Welcome Archive

Please turn on Publish Archives in the Collection Inspector.

Making Use of an Opportunity


I often ask my students one question that they have a hard time answering. My hope is to help them think deeply and differently. My question is, “Who or what do you care about?” I give them the added direction that answer needs to go beyond oneself or family. In fact, it could be something abstract like “a fundamental truth,” or “a true understanding of equality.”  Or, it could be a basic desire to, master the piano or the golf swing. Coming up with your own answer requires deep self-understanding, something that will help you with college essays and in all areas of your life.


Now we are in a world wide crisis, one that gives each of us a real chance to discover for ourselves what we really care about. Hopefully this gift of time and space will allow students, especially those thinking about college, to think deeply about what really matters to them. The beauty of this question is that answers can vary. They only need to make sense within the context of your life and thinking.


Maybe the most famous example of people using difficult times to change the world happened during The Black Death while the University of Cambridge was closed. During the year of 1665-1666, Isaac Newton left his teaching position at Cambridge to spend a year on his aunt’s farm in the hopes that self-isolation and fresh air would make a difference. There, with no students and little to do, he thought deeply and wrote widely. He was reluctant to publish his writings, but in the several papers he penned, he described his new findings of calculus and how these new methods would make the laborious tasks previously used obsolete. (At the same time, Leibniz was writing and publishing papers on the same discovery, which he arrived at independently. Thus, Newton and Leibniz are considered co-founders of calculus.)


The Plague was far worse than Covid-19 and took many more lives and yet it was still a time for something other than panic and desperation. It was a time of great thought.


Before this all started, I heard a professor say something off-handed that struck me, “What would our students do if they all left school and were left on their own to learn?” Then he laughed at the absurdity of the idea. Ironic, indeed!


I challenge you to challenge that professor and use this time of social isolation to write poetry, create art, reason out a new philosophy for the age, or even invent something new! This is a gift of time and chance to slow down and reduce you life to what you really care about.


And, what is that exactly?                                            4-10-20


Letter from a Mom

“Maria is over-the-moon excited about her acceptance to the Air Force Academy! She worked very hard with you and for the last year and finally go the good news today!

"I can’t thank you enough for all your hard work with her. She did get accepted to UC Davis, UC Berkeley, and UCSD as well, but this one is hands-down her first choice.  She will be accepting the Air Force Academy!

"Thank you again for everything!"

--2019 Orange County Mom

It’s letters like these that reward the faith we all have in the talented, hard-working, heart-giving student.  Sophia was one of the best this year and yet she had her doubts.  Still, she worked and followed directions.  I’m so happy for her and for the future that she will have for herself and for our country!

Letter from a Student

Hi Patti!

Hope you are doing well. I wanted to update you about the final results after I've received all of my decisions. I somehow got into Stanford, Georgetown, Brown, Dartmouth, and Cornell on top of Harvard and Yale! I got into every school I applied to except for American University (I was waitlisted there). I was not at all expecting this whole process to end so smoothly.

Just to let you know, I am quite set on going to Harvard– their financial aid is really unbeatable. It is almost a third of the price of Yale to go to Harvard. And Harvard came to being exactly half as expensive as Stanford each year.

Thanks so much for all of your help and great ideas. I couldn’t have done this without you.

2019 Student

2019 Acceptances Begin

Since applications went out a little earlier this year, and maybe because the quality of my client’s applications were a little better than most, acceptances are coming in early!  It’s only early February and already I’ve heard from several students.  

Two have been accepted to Loyola Marymount with $47k per year merit packages. This is absolutely wonderful for these future film-makers and engineers.  An award to both students of this size makes LMU less expensive than a UC— and with a much more personalized education.  Congratulations Kate and Carina.

My top student of 2019 just heard that he’s been accepted to Yale. This was a student who devoted his life to his passion while also being a top student in the classroom.  When his SAT scores were not quite strong enough, he applied himself every weekend for a month, testing and retesting until he achieved a practice score that was worthy.  When he retook the test, he reached his goal of 1550.  But more than that, Yale wants superstars.  This young man already had a national reputation as an authority in mental health and particularly the signs of suicide ideation.  I suspect that his ambition in Public Health will be just what he needs to start a political career as well.  Superstars change the world.  If you dream big, work to solve a big problem, and share your talents broadly, the world will stop turning to listen to you.  Congratulations, Andrew.

And more to come… this is only the very beginning of acceptance season— my favorite time of the year!

2019 The Start of of Something Big

Here’s the news from 2019: 

The fall was very busy in college counseling this year.  I had students who applied to many top schools including Stanford, Ivies, MIT, Pomona, Harvey Mudd, and Caltech.  Most students wanted to complete their UC applications and several very smart students sought out small liberal arts schools in the Mid West and back east.  I've worked with athletes who wanted to stay close to home, bilingual students who were interested in French studies in Canada, and many students who found through their work with me that they were actually budding philosophers!  Three of this year's students want to be math majors, several are seeking economics (in place of business), two art fabulous artists, one a musician, and one who already has major political aspirations.

What I've found through many years of helping students achieve their best college admissions is that finding ways to know yourself is key to the best college application success. Through the graphs and spreadsheets that we will create together, you'll be able to chart your progress and tackle the areas that need the most attention.

My goal is to always work with your strengths and build on what you're already doing and love to do. I'm delighted with your fabulous independent projects so far and am eager to see how much you've grown and changed over the past few months.  

January is filling up. I'm scheduling appointments for after the 16th at this time.  If there is a day of the week that works best, please let me know so we can schedule your first meeting as an official "Second Semester Junior!"

