Monthly Archives: July 2011

Is it Rough Being a High School Senior?

July 2011 Calendar

July 2011; calendar by M.S. Julie

Last we checked in with Mod Squad Pete and his never-ending To Do lists related to college, he was still a HS Junior.

Graduation came and went, followed by the last day of school (which marked a few deadlines for him), then summer came.

And since he has now officially become a HS senior, in this case, according to Pete, “Summer = bummer.” At least he smiled when he said that.

The best news, from Pete’s standpoint:

  • There has been some time, almost every day, at the sports club and pool.
  • His “Magic” card-playing capabilities have increased multi-fold.
  • Composing music on newly-learned pro software is totally sick.

The good news, again, from Pete:

  • The college summer course he took was more interesting than expected (and he expected it would be), had some fun classmates (DivI basketball players), he did well, and it’s done.
  • Playing music for a cousin’s wedding went well, plus he loved the music: Frankie Vallie‘s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” and Natalie’s “This Will Be.” There was dancing both up and down the aisle.
  • At least once there has been a father-son SuperSoaker activity.

The ‘summer = bummer’ perspective:

  • College visits include interviews now, which require setting up, which require multiple emails.
  • Interviews require preparation and handwritten thank you letters.
  • His parents buy-in that summer is the best time to get essays drafted. And required him to set up a spreadsheet of colleges, Common App questions, and supplementary app questions.
  • Hmm, taking the SAT again only makes sense if you do some prep for it.
  • Yep, other people are advising important senior summer activities, not just the parents. See here, here, here, here, and here. [Only time limits the number of links provided to this perennial topic.]
  • Designing a CD package for yourself is much more fun than designing one for your eight-member vocal group and Director — most of whom have opinions and some of whom still haven’t provided a bio.
  • He’s also cursed with parents who respond to ‘bummer’ with the good news, as in…

At least:

  • He’s not taking an on-line course. See The trap: Online summer courses. via USA Today College.
  • He’s worked hard enough over the past few years to have lots of options. Or as his admissions-consulting Aunt said, “He’s earned the right to enter the [admissions] lottery anywhere he chooses.”

Bummer or not, he’s truly interested in the possibilities ahead and understands the necessity for work today.

Right, Pete? Pete? Oh, yeah, he’s at the pool.

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Filed under High School

Wednesday Weekly Reader: 5 Stories

Recent news from the college admissions / search / finance front.

1.  Since prospective students are always online and anything they post online is not private… why not turn that into an advantage? See this advice from Scholarship America, via The Scholarship Coach (

Start by thinking of your social sites as more than social. Social networking sites are a communication tool you can use to showcase your talent, your volunteering, your interests, and your work. And yes, you can do this without looking like a big, fat narcissist.

2.  A behind the scenes report on innovation in higher education, from Jefferey Selingo, editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Consumers are not the only ones concerned about the education bubble. Well worth reading if college is in your future.

The bottom line is that we’re likely to face a future where students and their families pay a lot more of the cost of a college education out of pocket. Without grants and loans as a safety net, students are probably going to make different choices than they do now (read: less expensive choices). We’re likely headed toward a future where smaller, struggling colleges need to move to new models of doing business, while elite, wealthy colleges continue to support the current model.

3.  Here are 7 Apps to Use on Your College Visits This Summer. Hat tip to @SuzanneShaffer who blogs at Parents Countdown to College Coach.

Many [families] will visit up to 10 colleges, along with checking out the localities, and cities and towns around the institutions. Organizing multiple visits (or even one or two) can be a nightmare! Why not use the technology we have in our homes and pockets to make the task easier?

4. This timeline for high school students provides a year-by-year plan to help students (and their parents) avoid panicking once junior and senior years hit. Our sophomore, Mod Squad Julie, could be thinking about what she wants to study. Our senior, M.S. Pete, has made it past junior year crunch time and is on the home stretch. This via Leanne Italie at CNBC.

From resume building and campus tours to test prep and essay writing, there’s a lot for kids to contend with, and a lot for parents who may not have gone through the process themselves. College admissions officials and paid helpers urge families to stretch the application process over all four years of high school to make it less of a mad dash and more of a marathon. Try this timeline to break down the to-do list.

Augustana College (Illinois)

Image via Wikipedia

5.  Augustana College offers up a College Questions page, including a timeline (one for students and one for parents), a statement on the purpose of the Liberal Arts, and the list of questions you should ask about college. Straightforward format and great list of questions.

One of the best ways to work through these questions is to visit schools you are considering.  A college’s website can tell you a lot about the school’s academic programs, recreational activities, or admissions process, but, in the end, you will be learning (and maybe living) on the college’s campus, not its website.

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How do I compare colleges?

The American University flag.

Image via Wikipedia

It’s easy enough to fall in love — at least temporarily — with any college. The campus is beautiful. The dining hall has loads of choices:  cereal bars! vegan meals! Such diversity (or non-diversity, depending upon your preference). Yet at some point, the food choices and the pretty visuals all blend together, so it’s time for nitty-gritty comparisons.

