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!

Festivus for the Rest of Us


I follow many college admissions blogs but two of my favorites are from Rick Clark of Georgia Tech and Brennan Barnard, the Director of College Counseling and Outreach at The Derryfield School in New Hampshire. What I love about their writing is the way they cut through the chatter and share meaningful perspectives on the college admissions process that simultaneously inform and calm the reader. So you can imagine my excitement when I found a piece that the two of then co-wrote on college admissions. I knew I had to write about it! You can read the “Festivus” piece that they wrote below but I wanted to highlight the takeaways that I think are important:

~Stay ahead of the process. Nothing is stressful until you are working on a tight deadline. Trying to manage essays, applications, transcript requests and test scores at the last minute is a recipe for disaster. Don’t do it. Make a goal to return to school in September with everything ready to submit.

~Find a range of schools that you love. If you only truly like the reach schools on your list, you are setting yourself up for a stressful application season. You need to establish a list of schools where you are excited about all of them, not just the ones that are the most selective. Finding a range of schools requires time and an open mind. This needs to start early in your high school career, not senior year with the clock ticking.

~This is not personal. Rejection is never easy. And for some students, this is the biggest rejection that they have faced in their life. But you have to look at this as a process where colleges are assembling a class. Have you ever built a freeform creation from a tub of legos? Did you pick specific legos to build your masterpiece? Did you end up leaving legos in the tub? Of course you did. There was nothing wrong with the legos that were in the bin, you just had something else in mind for your creation and needed a different size/shape/color piece. College admissions is a similar process. Many students meet the admissions criteria for a school, but sometimes they are overlooked for admissions.

Here is the Festivus article. Enjoy!


December Admissions Stress Relief

We are about to enter a stressful week in the admissions cycle. Colleges will begin to release decisions to applicants that applied in the Early Decision round. These schools tend to be quite selective and the applications are binding. I find that anxiety levels rise in high school this time of year. It can be nerve wracking to see peers receive acceptance letters when you are still working on applications or finalizing lists. When you see friends accepted in the early round and they know exactly where they are going next August, it can feel like everyone else is all set and you are not. If you applied in the early round and you did not get the answer you were hoping for, it can be devastating. This devastation can reach an entirely different level if people around you are receiving acceptance letters. So be aware that we are entering a new phase of the admissions process that may bring heightened emotions.

I wrote this piece below for the very first group of kids that I ever advised. Please take it to heart and use it to help alleviate stress and enjoy your senior year!


As early application results come in, I have noticed a heightened state among college bound seniors as they wait for results from the schools where they applied. I searched my archives of articles to find something that might help students take stock and maintain perspective, but none of the articles said what I wanted to say, so here goes. Keep your eye on your own ball. Do not pay attention to the admissions chatter. Think about what you are looking for in a college and what you want your life to look like after the 45 months that you will spend at college. Consider your strengths and weaknesses as a student as well as how you learn best. Continue to explore areas of study and career paths that interest you. Make a list of things you would like to accomplish in college like studying abroad or completing an internship. Explore the websites of ALL the colleges where you are applying and see if anything jumps out at you. College admissions is just the beginning. The kids that “win” at the college game (if there even is such a thing) are the students that arrive on campus with a sense of purpose, use their four years well and graduate on time. In exactly 4 1/2 months you will be submitting a deposit to the lucky school that gets to have you for the next four years. Use this time to ponder what you want in a college so that when your choices are on the table you have a deeper sense of what you want in a school.

A Russian Lesson For College Admissions

This is an exciting time in the college admissions cycle! I love this phase of the application process. For most of my seniors, their Common App was done over the summer. Right now we are putting the final touches on the last supplemental writing pieces. I find this stage so satisfying because it is the culmination of years of work. By now, I have been meeting with some of my clients since their freshman year. At this stage, when we sit down to work on writing, we know each other well, and the ideas come quickly. It is gratifying to see teenagers approach their writing with more confidence and experience than when we initially started. I also have the luxury of knowing them for a longer period of time, so the whole process is dynamic and we tend to move efficiently. It helps that we know that the end is in sight and when we get this work done we are crossing a finish line. And it is a satisfying thing to sit back after you have hit the submit button on your final application, confident that your applications reflect your best effort.