My client list filled up last year, but the students who started early finished before senior year started and were completely unaffected by the rush for my services. With the relationship that we've already established, I think you can certainly be one of those students!  I look forward to hearing from you!

All the best for a very successful college application process,


My Imagination Sparks Your Imagination!


Recently, I’ve been thinking about the class of 2020 and how to create an algorithm that would clearly illustrate different educational paths based on a student's daily choices.  I’m motivated to come up with this model for families who come to me with hopes of everything from small liberal arts colleges to the big Ivy Leagues and wonder, “Which one am I?”


So let me take you into my world, an imperfect building with many rooms, all variously decorated, for your individual purpose.  Find yourself in this place and use your own imagination to assess your own best and most successful path forward.


Dream begins:


The first room is well lighted.  It is bright and full of desks all facing forward.  The floor is white, the walls are white, and the acoustic tiles on the ceiling are white.  And there a student sits, wearing a black hoodie, hunkered down over her work, working hard, and only looking up to take notes from the white board or to ask a question of the teacher who is sometimes in the room. The student writes for long periods, but then takes time off.


The walls of this room open to a concrete patio with tables, umbrellas, and hard seating.  Beyond is a soccer field, tennis, football.  There is a wooded area beyond, densely grown over gentle hills.  Anything you want is here.  See it and it exists for you. If we go to the other side of the building, what would we see there?  A driveway?  And beyond?  A small town or one with a capitol dome, a golf course, many geometrical streets, or a few curved ones?  Put yourself in this spot and allow yourself to imagine of all the places that you now go or wish you could go.


Now let’s go back into the room with all the desks.  There are other doors leading from this room.  One is full of musical instruments a full orchestra and a conductor, another is a lab full of kids wearing white coats and goggles. Other rooms are full of fabulous projects, many students, and lots of intense, but happy work going on.  In an ideal world, you can choose the room where you want to spend most of your time.  What’s in your ideal indoor room or outdoor space?


But don’t stop there.  Let’s go back to the well-lighted room with desks.  While not everything comes from this room, in organized education, the hard-working figure is giving herself the best start at a fully educated future.  This time when you walk in, however, someone has pushed a few of the desks aside and has raised a ladder to the ceiling.  She has found a trapdoor and gone through it.  She is in an attic space there, discovering secrets that no one else below knows.  She loves this place.  At first, it is pitch black and terrifying, but she discovers that the more she looks around, the brighter it becomes.  In contrast to the stark white of the room below, this one becomes what she wants it to be.  There are shelves of books with colorful spines, an armchair, a Tiffany lamp.  There is a long work table with tools and something half built.  There are wires that go through the roof and connect to other students in the inner city, Cambodia, or in drug rehab.  And more.  Anything the student dreams of goes from darkness to light, just by dreaming of it.


Through this room is another opening, this time to a balcony that leads outdoors.  It is twilight in the world below, but this student has spent so many weeks, months, or even years in her attic that she is ready.  She pushes open the doors of the balcony, shouts down all the secrets of the universe to a few friends below.  Some can hear her, others go on in their own worlds eating lunch.  Regardless, she throws her arms up to the darkening sky and, now with friends beside her, begins climbing another ladder to the stars.


End of dream.


There are many ways to be successful and on many different levels.  Sometimes the kids who stay at their desks do amazing work.  Sometimes the kids in the fields, or those who wander to the forest or town find their true abilities and passions.  The kids who poke open the ceilings of their imaginations and build themselves into something unique, tireless, and absolutely amazing are the ones who have the potential to find another ladder to the sky.  This is a rare and magical quality that is exhausting to some and thrilling to others. 


If this is you, share your magic with me and we’ll see where it leads.  If you are working hard in a brightly lit room, with a wonderful outdoor –or indoor—world, you also have a life path that will add to the world, solve big problems that society needs solved, or inspire the imagination of others so that they can go forth to change the world.


You’ve probably guessed at my simple imagery, but just in case, here is the explanation.

1.    The room with desks represents all of your education and your ability to work hard.

2.    The doors leading out to the fields or to other individual pursuits represent your ability to find happiness in a pursuit outside the classroom.

3.    The ladder leading to the attic represents your insatiable intellectual curiosity. This is where individual strengths develop in ways that no one else can imitate.  We all have these places, these strengths, but only a few of us seek to spend as much time as possible developing these strengths.  Even fewer, see the ladder upwards from there, take friends with them, and aim for the stars.


College is not a destination.  It is part of your path to aid you on your own quest for a life that is full of meaning and personal fulfillment.  At your personal best college, you should be able to find a way to become your best, most imaginative and capable person so that the attic of your imagination and even to the stars beyond is a place you can create, build for yourself, then share with others.


--All the best for you college success!

Fall Observations, 2018

The “College Season” has started. Already, my calendar is full of meetings with fabulous students who are telling stories that involve: life as a working actor, building Napoleonic dioramas, rescuing Dad from depression, addressing a cheater in a golf competition, and more. The diversity of this year’s college applicants gives me great joy as does the student with “nothing to write,” who then writes a genius essay about “doing nothing.” Every story brings tears to my eyes because each is so honest and original. This is my goal and I seem to achieve it every day with every student because each person has a place of truth in his or her heart.

As you start writing this year, whether you’re working with me or on your own, please keep in mind that it’s you we want to know about.  We don’t need to be convinced of your opinion on an issue, but we would love knowing why you have an opinion.  We don’t need to hear platitudes or read a link of cliches, but we do want to hear about your personal fears and how you’re overcoming them, one step at a time.

While I work in person with a handful of clients, I hope that students who are working on their own find this process to be wonderful because of all the chances for deep thinking and self-knowledge. That’s all that colleges want and exactly what will make you into the best applicant you can be.

