A To Do List for College Bound Seniors: A Baker’s Dozen!

I was recently talking with a friend who is the parent of a student heading to college in August. I had a front row seat to this family’s admissions journey this past year and I got to observe the student weigh their choices and make an (inspired) final decision. This past week, the mother commented on how she thought this process had ended with the deposit on May 1st, but really, the deposit triggered an entire new set of tasks. There is so much to do when you are headed to your first year in college and the checklist can seem endless. I decided to compile a list of things to be on top of as a senior prepares to head to college:

  1. ORIENTATION-Colleges handle orientations differently. In 2023, it is common to attend a multi-day orientation in June or July. These are usually required and dates can fill up fast. There are other schools that have the first year class come in a few days early for orientation. Before you organize summer travel plans, make sure you have your orientation on the calendar.
  1. HOUSING-Even if the school guarantees freshman housing, there can be preference for those who deposit early. Make sure that the paperwork is properly filed to secure housing. 
  1. ROOMATES-Make sure you know how your school assigns roommates. Can you request a specific roommate? Is there a social media page to find potential matches? Or does the school prohibit requests and place incoming students with a roommate?
  1. HEALTH FORMS-Colleges have different requirements about vaccines and you need a physical within the past twelve months. Track down the paperwork from the college and make sure you have an appointment with your medical professional. 
  1. MODULES-Many colleges require students to complete a mini-course or a series of modules online before they arrive on campus. 
  1. COURSE SELECTION-This is the most important thing your student will do and they need to complete this in a timely manner so that they do not get shut out of classes that they want to take. 
  1. PLACEMENT TESTING-Some colleges require students to test for math, writing and/or world language placement. If the college has requirements around this, make sure that your student follows through with the necessary steps. 
  1. TRANSCRIPTS-Your high school has steps that your student needs to take to arrange for their final transcripts to be sent to the college. They cannot start college without the final transcript from their high school. 
  1. AP/IB CREDIT-If your student has AP or IB test scores that earn credit at their college, they will want to send in the official scores. 
  1. MEAL PLAN-Many colleges offer choices with their meal plan. It makes sense to look at the cost and select the most efficient plan for your student. 
  1. TUITION-When is it due? There is often a hefty charge for late payment, so take note of the due date and take steps to ensure that everything is in order. (This is especially important if you are using loans). 
  1. SUMMER ASSIGNMENTS-Yes, it is possible that your student could have academic work to complete over the summer. 
  2. TRAVEL-If your college requires air travel to get there, it pays to book early!

The Waitlist: 10 Things to Know

In the college admissions world, May 1st concludes the application cycle. This is the deadline when seniors in high school must submit a deposit to the school that they will attend in August. Unless…you are on a waitlist. The waitlist is a tool that colleges use to manage enrollment. They offer students the opportunity to have their application remain under consideration, should the college want to add more students to their incoming class. Here are some things to consider if you know someone that is waiting on the waitlist:

  1. The waitlist is not ranked. You will not be able to ask where you are on the list. When a school has an opening, they will look at their enrolled class and see what type of student they want to add to round out the class and fill institutional priorities. (You can read about institutional priorities in this piece here by the great Rick Clark, from Georgia Tech. He also has his own waitlist post here). Do they need to balance gender ratios? Add more STEM majors? Pull in more students from the Pacific Northwest? They will go to the waitlist to try and fill those goals. 
  1. There is no downside to staying on a waitlist. Just make sure that you submit a deposit to a school where you have been admitted by May 1st.
  1. Follow the school’s directions carefully. Do you have to take specific steps to stay on the waitlist? Do you accept by adding yourself or does the college add you? Is there an additional writing piece or other action you need to take? Do they specifically tell you NOT to reach out or submit more letters of recommendation? It is critical to follow the college’s instructions. 
  1. Monitor your email and voicemail (and make sure that your voicemail greeting is appropriate). Colleges might call or email you with a time sensitive offer, so this is important. 
  1. Colleges will use the waitlist to capture full-pay applicants. Schools have exhausted their financial aid resources in the regular admissions cycle. 
  1. The admit rates from the waitlist are often more selective than regular acceptance rates. (And not receiving an offer can feel like another rejection).
  1. The timetable for waitlist movement can vary. Some schools go to their waitlist before May 1st, while others might keep their list open and make offers until the incoming class arrives in August. Some schools will announce in June or July that they will not be going to the waitlist or the waitlist is closed.
  1. If a college contacts you to offer you a spot in their first year class, the school will likely give you a fixed deadline to make a decision, usually 2-3 days. (One institution called a student I worked with and asked them point blank if they would accept a spot if it were offered!)
  1. Colleges offer the waitlist to large groups of students. Sometimes the waitlist can be larger than the incoming class. 
  2. Waitlist movement varies from year to year. The past two years, waitlist activity has been scarce but I see many more colleges offering waitlist spots for the class of 2023. 