So where does the Russian lesson fit in? Ronald Reagan made the Russian proverb Doveryai, no proveryai, or “trust but verify” famous in the 1980s and it has its place in college admissions today. Once a student has hit the final button and sent their applications off to cyberspace, there is more work to be done. The onus is on the student to confirm that standardized test scores have been sent, as well as transcripts from their high school. Most colleges have an online portal where they can see if their test scores and transcripts have been received. It is critical that applicants monitor these portals and verify that the documents have arrived. And that is where the Russian lesson comes in. I have heard countless stories of supporting documents being sent, but not received by the institution. It happened to me last year as a parent. It is incumbent on the applicant to monitor their portal and resend the information if it does not arrive.

Most of the time you can trust the process and it goes smoothly but the Russian proverb has an important lesson; trust, but verify that your supporting documents are in.

Lots of luck to all the seniors!





The Early Yes

One of the goals of my consulting practice is to help families alleviate stress on the road to college. The process of applying and getting accepted to a school is littered with anxiety. One of the best ways to combat stress is to receive an acceptance letter from a college in the fall of senior year. This pops the stress bubble like a thumbtack touching a helium balloon.

I saw this happen first hand last October in my own house. A package arrived from a school where my child applied. This was not unusual, as several of the schools sent thick correspondence confirming the receipt of the application and some provided directions for the next steps in the process. So when I saw the brown box, it did not seem out of place. I left it on the table to be opened after practice and forgot about it. I was upstairs working in my bedroom, when the door burst open. I saw my child, eyes spinning with excitement and I heard the magical words, “I GOT INTO COLLEGE!” There were high fives all around and lots of congratulations. And at that moment, stress left the building. This kid knew he was heading somewhere next August.

My applicant did not end up matriculating at the school that gave him the early yes, but I was terribly grateful for their swift decision. I never expected a college would send an answer so soon, along with a package that included a water bottle and stickers as well as the acceptance letter. As I reflect on that night a year later, I wish that every senior could get a yes early in the game. It made a huge difference in our house.


Schools for Skiers

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“The skiing cosmos is difficult to explain to anyone not immersed in it. The act of skiing differs from traditional sports in that…it requires specific orographic and meteorological phenomena. Because skiers depend on planetary forces much larger than themselves —and, like surfers, must work in harmony with them—a kind of otherworldly euphoria overtakes them when they do it well.”

—Porter Fox, DEEP: The Story of Skiing and the Future of Snow

Last spring I shared a piece from Time/Money on my Facebook page about colleges for students that like to ski. I posted it half-heartedly; the winter ski season and the college admissions season were both waning and it seemed like a good fit. I recently opened up the article and read through the schools that they listed and thought to myself, “Woah, this list will not do”.

I often have clients looking for colleges and access to skiing is on the top of their priority list. They are not necessarily looking for a ski team, but rather the ability to get to a good hill in less than an hour. The words that I read in David A. Rothman’s book, Living the Life: Tales from America’s Mountains and Ski Towns come to mind when I think about this type of student. Rothman writes about getting a season pass at a new mountain. He says, “At that moment…I could feel my little world tilt on it’s axis. I hadn’t bought a season’s pass at a new ski area in fifteen years…if you’re a skier—really a skier—shifting your allegiance from one hill to another is a big deal”.

And there are those words, really a skier, that made me decide I had to make a list of schools for the type of client that is really a skier. I don’t put myself in that category but I know plenty of people who qualify. Lots of college kids like to ski and can make do at a school that offers the opportunity to ski on the weekends or occasionally skip class and go during the week. The type of skier that I am talking about is the kid that is sitting in class on a Tuesday morning watching snow pile up and wants to be on the slopes in an hour or less. And this kid is committed to 50+ days a year, so this ski hill needs to keep them engaged. I am talking about someone who opens their season on their local WROD (White Ribbon of Death for the uninitiated) and ends at Killington in May (or any other fine ski center that stays open until Memorial Day), a skier that makes getting on the hill a priority above all else (besides academics, of course). If there is a mid-week dump, this kid wants to get to the hill ASAP; they are not waiting for the weekend. If you are trying to figure out where you can blend your ski passion and your education, this post is for you.