All the best,

Doing Something Extraordinary

           We all know that it’s important to do something extraordinary to add to your college resume.  I’ve seen it all— from teaching English over the Internet, to feeding the homeless, playing in Carnegie Hall, to volunteering at a refugee camp for Syria orphans… There are some wonderfully awesome ways to change the world even as a high school student. 

          When the subject of service, leadership, or extra ordinary opportunity comes up, I always stress that it isn’t so much what you do as what you get out of your experience.  I’ve had many students who couldn’t afford to travel abroad and needed to work over the summer rather than help the homeless.  Still, they came up with stories that could make you swoon and mutter, “I just love that kid!”

           One student traveled with his friends every Friday night for more than a year to a different vista in Los Angeles so that they could view the city and talk.  They watched lights, stars, New Years in Chinatown, the Persid Meteor Shower, and the ocean.  They sat together in the trunk of a car as they watched the world and discussed big problems. The essay that that student wrote is magical, almost as if star dust was falling throughout.  Needless to say, he got some wonderful acceptances with $30k per year merit scholarships.

          Another student wasn’t able to travel abroad but was a strong student of the French language.  His family hosted a French CSF student every year of his high school. This was a great way for Tim to get the international experience he wanted, but without the expense!  In addition, Tim read extensively and brought his friends together to discuss the deep questions of life such as, “Is it better to believe or not believe in God?” His friends loved these questions and supporting Tim’s desire to be a philosophy major in college.  Tim also achieved wonderful acceptances and $30k per year of merit scholarships.

          Samuel was a top student who spent his free time working on his pole vaulting.  In addition, he found interesting work each summer of high school. He wanted Harvard, but when he achieved 16’4” in pole vault, Brown came looking.  His super grades and perfect scores wouldn’t have been enough, but his extra inches were!  He is in and delighted!

           Find your own heart and aim toward the person you eventually want to be—now.  You might have more to do, but having a start on your future just takes deep thinking, passion, and creativity.

           I wish you all the very best for your best possible admissions.


Admissions Conundrums from 2017

            This has been an extraordinary year for college admissions. While every year is tempered by the type of clients I work with, the mystery of how decisions are made remains the big story. When students do all they can and get more than they ever imagined, it’s magical. When other students do everything they can and don’t get their top choice, it’s confusing. In this blog, I’m going to explain some of the reasoning behind some Admissions decisions.

            Let’s look at three high school seniors from the class of 2017 and examine their profiles. Their admission decisions were based on what the schools saw in their files, how they compared to others, and what all the other factors might be. Similar files can yield different admission results based on these unknown "other factors."

            Gloria is our first case. She is Asian-American with strong ties to Japan. For several summers she was able to do a service project in Japan, which allowed her to use her bilingual talent. In addition, she applied for and was accepted to a prestigious science internship at a top research institution the summer before senior year. Her grades were practically perfect and her ACT score was 32. What could go wrong?

            At first, nothing. She was accepted to UCSD and University of Michigan and wait-listed at Georgetown. She wrote a letter to the Honors program at University of Michigan while waiting for her acceptance to USC. If she got in USC, she would have to think carefully because Michigan was her number one choice, so far. Then the news came. She was denied at USC. She had done everything, enthusiastically and cheerfully and yet was denied. What could have gone wrong?

            Meanwhile, Yessinda was an inner city student who had earned a generous merit scholarship to attend Catholic high school. She worked hard and even took on a huge leadership role in her school’s annual musical production, which she loved. She came to her excellence in math because she had been an English learner all through elementary school.  Her family moved several times, but through it all, math was Yessinda’s strength. As she said in her essay, “that was the one subject where language didn’t matter.” By high school, she was a math star.

            Yessinda got her first B junior year, but by senior year, she was back. Her first semester was straight A’s. 

            As a future engineering or design major, her colleges loved her. She was accepted first to UCLA and then to Boston University and finally to Rensselaer Polytechnic, in Troy, New York. Even better, each of these schools offered her so much money that college was going to be cheaper than high school!

            The third student in this study was Matt. He had the disadvantage of being what I affectionately call, “a white boy from Southern California.” His diversity was hidden in his outstanding interest in money, finance, and economics, but not in his culture or upbringing. His dream was to be on Wall Street. His dream schools were NYU and U Penn. In addition, he had a legacy at USC and thought that might be the better choice. Sadly, all of these schools sent denials.

            Once Matt realized that his grades and scores were the problem, he looked desperately at his other favorite, perhaps his number one school after all—Santa Clara University. When he was wait-listed there, he fell into a deep depression. He responded to the wait-list, then started to make plans to attend one of the many other schools that had offered him both admission and money. Just as the final days of March were settling in, another envelope came. This time it was an offer of acceptance with a huge merit scholarship to Santa Clara University. Everything had worked out. As if in answer to a prayer, his second best wish was granted. He would attend SCU.

            So how did each of these Admissions representatives make their decisions? Did USC know that Gloria had applied to the Honors College at U Michigan? In Yessinda’s case, did everyone want the diversity of a Hispanic girl with both enthusiasm and math talent? And finally, was Santa Clara holding a place for Matt all along, but perhaps gathering enough merit money to make him an offer he couldn’t refuse?

            My guess is yes. Yes, to all of these guesses. Admissions officers do talk to each other and they do figure out where else their applicants are applying. In these days when students send too many applications, they’d be crazy not to make a few phone calls. After all, why send a yes to a student who is applying for honors status at another school? And, we all know that diversity is the strength of everyone's education. Wherever Yessinda attends will be infinitely richer for her excellence, enthusiasm, and story-telling. Finally, the admissions counselors involved in Matt’s decisions were able to check up on his status at other likely schools for him. If they knew that SCU was gathering funds, they bowed away because that was obviously the better choice for this applicant.