If you have a student that is offered a waitlist spot at a college it is important to know that the waitlist is much closer to being denied than admitted. The most helpful suggestion for students on the waitlist is that they get excited and commit to a school that has admitted them because that is where they are most likely to be in August.

May 1st*

“Communities are built like Legos, one brick at a time. There is no hack.”

~Jenny Anderson, Beyond Mindfulness 

*This is a repeat post marks the fourth anniversary since I opened my sweet little office. The offer still stands for the whole month of May…anyone can come talk to me about college…with no charge. If you know a family that could benefit from this, please have them get in touch with me.

A friend posted the most beautiful piece on community in March. It was written by Jenny Anderson and it resonated with me. I have been the recipient of support from my community in ways that are too numerous to mention. I have benefited from the small things, like a class mom organizing a holiday event at school and I have literally been picked up and carried by my community when the unthinkable has happened. When I reflect on community, my first thought goes to the town where I live, but really, I have had the fortune to be a member of many communities. I have my SLU community from college, a professional community that I work with every day, a community of moms that I raised my kids alongside, that love my kids like their own, as I do theirs and I have my ADK/ski community, a group like no other. The essence of the article that touched me spoke about how we have to give to really be part of a community. And it made me question if I have given enough. I know I have received, in ways large and small, but have I really given?

I worked hard this past month to open my new office on May 1st, which is a significant date in the college planning world. May 1st is National Decision Day when seniors must decide where they are going to college. I thought it would be a meaningful day to open my doors. And the beautiful article about community gave me an idea for how I can give to my own community.

The whole month of May, I am available to meet with anyone who would like to talk about the college admissions process, free of charge. I am dead serious. Come talk to me for an hour and bring your questions, no strings attached. My real hope is that after an hour, you have enough information that you don’t need any more help. If this sounds unlikely, keep reading.

Several years ago, when I was in the middle of my certificate program at the University of California, Irvine, I heard a local mom lamenting about college admissions. I offered to come over and speak with her children. I met them on a Sunday morning and spent an hour walking them through the steps of finding a good fit for college. Last month, when I posted the news about my office, this parent reached out to me to thank me and update me on where all of their children ended up. Each one of these kids chose a great school, all quite different from each other, but the right fit for the individual student. An hour can go a long way.

So if you are stressed or confused, or overwhelmed, or maybe you know someone who is, come talk to me. You can send your child, you can come with your child, or maybe you would like to come alone. Or just come see my office and have a Perrier. My seniors are all settled on their schools and my juniors aren’t in application mode yet, so I have time. Consider it a thank you for all of the times that my community has taken care of and supported me and my family. The article about community is here. I look forward to hearing from you!

Still Deciding, Part 2

My last blog “Seven Things to Think About if Your Senior is Still Deciding” was directed towards students that are still deciding which college to attend in August. You can read it here. I thought about a few more things that a student might factor in to their decision. Here goes:

  1. Gender ratio-Many colleges strive for a 50-50 gender balance but not all of them achieve it. Typically, the number skews a little heavier towards women, while at schools that focus on stem, there are more men than women. Do some research online to see what the gender balance is at each school and make sure you are comfortable with it.
  2. Housing-Is there a requirement to live on campus? Does the school guarantee housing all four years or not at all? If you need to live off campus, what is the housing market like? Are the options affordable or expensive and hard to find? This information can help you predict future costs so there are no surprises.
  3. Four-year graduation & sophomore retention rates-Look online to see how many first-year students return for their sophomore year and how many of these people graduate in four years. Ideally, a cohort that is making timely progress toward finishing in eight semesters will be a peer group that will help you do the same.
  4. Post-graduation outcomes-Where are the students six months after they finish? Most schools have data on this and you can find out if the graduates are employed or attending graduate school.
  5. Travel logistics-What is it like to get to and from this school? Is it a manageable ride on a train or several hours to the nearest airport and then two flights home? There are colleges in urban centers that provide multiple options for travel and others (Virginia Tech, St. Lawrence, etc.) that you might need a car to get back and forth. Give some consideration to what that will look like for you.