Over at, they provide a good starting list of questions. They list eleven; here are the first few:

  • Is an in-state or out of state college right for you?
  • Do you want to go to a big school or smaller sized school?
  • What financial aid is available?

From there, search for details on any one of many college comparison sites…

1.  College Board’s search offers that classic essay response:  compare and contrast here.

2.  College Navigator, provided by the Department of Education, provides search, compare and save capabilities here.

3.  And there are many, many more: see here, here, and here. New ones are still being built; each with their own quirks and characteristics.

Most, if not all of these websites source their information from the Common Data Set each college makes available. More about the Common Data Set can be found here.

The Common Data Set (CDS) initiative is a collaborative effort among data providers in the higher education community and publishers as represented by the College Board, Peterson’s, and U.S. News & World Report. The combined goal of this collaboration is to improve the quality and accuracy of information provided to all involved in a student’s transition into higher education, as well as to reduce the reporting burden on data providers.

Since the information is, well, common, what sets any one website apart is the user interface. Mod Squad Pete and I have been looking at these for a while, and we’ve been remarkably fickle. Just when he sets up a list of favorites in one, we find one that seems to work better for us. Until now?

College Data screen shotOur current favorite is College Data. I’ve provided a couple of screenshots. It’s clean, fast, and thorough. The College Admissions Tracker shows data on admitted students. The Student Selection indicates the relative importance of multiple admissions factors.

Both these screenshots show data from American University in Washington, DC — just because Mod Squad Pete is heading up to their Prospective Student Preview Day on Friday. Good thing for him to know that they consider his level of interest as one of the most important factors.

Got a favorite comparison site? Let me know in comments.

Hat tip to Lynn O’Shaughnessy’s College Solution Blog for the recommendation of College Data.

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How to Write a College Essay (in 10 Steps)

Perhaps the only time a high school student would choose to read a book about writing college essays is when he or she is staring at rapidly advancing deadlines and doesn’t have time to.

Essay coach and professional writer Alan Gelb fully anticipated that scenario and offered up his advice in brief, digestible steps:  Conquering the College Admissions Essay in 10 Steps.

Conquering the College Admission Essay

Cover photo, courtesy Alan Gelb.

Note:  he left out the word “easy” on purpose. These steps are logical and not insurmountable. (Hmm, would Gelb write “doable”? I don’t think so.)

“This is the time when you want to focus exclusively on that which is absolutely critical, eliminate anything that feels like padding, and simply get the job done in the best possible way as fast as you can.”

Where to start? Here are four things the college admissions essay needs:

  1. “The Once” — this is the specific time in which the essay narrative is situated. Think ‘once upon a time,’ when and where exactly is that?
  2. The Ordinary vs. the Extraordinary — what out of the ordinary thing makes this story worth telling?
  3. Tension and Conflict– no conflict equals no interest for the reader.
  4. The Point — at the end of it all, what’s the point? It doesn’t need to be as explicit as a moral from Aesop’s fables, but the writer should arrive at a conclusive point.

The ten steps Gelb describes are clear and fully explained, then reinforced by quick recap bullets at the end of each chapter. He recommends three or so edits plus a final polish, and he provides examples that illustrate the editing process within the text of the book, followed by more complete examples in the appendix.

Gelb presents a lively narrative; he has worked with many teen writers and he makes it sound like he’s enjoyed it. Perhaps that’s his ‘extraordinary.’ This all adds up to a fairly quick read and a good reference tool.

Title:  Conquering the College Admissions Essay in 10 Steps

Recommend? Yes, and even better if M.S. Pete had read it.

Stars (out of 5):  5

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Wednesday Weekly Reader: The Essay Edition

While it may look like Mod Squad Pete is playing soccer, wiffle ball and pool games with his Midwestern cousins this week, I’m certain some part of his mind retains a laser-beam focus on drafting his college essay.

This Essay Edition of the Weekly Reader presents a few links for when he gets back on track.

1. Might help to start by looking at some of the questions. Most colleges now accept the Common App; many also ask for an essay and/or short answers on a supplementary application.

  • The 2011 Common Application is currently offline. The questions can be found on pdf here. (The 2012 Common Application should be available online August 1st.)
  • The University of Virginia‘s supplementary application questions are here.

2.  College Essay Solutions offers some great, brief tips on how to write with emotion. Here’s one:

Be patient. Writing emotionally takes time. People often do not know how they feel about things and even if they do, cannot put those feelings into words. Allow the writing of the essay to unlock emotions you might not have even realized you possess, then keep looking until you find the exact words to capture those emotions.

3.  Tips on writing college application essays from Allen Grove at

Your character shows up in three places on the application: the interview (if you have one), your involvement in extracurricular activities, and your essay. Of the three, the essay is the most immediate and illuminating to the admissions folks as they read through thousands of applications.

4.  The College of William & Mary‘s Admissions Blog, Admit It!, is running a series of posts on essays. Start with Eeeeek! It’s the Essay!