            In the end, the secret is to think (or guess) like an admissions representatives who always has in mind what’s best for the student. 

Next week, why “Mind Reading” might become the next big college major!

            --All the best from

November Essays

 As the weeks of November start to take shape, I am in tune with my student’s angst.  While some have been working for months and others have just started with me a week ago, each has a plan. Some have been smoothing a nearly perfect story through many editions, while others have one idea and a crisp plan for making that story soar.


This is essay time at it’s best. Last month, we submitted the Early Action applications, giving each a little kiss as we pushed buttons for Georgia Tech, Caltech, Case Western, and others.  This month, we continue to tweak the Common Application essay (under the new and gracious rules for endless edits), while working with the new University of California format.


My students are learning to love UC’s four questions. Are you a leader? Are you creative?  Do you have an education story to tell? Or, how do you “stand-out” from other applicants?  Each student sorts through these options with the hope of finding his or her best self deep within each short essay.


I love all of my students’ stories, but the ones that jump off the page are the ones that come from real lives of hardship and triumph.  How about the girl who witnessed a midnight attack on a friend’s mother, or the two girls whose fathers abandoned their families?  How about the mixed-race girl who doesn’t want to talk about it even though her identity makes her brilliant and strong?  Or, the boy who loves Latin so much that he dreams in the language, can translate anything, and yet, even with perfect scores, wrestles between a classics or physics major?


My students have accepted the November challenge to find their true selves within the questions that college applications offer.  These are not mindless prompts just to get you to talk. Not at all.  These are questions that beg you to think deeply about the hardest questions you have to face. Who are you? Where do you imagine you’re going? What actions will you take in your life and for the sake of others? Think deeply, write honestly, and send off a great essay—with a little kiss!


Happy writing to all college applicants!  You rock!



Need Money For College?


Did you know that families with substantial savings have an advantage when it comes to college admissions?  True.                            What many people don't know is that there are ways for everyone to create their own financial advantage by looking closely at the options. This is a whole new way to view the college process. My goal is to create a plan and a list so that each of my students can attend college despite the costs.           Below are a few choices in college selections and programs that might help you with your college budget:

1. Apply to more Target, and Safety schools because that is where the merit aid is. While you might receive full financial aid to a top school, you might receive ample merit aid to a safety school. Full financial aid is for the very smart and very poor students who have beaten incredible odds. Merit aid is for everyone.

2. Apply to at least one school that will be affordable, no matter what. (Perhaps a Cal State University.)

3. Attend a community college with the option to transfer after two years. (TAG) PCC offers easier acceptances to UC’s and USC and cuts the cost of college in half!


4. Consider taking a Gap Year. Many of my students have had very successful Gap Years even though they started off a bit frightened. If you divide the year into three parts: work, a service project, travel or completing a personal goal, your Gap Year will make you into an irresistible applicant! The following year, you can either ask for a differed admission or reapply with a more definite direction. The results often lead to higher acceptance rates and more merit money!


5. Go Military. If you have played a varsity sport, great start! If not, you can still pursue this option by working out and becoming physically strong. Strong grades are a must! If you earn an appointment from your congressman to a military academy, college will be free. If not, you can join ROTC at a select group of schools and earn a scholarship as a freshman or sophomore and beyond. These options commit you to four years in the military after graduation. (See the ROTC page at for more information.)


6. Dual Enrollment: Choose a school with a dual enrollment program connected to a nearby community college. This is a great way to attend a university at a substantially lower rate! Good schools to check are: University of Oregon and Oregon State University. 


7. WUE: For California students, applying to a school that belongs to the Western University Exchange program will give you in-state tuition to that school. While many of these schools are not big names, they offer exceptional educations at a discounted price. Couple the in-state tuition with an Amigos scholarship at U New Mexico and you’ll have one of the best deals in the country! 


8. Caution!  While it seems tempting for accomplished students to apply for “reach” schools, my goal is to make sure that all of my students achieve admission to the best college that they can reasonably afford.  Remember that this is not always a UC campus because UC system is highly competitive for most students. For this reason, it would be best to show your final list to both me and your school counselor before making it final.

--All the best from


The Real Super Stars


The other day, one of my students was trying to plan for a “super star” summer.  This is a top student who has some real talent in politics, loves reading, and is even thinking of volunteering this summer for the Republican campaign.  (Good for him in this crazy election year.  Just think of the stories he’ll have to tell!)  But, still he wants more.  His family wondered if perhaps a five-week program at De Paul University would help his chances.  They admitted that the price tag for this program was high, but if it would help, they would pay.


These are the kinds of questions that often come up this time of year.  What shall I do with my summer vacation?  For the answer, I go to my many, many case studies.  Let me show you what works. Then we’ll go beyond the ordinary to the extraordinary.


1.    Two years ago, Henry worked for a second summer in the Dominican Republic taking care of children while mothers worked and helping to build a wall for a church garden.  He wrote a wonderful essay about how the experiences have shaped him into a global citizen. He was admitted to Santa Clara University, his top choice school.

2.    Last year, Jonathan needed to “up” his profile for his reach schools.  Since he was headed to Indonesia that summer, I suggested doing something there.  Working with his grandfather and an imam from a poor area, Jonathan bought all the supplies and organized workers to paint a small mosque in a poor village.  Jonathan was accepted to Georgetown University, his top choice school.

3.    Clare has an operatic voice and a gift for writing. She wrote about listening to reports of the Ferguson uprising while on her way to a performance.  The results were chilling.  We were all crying by the end.  She will be attending Yale University.