When clients come to me and say they want skiing access, there are fewer choices than you might think. My criteria are as follows: more than 1,000 students, an average SAT score of over 1,000 and less than one hour to a ski slope that will keep them engaged for the winter (I realize this is subjective) Here are a few that will work in no particular order. I put the college and the ski area that is within an hour. My list is just a start. I welcome your insights and comments on schools that I might have overlooked. Enjoy!

  1. The Vermont Schools. University of Vermont, St. Michaels College, Middlebury College, Champlain College, Norwich University. These schools are within 60 minutes of Sugarbush, Stowe, Smuggler’s Notch, Mad River Glen and Middlebury has it’s very own hill, called the Ski Bowl.

  2. The Denver Schools, Colorado School of Mines, Regis University, University of Colorado-Denver, University of Denver are within an hour or so of Eldora and/or Winter Park/Mary Jane

  3. Dartmouth College-Okemo/Skiway

  4. Williams-Mt. Snow

  5. SUNY Plattsburgh-Whiteface

  6. SUNY New Paltz-Hunter

  7. Bard-Hunter

  8. Western State Colorado University-Crested Butte

  9. Fort Lewis College-Telluride

  10. UC Boulder-Eldora

  11. University of Nevada Reno-Lake Tahoe Resorts

  12. Fort Lewis College-Purgatory

  13. Westminster College-Snowbird/Alta/Solitude/Brighton/The Canyons/Park City/Deer Valley

  14. University of Utah-Snowbird/Alta/Solitude/Brighton/The Canyons/Park City/Deer Valley

  15. University of Montana-Montana Snowbowl

  16. Montana State University-Bridger Bowl

  17. Skidmore College-Gore Mountain



Last week I was on the phone with my college bestie, discussing our college-bound children. My oldest is matriculating at the university where her oldest will be a junior. The tuition for this school was due and we were commiserating on the cost and comparing notes on getting our payments in. I described how I handled paying tuition and she said, “That is a great idea. You need to write a blog about this.” So here goes…

It was Monday and the tuition was due by 4pm on Friday. There was an option to mail a check or pay online. The first thing I did was review the itemized bill. I found a discrepancy in the rooming charge. The cost for the dormitory that they billed was greater than the charge for the room he was assigned. I called the school and they made an adjustment that was almost 5% of the entire sum, a win for our bank account. The next thing I did was summon my student and asked him to join me on the porch with his computer. I had him pull up the bill and print it out. Then I handed him a blank check and told him to fill it out and when he finished I would sign it. This kid doesn’t write many checks and the majority of his monetary transactions are in the double digits. Occasionally they slip into the triple digits, so he was wide-eyed writing out a five-figure check. He carefully filled out the information and when he finished, he looked up at me and said, “Is this for the whole year?” I shook my head and his eyes got wider. I told him that this sum just covered first semester, so it was important to go to class. I could feel this information sinking in as he went and got an envelope. He filled out the address of the school, wrote his return address, put the bill and the check in the envelope and sealed it shut. He put a stamp in the corner and placed the envelope in our mailbox for our mail carrier to pick up. I am confident that he walked away with a deeper appreciation for the opportunity to go to college. The hands-on experience of printing the bill, writing out the check and putting the envelope in the mail made the whole thing seem real. I think I am going to have him write out the check each semester.

Having your student handle the payment is just one thing that you can do when it comes time to pay tuition. Here are a few more things to be aware of:

~Health Insurance Many schools will bill for health insurance unless you submit proof of private insurance. This can be $2,000-$3,000 a year. Double check your bill and if you find a charge for health insurance that is in error, contact the school to determine what documentation you need to submit to remove the charge.

~Credit Card Payment Colleges and universities often accept credit cards as a way to pay your bill. Before you have visions of yourself enjoying a Caribbean getaway with all of the points that you will earn, make sure that the school does not assess a surcharge for using this means of payment. In the fine print many schools add a 2-3% charge on top of the room/board/tuition/fees.

~Late Fees Most schools have a penalty for paying tuition after a certain date. My child’s school charges $250 for funds that are received after the deadline, so it is important to keep tabs on when things are due.

~Miscellaneous Charges Comb through your bill to make sure that each item is accurate. If there is a mistake, it is up to you to call the school and ask them to make an adjustment.

Below is a link to a presentation by the great Lynn O’Shaughnessy, called 5 Winning College Strategies to Finding Great Schools and Cutting Their Cost. Enjoy!