5.  Finally, to better appreciate the work done by admissions professionals, take a look at actual example essays posted (and graded) by admission counselors at It doesn’t take long to appreciate how eye-glazing it must be to read thousands of essays at a time, many of them expressing how the student learned perseverance.

Wiffle ball is looking better and better right now.

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Wednesday Weekly Reader: 5 Stories

Recent news from the college admissions / search / finance front.

1. Choose carefully, allow enough time, and more from 5 Tips for Securing Recommendation Letters, from The College Admissions Insider at

Contrary to popular belief, your most insightful supporter may not be the teacher regarded as the most popular.

2.  According to Daniel de Vise, who blogs at Post Local on, colleges are replacing loans with no-pay grants for their neediest students. 

More than 70 colleges have replaced loans with grants in financial aid awards, at least for their neediest students, a wave of largess that spread nationwide in 2007 and 2008. Now, some of the first students to benefit are graduating, often debt-free.

3.  A midsummer update from the financial aid front:  This Year’s “Summer Melt” May Be Worth Thousands of Dollars to College-Bound Students. This via My College Admissions Blog at

During the next few weeks, students interested in obtaining money (or additional money) for college should call their college’s financial aid office to politely ask if any additional scholarship money has recently become available and express how they (the student) wish to be considered for any of the newly available scholarships.

Statue of Martin Brewer Anderson on the Univer...

University of Rochester. Image via Wikipedia

4.  Here’s some interesting data from the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid at the University of Rochester on how their merit aid stacked up according to a variety of factors. As financial advisors always remind us, past performance does not predict future results — the same goes for financial aid from the University of Rochester or any other college. However, looking at the factors that made a difference in UR’s aid packages can yield valuable information. See it here.

12 steps that mattered for earning merit scholarships in the UR Class of 2015

Academic excellence:

  1. Taking AP, IB, honors, and/or advanced courses (when available at the school) mattered. Rule of thumb: Merit awards increased on average $400 per rigorous course.
  2. Grades. Rule of thumb: Each semester academic course “A” grade translated into $62 more in merit. And—ahem—grades other than “A” reduced eligibility.
  3. Tests. Rule of thumb: In effect (not by design), UR awarded $115 more in merit on average for every 10 points higher on the SAT, or $425 for each 1 point higher ACT composite. So (for example), a student with three 750s on the SAT on average received $1,725 more in scholarship than a student with three 700s. That’s nice, but note that time and money spent prepping for and taking tests has a limited return-on-investment.

5.  Finally, Social Media seems to be helping fix the age-old problem of a bad roommate match. Apparently, students (and their parents) have used Facebook to scope out the new roommate. Some colleges have helped facilitate this by offering SM matching tools. This positive results report came from a RoomSync client at a Housing Officers conference this week.

University of Florida’s TJ Logan shared what the institution’s experience has been with roommate matching on Facebook.

Here are some highlights:

  • Over 1,400 (>25%) incoming students used the network in 2010
  • Pairing led to an increase in diversity, with less Caucasians assigned together compared to recent years
  • 65% of hall staff surveyed reported a decrease in roommate conflicts
  • When conflicts did occur, 48% of hall staff said the conflicts were less severe
  • Students reported that even if they didn’t find a roommate, the roommate matching process provided them an opportunity to make friends before arriving on campus

Any of this useful? Please let me know. What have you read?

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Dear student: your fall tuition just went up., published by the Wall Street Journal, just posted a report that almost twenty states are raising tuition at public universities. For the upcoming fall semester. As of now.

College teeThe background:  prospective college students received acceptance and financial aid letters months ago — during the winter if they applied via early decision or acceptance, around April 1st if they applied via regular decision — and the students had to make a decision, commit to a school, and send a deposit check by May 1st. Then, one would hope, relax.

Returning college students also would have received their financial aid letters / fall tuition notice in the spring.

Since then, many state budgets have continued to worsen; declines are attributed to lower tax revenues, less than anticipated lottery earnings, and less federal funding.

Information on these cuts to the state universities is just now trickling down to the university students.

Still more families won’t find out about changes to tuition and financial aid packages until the end of the summer or even after the semester begins — what experts say is the longest delay ever. “This will create real hardship for these students and may impact directly on their ability to enroll this fall,” says Tom Horgan, president of the New Hampshire College and University Council.

How much more will the tuition cost, you ask? It varies from state to state, but look at California:

This month, California’s four-year colleges are seeking to increase tuition by up to 12%, on top of an 8% to 10% increase that was announced earlier this year.

While some changes affect the tuition cost, in some states these budget cuts are being applied to grants that were promised in those spring financial aid letters. New Hampshire cut all state grants in June. Georgia and Illinois scaled back already-promised grants.

Meanwhile, for students and families who are starting the process of shopping for colleges or saving for tuition, the cautionary tale seems clear: for the foreseeable future, public college tuition prices and financial aid promises may be unreliable.

Thanks to @FAFSAHelp for the heads-up.

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