Doing and feeling deeply as you move through your life is what makes you an exceptional person and college applicant.  Last night, I had a meeting with a physics professor at Caltech, near where I live.  I told him that I wished students had more free time to play.  Dr. Werner agreed.  He suggests that students team up and goof off, constructively of course! Now there’s a summer program, self-made and priced right! Here are the results from a  few “free-time summers:”


1.    Paul and friends started tinkering with skateboards.  Soon they were building, designing, and testing them for failure. Paul’s “play” resulted in self-taught knowledge about stress and material strength as well as a fabulous essay.  He is attending his top choice school, Leigh University in aeronautical engineering and is very happy with his choice.

2.    Annie loves nature and is a top, top student.  She spent her summer building trails in Alaska where she was bitten by huge mosquitoes and learned to swear!  (That stayed in the essay and got big laughs.) She was called by the head of the department at UC Davis and invited to help start a new department in Environmental Studies.  She turned down Stanford for this amazing offer.  Go Annie!


Follow your passion.  Live from your heart.  Think of others.  What takes you far in life will help you achieve your college dream.  Get out there and play!


All the best from



Lakes on Campus? All for Women, Hurrah!


In the last few years, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting three terrific all-women’s colleges: Wellesley, Mount Holyoke, and Smith. Wellesley is just outside of Boston and shares programs with Harvard and MIT with easy transportation by the Peter Pan bus, which is free for students (or adults carrying shoulder bags with that collegiate look.) Mount Holyoke and Smith are part of the five-college consortium in western Massachusetts that also includes Williams, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Amherst College, and Hampshire College. Students can find easy transportation between the schools to take classes, visit friends, or attend sporting events.


What I love about each of these women’s colleges is their academic and social appeal.  The science building and quality of the science program at Mount Holyoke creates doctors by the dozens and scientists headed off to great grad schools. And yet, Mount Holyoke is a target school for many applicants. Admission is not hard and yet the rewards are top notch.  In addition, it has a gorgeous campus full of stately buildings, tall cozy trees, a lake nestled among them, and wide-open quads.  The students I talked to were all delighted with their choice of schools and happy to talk to me about their great plans for the future in science, writing, and economics.


Smith, just up the road apiece, has a campus that is a little more open and perhaps more spacious.  Here, the lake boasts a crew team. The academics are up a level from Mount Holyoke, giving it a legacy of Julia Child, Gloria Steinem, and Sylvia Plath.  Here, the teams fight to win and the women strive for the top of their endeavors.


Wellesley College is on a hill, nestled among trees, with a lake for boating when thawed and sledding when frozen over.  It is a college known for the fabulous science and drama programs.  Here, there is no thought to the grad without a job.  Whether she majors in English, theater, or computer science, she will be a capable and successful job applicant or entrepreneur.  I recently heard of an art major from Wellesley who was hired right out of school as an assistant administrator at a famous art museum.  Fancy that.


I’m finding that more and more of my young women clients are trending toward all-women’s colleges.  They no longer feel that they will be hemmed in by the college population, but that their worlds will expand by the programs and opportunities there.  And if they want dates with men, they’ve all discovered that nearby campuses are just full of possibilities!


All the best for your college future from www.



Making the College List


Making a good and realistic list of colleges to apply to is not as easy as it sounds!  The parents have opinions. The teachers and advisors have ideas. Uncle Billy has his favorites.  And, of course, the student…  Where does the list start and where should it end? We all know that 8-10 schools is a good target for applications, but with all these voices in the picture, some students have trouble bringing the list down from 15 or more.


Everyone in the student’s life wants to have a say on where they think a student will be happy in college, but the final say should come from the student.  Let’s look at where the best information comes from for the best of all possible college lists. Sketch out a spreadsheet; pencil in a few categories and create a picture of your list.  Your list should include colleges in each of these categories:


·      From Your Dreams: We are in the business of “hopes and dreams.” Write down five favorites now.  We’ll get to reality later in the list. These schools can be on the list because of major interest, location, or because of what you’ve heard. Be sure to educate yourself first, though. Use your imagination and resources to include schools that no one else has thought of—The University of St. Andrews?  Sure, why not speak with a brogue!

·      From Your Parents: Your parents know you best. They know your study habits and your attachments. They want you to be happy, but they also know the financial picture. While we often find merit scholarships for students who want a more expensive college, parents often start with financial safety as a top priority. Write down their three favorites for you.

·      From People You Respect: Sometimes a favorite teacher knows you well enough to make a suggestion that will work. Sometimes a coach or music teacher can help. They might also have stories of schools that didn’t work for a student just like you. Keep track of what people say is “all wrong” for you. The people you respect will likely feel the same about you.

·      From Relatives: We’ve heard of more than one success coming from an insistent grandfather who went to school many, many years ago, but still knows what’s best. I remember one saying to our client, “You need a large, research institution.” That opinion mattered a lot to that family and it turned out that Grandpa’s advice matched all the criteria on the student’s list.


Next, to finalize and reduce your list, follow these steps:


·      Make a Master List: Write each college in a box under the right category.  Some colleges might appear multiple times, some only once.  As you write down the college name, give it a number or a mark of some kind.

·      Research and Be Realistic: Once you have the “everything anyone wants” list complete, start looking up each college.  By going to College you can get a few stats together.  You’ll see if your numbers fit the profile of a student from that school.  At College you can also watch a few short videos on each college. Cross off colleges that don’t seem right. Follow with a visit to your favorite schools and continue the process until you’re sure that any college on your final list will work for you and your family.

·      Check the application requirements: It’s amazing how many students decide not to apply to a school because the application (or supplement) is overwhelming. Take a look on Common App before finalizing your list.