Good luck!

Seven Things to Think About if Your Senior is Still Deciding

If you are the parent of a college-bound senior, they have about one week to submit a deposit to the college that they will attend. When a student is still deciding at this late date, it can be unnerving for a parent. I was in this position several years ago with my oldest. (The decision was made about 48 hours before the deadline. I know of what I speak!) Here are some suggestions to help you sort out your options:

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. 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. I wrote a piece called “Co$t Concern$” that illustrates this.
2) Merit Scholarships-If your child received a merit scholarship from a school, read the fine print. Is it for four years, eight continuous semesters or one year? What GPA do they need to maintain to keep the scholarship? I have seen everything from a 2.8 to a 3.5. What else is in the disclosure? This is important information to know so that there are no surprises down the road.
3) Distance-Revisit the idea of distance. After the pandemic, many families have shifted their thoughts on 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.
4) 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. Do business majors have to study abroad? Can engineering majors study abroad? How math-based is the economics degree? Does the school offer 4+1 Masters Degrees that appeal to your student? Most schools will post a course sequence for majors. Take a look and see if the curriculum appeals to your child.
5) 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, you should listen, otherwise, say nothing. Allow 24-48 hours for the dust to settle and then talk about it.
6) 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.
7) 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 owns 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.
My May webinar is on Monday, May 1st at 8 pm ET. The title is “Parenting Through the College Admissions Process: Dos and Don’ts”. The zoom link is here and anyone is welcome to attend. I will share some current events in college admissions as well as my Do’s and Don’ts. This part will be recorded. The second half will just be me talking live about my own experience and how I had to follow my own advice and it will not be recorded. 🙂

The Morning After Ivy Acceptance Day…

“‘But they did everything’ They took all the hardest classes, aced the tests, spent summers in interesting ways, contributed to meaningful service programs, wrote amazing essays by themselves, and even got the teacher who is generally unimpressed to write a passionate letter. What more, you ask, could they have done? The answer here is nothing.”

Patrick O’Connor, Ph.D

I write this after the most selective schools in the country have released their decisions and left so many people scratching their heads. Most of these schools have a single digit acceptance rate and Harvard announced that their 2023 admit rate was 3.71%. If I told you that there was a 90%+ chance of a tree falling on your driveway tonight and crushing your car, you would move the car. But human nature has a level of optimism and that leads to people focusing on the chance of admission-there is a 3-9% chance of getting in. And every year, when the Ivy schools and schools of their ilk release their decisions, I hear about people that are shocked. Patrick O’Connor is counselor and a sage voice in the college admissions world. He explained this better than I ever will be able to so I am going to share his post, “College Admission and the Best in Class“.

If you got the answer you wanted, congratulations! And if you didn’t, I hope Patrick O’Connors piece helps you understand why it is so hard to earn acceptance to an ultra-selective school.

The Final Stretch of the 2023 Admissions Cycle-Five things to know!

We are at the end of the college application cycle for 2023. In the next few days, the remaining admissions decisions will be released and many of these will come from some of the most selective schools in the country. Whether you or a loved on gets the answer that you want, here is are a few things to remember that will help you keep perspective:

  1. College admission decisions are ALWAYS about the college. They are never about the student.
  2. College is what you make of it. Plenty of students head off the selective colleges and do not apply themselves. Conversely, there are many students that head to regional, public schools that are near their homes and crush it. (And these colleges often admit most of the applicants).
  3. Colleges do not reject or accept students. They admit or deny and this language matters. A denial from a school does not feel good, but it is not a rejection.
  4. Colleges accept or deny applications, not students. This is not a personal decision about the applicant.
  5. Colleges admit or deny students each year based on an internal set of institutional priorities. There is no way of knowing what those priorities are from year to year. Maybe they needed male biology majors last year and this year they need musicians with high test scores. You can read more about colleges and institutional prioritiesfrom Rick Clark of Georgia Tech here.

