Moody, “Don Quixote, College Choice, and the Myth of Fit”

I read a piece on the MIT admissions page yesterday that I thought would be a perfect foil to talk about where we are in the college admissions cycle. My goal was to sit down on Friday night and put some thoughts on paper. Then I stumbled on a piece by Mark Moody on “college fit,” from 2011. I knew I needed to put the MIT blog post on the back burner to share these sage words that still ring true, seven years later.

 The reality is that “fit” is elusive. This is not Hogwarts and there is no Sorting Hat to tell a teenager where they belong for the next four years. No one steps on to a college campus and has physical lights and bells go off that indicate that they have found their collegiate home. Finding a good fit takes time, patience, legwork, and honest self-reflection.

Enjoy the article below and stay tuned for the piece on MIT and the admissions cycle.


Why is College Admissions So Fun?

We are entering an exciting stage of the college admissions cycle; decisions are coming out! And I cannot tell you how thrilling it is to hear from a student that has good news. Last night I was relaxing by the fire when I received a text out of the blue from a client that one of their top choices had sent them an acceptance letter. And today I received another unexpected text in the middle of a busy Saturday, from a client letting me know that they were accepted at a school that would be an incredible fit for them.

Many colleges and universities give a precise date that informs applicants as to when they will receive an answer about their application. Other schools provide a general idea of when they will notify Regular Decision applicants. When I know a school is releasing their decisions on a specific day, I am on pins and needles with my fingers crossed, waiting to hear. But not every school adheres to a strict schedule. And sometimes when they give you a date, they still might release their decisions earlier than expected. And that is what made the answers that I received in the last 24 hours so exhilarating; the schools that my clients texted me about were not expected to release decisions until March. The exciting news was entirely unexpected.

By spring of senior year, I have been working with many of my clients for years. We have worked late into the night on essays, battled deadlines, worked around illness and injury, celebrated successes and setbacks in their high school careers, and I have come to know them very well. The Regular Decision phase is the crescendo of all our work, and I just love it. And truth be told, sometimes the news is not always positive. Rejection is part of this process, and it never feels good. So tonight I am celebrating the outstanding texts that I received this weekend. Good luck to all the future Catamounts and Blue Hens out there!

What Should a Junior Be Doing?

January of junior year in high school is where the admissions cycle starts to accelerate. Many families contact me after the holidays. They get through December, enter the New Year and realize that it is time to address college admissions planning with their junior. So what should an 11th grade student be doing at this stage? Here are a few thoughts:

TESTING PLAN A junior should have at least one set of PSAT scores that can be used as a starting point. I recommend that clients take a practice SAT and a practice ACT to determine if they favor one test over the other. Once we have established which test they are going to take, we look at when those tests are offered and when the student has the most free time to prep (i.e. we stay away from busy periods with extracurricular commitments)  I like to see at least one test before the end of junior year. If the scores come back on the high side, we are all set and can move on to other aspects of college planning. If a student is not satisfied and wants to pursue more testing, we have plenty of time to organize another round of test prep and testing.

COLLEGE VISITS Before a family invests alot of time and money to visit colleges, I suggest that they go see a range of schools that they can daytrip from their home. It is not important which specific schools that they see but that they see different types of schools. If you live on the Boston/DC corridor, it is easy to see a small liberal arts college in a rural setting, a medium sized school with a large sports program, a college in an urban setting and a state flagship, etc. When a student has seen a variety of sizes and locations, they can quickly determine what they like and do not like. This provides important information as we build and sculpt college lists.

FINANCES It is important to have a conversation about what role money might play in college planning. Do you anticipate that your child will take out student loans? Who will pay for books? Do you expect your child to work while they are in school? The sooner your child understands how finances might impact the final decision that they make in the spring of their senior year, the better.

GRADES As always, academics play a huge role in college admissions. The academic transcript is the most important piece of the puzzle, so make sure that your grades are the best they can be!