--All the best for a successful college list from www.PerfectFitCollege.Net

When Should Students Start the College Process?

Rising juniors are on the brink of their college futures and yet many  are intent on doing nothing this summer. While some are motivated to start essays, others see the summer as time to recover from academics, hang out, and just relax. This is the time of year that I hear from anxious parents who attack their students with threats because they haven't started their college essays yet. And so the disagreements begin…


While the summer before senior year is an ideal time to start applying to colleges, the energy must come from the student.  Students who can imagine and plan their futures are the ones who are wonderful to work with in these early months.  There are also students who know they need to use this time to bolster their resumes and leadership. Others have a different plan.  Parents can help by asking their student what that plan is.  So the discussions begin...


Now is also a great time for incoming 9th graders to have a quick tour through the factors that will help them shine in four years. 10th and 11th graders will also benefit from case studies of students who achieved everything they wanted from their college applications by following a few directives.


Seniors still have time to improve their “acceptability” over the summer and many make serious efforts to work, volunteer, or learn something new during these months.  Students who are worried should have a sage counselor look over their future application profile to make suggestions action as needed. Otherwise, swinging in a hammock while sipping a frothy drink might be just  right for preparing the “college blast off” in the fall.


I find that students who are top achievers come in two varieties:  those who allow their very active brains to rest, and those who start early to produce aggressively superior college essays.  Both are self-motivated and, by virtue of their on-going successes, know what it takes to be light-years ahead of other applicants. The lovely, but less ambitious student can benefit from doing something interesting over the summer, or maybe something to help others.  You might have to go back to the hammock to think about that idea…


Student energy needs to come from the student. I’ve known anxious parents who have made the situation either better or worse by sharing their worries. If you are an anxious parent or an easy-going student, try your best to wait a bit.  If you don’t start thinking seriously while it’s still June, maybe you will in July, or August.  Sometimes serious thinking comes on strongest after a very serious rest!


All the best for your college future from



Creating a Realistic College List!


         So often students make a college list that is full of random schools that they’ve heard of, schools that might impress friends, or that have a football team. How do you find schools that are right for you? College should be a place that offers you a personal connection. While there may not be a “perfect fit” college for everyone, there should certainly be a “pretty good fit.” Creating a list of great schools can be great fun. Make it long and diverse, then shorten it to about 10 schools. Look for schools that excite your intellectual curiosity and offer great programs that lead to your success. How exciting is that!


Here a few ways to help you create a real college list, one full of schools that are just right for you:


1.    Start with your stats: There is no sense applying to Pomona College if you’re a happy B+ student. Start your search by writing out your GPA, the AP classes you’ve taken, and any honors you’ve received. Add in the best scores from your ACT or SAT tests.  The stronger your service and leadership, the more reach schools you can consider.

2.    Check your mail: You are already on school’s mailing lists! You might be receiving letters, postcards, brochures, or even packets from colleges that already think you’re a good fit for their school. Check out these schools. They are the ones most likely to offer you merit scholarships!

3.    Check the map: I use a plastic placemat of the U.S. It’s a great visual tool for students. Where would you like to be for four years? How about the Midwest or the South?  Both are excellent choices for finding great schools that are eager to accept Californians!

4.    College Map App: I love the College Map App. This app lists all the colleges in any state you touch. From there, you can find a few basic statistics and then click on their website to find out more. This is a great way to get some regional diversity on to your list.

5.    College Data: is a fabulous website to help sort out college stats. If you’d like a small school that has a great politics department, you can find it here in a snap. You can sort schools by regions, by major, and even by price.

6.    Go to the Website: As you look at school websites, take notes. Write down what you like about a school.  Is it the architecture, or the sophomore study abroad program? Do you want to take entrepreneurship or be on the woman’s golf team? Later, if you decide to apply to any of these schools, you can use your notes to answer the question: “Why do you wish to apply to Hanover?” Answering with specific facts makes a big difference to Admissions.

7.    Check Youtube: Youtube has become a fabulous source for making the college list because with the click of a button, you can take a campus tour, hear students talk about a campus, and learn about special programs. Once again, while you watch a 2-minute video, be sure to take notes.

8.    Register with a school on their website: By going to a college’s website and registering, you are showing interest which will be a big help if you decide to apply. If you receive gorgeous brochures, keep them handy. Posters? Tape them to the back of the kitchen door! 


Once you start collecting colleges, keep them visible and in your mind so that you can add a few new names to the college conversation:  Gettysburg, Tufts, Clemson, Rice, Whitman, or Occidental. This is your chance, so take time to enjoy the process!



Rubric for the best College Application Essays:


1.    Open with a snappy sentence. Admissions counselors read hundreds of essays this time of year. Make yours stand out from the first sentence. Then, carry that energy through to the bottom. When you proof read, eliminate any bits that go off topic or might allow the reader to doze!


2.    Show your good character. Write like you’re trying to tell a good story. After you write your essay, proof read for any negative words. Turn your weaknesses into strengths. Admissions counselors would love to know that they are admitting students who have good values, are honest, hardworking, and eager to help others.


3.    Show your passions. If there is something in your life that drives you to excel, talk about it. If you have a hobby, talk about it.  If there is something in society that angers you to want to change the world, tell the story. Admissions counselors are looking for students who care because those are the students who will use their college education to make our world better.


4.    Use specific examples full of colorful detail. Admissions counselors love to see your world. Show a scene from your garage, your dinner table, or a moment on the trail where you run every day. These examples are often what sway Admissions Counselor in your favor. If you show them your world, they feel that they know you.


5.    Write about something original. Write about what you love, not what you think your audience wants to read. It’s that simple. Be creative. Start with a bit of dialog or paint the scene. Make them laugh. Make them cry. Whatever your topic, make it one that you could talk about for hours. That’s what your readers will love!