Whatever happens, remember you are in the United States of America, probably with hot and cold running water, a roof over your head and food in your belly …and your are going to COLLEGE!

PS I am linking a few pieces I wrote last year about this very thing here, here and here. I hope this lends perspective, however the final answers go.

College Admissions Bit & Pieces, Spring 2023

My March post is overdue and that is because everytime I settle on a topic, another subject or piece of news came up and replaces the idea that I was planning to write about. Finally I decided to write a piece with all sorts of bits and pieces about what is going on in college admissions right now. So here goes:

If you have a senior in high school, then you know that we are in the final stages of colleges releasing their decisions. In the next two weeks, applicants should receive their answers. And deposits are due by May 1st, so in less than six weeks, seniors will know where they are heading in August!

If you are the parent of a high school student and you are wondering how colleges make their decisions, there is a fabulous piece by Rick Clark, who heads up the admissions department at Georgia Tech. The post is titled, “The Two Most Important Letters in College Admissions” and he explains how colleges organize their Institutional Priorities. These priorities then become the driving force in how a school admits their class in any given year. 

The Common App reports that applications per applicant are up significantly in the 2023 cycle. The number of distinct applicants has gone from 1,006,531 in 2020 to 1,215,022 in 2023, an increase of 21%. However, the amount of applications submitted by each applicant has increased. Total application volume went from 5,274,166 in 2020 to 6,833,836 in 2023, up 30%. You can read more about the Common App data here

Columbia University announced that they will be permanently test-optional. Several other ultra-selective schools followed suit. I suspect we will see more schools make similar announcements. The test-optional era creates new questions for applicants. Should I test? And if so, when those scores come, should I send them? 

Jeff Selingo is a journalist and author who is an expert on college admissions and a voice of reason on the national level. He wrote a superb piece in the New York Times last week, “The Cynical Reason College Applications Are Surging” He gives a clear explanation of where we are and how we got there. I highly recommend this article.

The other bit of news is that I am starting up again with my monthly webinars! I took a hiatus to develop several pilot programs to work with students on their college planning in a group format. Several parents asked me about them and I promised them that I would return. So the first one will be April 3rd, at 8 pm, which coincides perfectly with the last colleges releasing their decisions. I will share more information about this as the date gets closer.

A Valentine For My Seniors

Years ago I came across a post on the Grown and Flown Facebook page that caught my eye. A woman wrote about taking her daughter to visit her alma mater and running into a professor that she had studied with when she was an undergraduate. When he learned that her daughter was a prospective student, he gave some sage advice about deciding on a school. His words were so simple and comforting that I thought I would share them with you.

“Almost any school will give you a good education if you work hard,” he went on. “It just doesn’t matter that much. Pick one because you like the size or the area, or because you can afford it. Then go enjoy it. Study hard and don’t party too much, make some lasting friendships. Just go, and be happy. It doesn’t matter where.”

Colleges should release their remaining decisions in the next six weeks. Whether you are admitted Early Decision, or still waiting for your first acceptance, you are heading to college in about six months. You might be a little nervous, or you might feel quite confident about the next stage. As we come down the final stretch of the application cycle, take the words above to heart. You are going to soar in college…you’ve got this! Happy Valentine’s Day.

Kudos to the SUNY System!

Happy February! I am a little late with my blog this month so I hope that the good news I share makes up for my tardiness.

In college admissions, there is so much stress around acceptances, test scores and cost. College admission news is fraught with headlines that provoke anxiety about a complex process that has become even more so in recent years. So it is a happy occasion for me to share some positive news that is simple, straightforward and offers some relief to families that are sorting out the college journey with their students. 

The State University of New York (SUNY) has rolled out a tuition match program for eight states. This allows students from Connecticut, Illinois, California, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts to attend twenty two of the SUNY campuses at the same cost as the student’s respective state flagship. The beauty of this program is that it could not be more clear or direct. There is a link to their website here

Kudos to the SUNY system for offering families a program like this that cuts through all the stress and anxiety and creates simple, affordable options for students from these eight states. If you are seeking affordability and reside in one of the states I listed above, take a look at the SUNY system to see if there is a campus or a program that could work for you!