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!

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!