6.    Your voice is important. Write the way you think and talk. Check for clarity and avoid clichés, but use this essay as a way of clearly communicating who you are. If you receive help on your essay, make sure it is only editing help.


7.    Show your intellectual curiosity. This is your chance to show that you’re the kind of person who wants to attend college because you want to learn more. If you study anything on your own, tell about it. If you are proud of the work you’ve done, show us.


8.    Read your essay aloud. When we work with students, we always have them read aloud because that’s the best way to hear the pacing of the essay and catch the errors. Our students are often told by colleges that they were accepted because of their essay. Reading it aloud is how you get that kind of excellent response.


9.    Show your depth. This is your chance to tell the part of the story that is emotional. Don’t hold back. Show your depth so that the reader will feel what you have felt.


10. Follow all the rules of grammar. Of course!  Check for commas, spelling, word choice, and run-on sentences. Once again, reading aloud will help you find your grammatical mistakes and will help you be a wonderful college student next year!




Asking for Recommendations


Think of your college application as a bit of a backstage construction for what you want your theater audience to see. The Admissions officers are your audience. When you submit, you are on stage.


Frightening? Not really because your audience is friendly and you know your part. You are presenting exactly who you are through grades, the classes you have taken, and your scores. Your fabulous essay is your stage monologue, which is creative, real, and a reflection of who you are. The only thing that could be a conundrum is your teacher recommendations.


With a bit of planning, these letters can be your “rave reviews.” Colleges request that you ask for one each from a math or science teacher and an English or history teacher. Your applicant schools want to see that you are a responsible and respected student in your core subject areas. Now is when you must plan carefully. School is well underway, the workload is piling up, and many, many students are asking the same teachers for recommendations.


Teachers take your future very seriously. In fact, some teachers limit the number of recommendations they write because each one takes so long. If you don’t ask within the first weeks of school, it might be too late. Ugh! Let’s make the job easier for your teachers by asking politely, helping them out, and offering sincere thanks when the job is done.


By following these steps, you’ll receive your best recommendation letters:


·      Write a “brag” sheet of activities and a resume of your classes and activities. Include with these documents a letter to each teacher that highlights your work in his/her class. If you have lead a group discussion, solved a difficult problem, stayed after class for help, or raised your grade after significant effort, include it in the letter. Make it easy for your teachers. Add a statement about how much you liked their class, or were inspired to learn more on your own. Be honest, but demonstrate your maturity as a future college student.

·      Put everything in a large folder. Give the package to your teachers after checking with your school counselor. Do you need to include a request form and a stamped and addressed envelope for each of your applicant schools? Or, will recommendations be done through Naviance.

·      Ask if you can also have a five-minute interview with your teachers. In that five minutes you can do any number of things: indicate your future major or dream job and your favorite school and why it is your own Perfect U. You can even ask where your teacher went to school and if he/she has any advice for you.

·      Thank you! Once your application materials have been sent and you have “green check marks” from each of your applicant schools, send your teachers a thank you note. Their dedication means a lot to you.

·      Follow up. In April, when you receive your offers of admission, let your teachers know. They will remember you and be there for you when you come back to visit later, or even if you need to ask for another reference somewhere down the line.


Your help and good manners will set you apart from other students who are feeling panicky and demanding. Better yet, you will have gained the skills necessary to be successful in both college admissions and in life where good work is rewarded and where people help each other whenever they can.


Why Study in the South?

Greetings from Atlanta, Georgia where a California student can find warmth, both in temperature and in spirit! For the excellent student looking for academic inspiration and chances for big merit scholarships, check out the South. For the student who wants a campus with a sports program so big that the fans drive in from neighboring states, come to the South. For the student who wants to focus on who they are in the world on a single sex campus, try the South.


After talking with students and faculty, these are my impressions of five outstanding campuses:


Georgia Institute of Technology: Georgia Tech, home of the yellow jackets, is a green spot in the city.  Everything is within walking distance and yet, the campus is quiet and secluded.  It’s the best of both worlds. For science, technology, engineering, and architecture majors, it claims to be in the top five. Dr. Marilyn Wolf, from computer science, says she accepted an offer here after teaching at Princeton for 18 years because of the quality of the students and the freedom to do the kind of research she wanted.

         This big campus is only 10 minutes wide, said our student guide, Ross. He said that out-of-state students often get big scholarships and that they only pay in-state tuition when studying abroad. As a CS major, he managed to keep on schedule while studying for a term in Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. He said that even though GT is big, he emailed a math prof before a big test, asking for a solution he couldn’t get. The professor offered to meet with him on Sunday night. After a two-hour tutorial, Ross aced the Monday morning test. That’s the kind of dedication we’re all looking for!

       A steam whistle blows to signal the end of classes and on game day, the whole city wears yellow! 


Spelman College:  Founded in 1881, this Historically Black College (HBC) is just a few miles from GT and is all women. The exquisite campus is completely gated. Only registered students, expected guests, or male students from neighboring Morehouse and Clark are welcomed by the security guard. The traditions are long, and the mission of the school is to train women for Service, Change, and Leadership. Women here become lawyers, doctors, and engineers (through the 3-2 program). They often give years of service back to their communities while working for Teach for America or after getting advanced degrees. The girls are all friendly, beautiful and poised and the president of the college lives right on campus. She makes it a point to know every girl by name.

    I especially loved the Honors Program which encourages girls to maintain a high GPA for the perks of Honors Housing.

   Spelman encourages these girls in the sciences. Two elite groups make sure of student success. “Wistem” stands for Women in Science Technology, Engineering and Math. “Gistem” stands for Global Science Technology, Engineering and Math.

   It was “Catfish Friday” the day I visited. The food tasted homemade and regional.  Dessert was tasty lemon cake. I noted a poster inviting students to “Hit the gym and avoid the freshman 15.”

   The Alumnae Arch and fountain central to campus are traditions that lead back to just after the Civil War when the college was founded with just 6 earnest, sincere, and hard-working women. And giant trees gracefully hang over the quad.


Morehouse College:  I arrived at Morehouse, an HBC for men, on a sunny Friday afternoon. Kids were getting ready for the big game that night or were in the library studying. One young man, Johnny from Texas, was a junior who planned to spend his spring term abroad in Germany.  As a double major in math and music, he felt that strength in both language and world affairs was going to help him succeed in education and the arts. He plans to become a math professor someday.

         Johnny said that Morehouse stresses strength, confidence, and the ability to confront adversity while also emphasizing community service, leadership, and spirit. Students who don’t go on to graduate school are able to get jobs after graduating because the strong alumni network and internship program.

         The campus quad is made up of 19th century Southern architecture with large trees and lots of charm. The residence halls reflect students preference for quiet study or weekend partying.


Emory University: When I came to Emory, the campus was sparkling after a rain. I toured through gorgeous sandstone architecture, all the way to the library.  On the way, I stopped to talk to two girls who were freshman.  One was a physics major from Florida, the other an engineering major from Boston. Both had had many choices for schools, but chose Emory because of the location and because of the great diversity of majors.  Here, they said, students can specialize while still attending fairly small classes.

         Later, I joined students for a Chapel service and dinner following. One girl who was a double major in religious studies and dance had spent a semester in Rome where she became quite fluent in Italian. Another girl who was majoring in voice and history noted the importance of foreign languages in her major. She was looking forward to spending a term in Germany. Both had had one internship already and were looking forward to another.

         At Emory, every student I met was happy with their school, their major, and their future plans. The best of all educational goals is to go forward with great hope and optimism.


Agnes Scott College: I arrived at Agnes Scott at twilight. A gazebo and twinkling lights gave the campus a magical feel. Just 900 women attend Agnes Scott and because the campus is so small, faculty often dine with the students. Their doors are always open and the nurturing that these student get is greater than at any other campus in Atlanta.

         Historically, AS was a school for society women. Now it is a diverse campus which draws students from 46 states with more than 40 international students. Students learn from each other in their close-knit residential life where they foster a sisterhood through class alliances. This would be a perfect campus for women wanting to develop their full potential as high achieving adults and community leaders.


Why Attend a Large Research University?


These days, we hear a lot about the importance of class size and the benefits of teacher-student ratios on campus.  If there is such an advantage, why would anyone choose to attend a large university? 

People talk about the 300 student lecture halls at the University of California and what it’s like to sneak in late and sit in the back of the class, or sleep in late and never get to class!  Stephen Pastis, the comic writer of “Pearls Before Swine,” says,  “When I was at the University of California at Berkeley, I went to some classes that must have had more than four hundred students in them. I almost always sat in the far back of the auditorium so I could read the newspaper. I remember that I stayed late one day to ask the professor a question, and when I got up to him, all I could think to myself was, 'So this is what the professor looks like.’”   

I laugh every time I read that quote. It illustrates the point so nicely.  In recent years, however, I became a big believer in the large university for some students. One particular student, Heather, had a perfect high school record with a transcript full of AP classes. She had stellar ACT scores, outstanding community service and leadership and her pick of almost any school in the nation.

Still, she had a hard time choosing between a top-ranked liberal arts college and UC Berkeley.  There were tremendous advantages to both schools. Never mind the sports, clubs, daily campus newspaper or large protests on campus, it was the catalog of classes that finally tipped her choice to Berkeley. She read about classes in African Art, Begali, Catalan, epidemiology, Vietnamese and Yiddish!  Heather was to become a science major and would only take four of these “interesting” classes during her college career, but she loved the fact that her future friends were to speak Vietnamese, Chinese, and Russian, and major in engineering, molecular cell biology, and Eastern philosophy.

Heather's attitude was that college was a chance to learn everything about everything. She was an aggressive learner who wanted to an exposure to unusual topics.  She saw the large research university as her dream come true.

I talked to Heather a few times during her college journey and asked her how it was going. Her report tells a lot about how the right kind of student can make a huge school into a small one and get every drop of learning out of a magnificent offering. 

This is her report:

1.   In large lecture halls, she always arrived early and sat in one of the front rows.  She reported that in most of her classes, the professor would try to engage students in discussion (despite the 300 bodies in the room.) Heather often raised her hand, and was called on several times. 

2.  She went to her professors’ office hours at least once for every class she took. In one case, she said the line to see the professor was so long that started helping students at the back of the line so she could work through the crowd to get into the office!

3.    She never missed class and impressed her graduate student instructors (GSI’s) so much that professors greeted her whenever they crossed paths on campus.

4.    She was motivated to do outstanding work and during her junior year was called aside by a famous professor (they’re all famous at Berkeley) as one of the ten students that he would mentor for the rest of her stay.

5.   As a result of that connection, she got an outstanding letter of recommendation, a prestigious summer internship, and personal career guidance.

6.    She was accepted to five top universities for graduate school and is now working toward her PhD at her first choice school.

Heather found her “perfect fit” at Berkeley because she was an eager learner and, unlike Stephen Pastis, sat in front, participated without even noticing the crowd behind her, and naturally rose to the top of the class.  These are the best reasons why a large university is exactly right for some students. 

Others will learn best in a smaller setting.  (I’ll talk about that in a future blog.)