College Smart Advising

My Thoughts on College Applications

Tips for Effective Email Communication with Colleges

Since many college information sessions, meetings, tours, and events are taking place online, you might find your inbox more full than usual. In the absence of on-campus visits, some of the best ways to learn more about those schools is through webinars, virtual tours, and student panels. Thus, I recommend that students subscribe to the prospective student email lists for all of the colleges they are considering. However, between the increased volume of online events and the unsolicited college-related SPAM, students are often overwhelmed with their overflowing inboxes. To help you navigate this new form of communication, here are a few tips to help manage increased inbox volume while establishing a professional relationship with the colleges.


Incoming Mail:
·      Create folders to sort your emails by college, major, program, or topic (maybe things like testing, interviews, scholarships)
·      Set up filters to automatically route emails into assigned folders
·      Unsubscribe from email lists that are cluttering your inbox
·      Pin emails that are a priority and need to be addressed in the next 24 hours and flag emails you need to circle back to at a later time
·      Remember to respond to your emails promptly (within 24 to 48 hours) and over-communicate rather under-communicate.
Outgoing Mail:
·      Keep it professional by using a greeting such as “Dear ___,” or “Hello ____,” and include a sign off like “Thank you,” or “Sincerely,” 
·      When emailing someone new, use “Dear first and last name,” or “Coach first and last name,”
·      Be clear and concise with your message and what you need 
·      It is OK to follow up with people who have not responded to your email. You can send a follow-up email after a week. If still no response, you can send another in a few days  
·      Check for excess exclamation points. If you have more than two or three, remove some 
·      Do not use emojis or slang in formal correspondence
·      Craft an email signature and include your contact information and LinkedIn URL
·      Consider adding an appropriate photo of you to your email account so people can more easily recall who you are.
Happy emailing! 

All or Nothing


When I am helping students revise essays, one of the first projects is to conduct a search for the word “always”. Always usually appears in sentences like, “I have always wanted to be a pediatric oncologist.” and “I have always loved behavioral economics.” Really? You wanted to be a pediatric oncologist when you were five? The rest of us wanted to be firefighters, or teachers, or Mulan. You must have been a fun sight to see when you trick-or-treated in your oncologist costume.

I understand the appeal in making these “always” claims in your college application essays. You want to sound like you have a plan - that you have everything mapped out for your future. But, when you overstate your case and operate in absolutes, you end up undermining the point you are trying to make. By claiming you have everything figured out, you lose credibility as a writer and waste the good will of your reader. Do you really want to begin your Personal Statement with an assertion that is, at best, inaccurate (and, at worst, untrue)?

The first law of personal statements is: “Show, Don’t Tell.” Always statements are one of the worst forms of telling because “always”, and its fraternal twin, “never”, are symptoms of “all or nothing” thinking, a cognitive disorder that can lead to unrealistic expectations. Things are black or white, good or bad, you are either successful or an absolute failure. None of these things are true. The world is always filled with nuances and possibilities.

Instead of telling us what you always wanted, show us why you are inspired to pursue a certain career interest or how you developed a fascination with a specific area of study. Instead of always, embrace the ideas of “currently fascinated by” or “based on my experiences” or “I’d like to learn more about”. And if you did dress up as an oncologist for Halloween, share that experience with us, we’d love to learn more about it in your personal statement (and I’d love to see photos).

Tips for Off-to-College Shopping

There are ten thousand sites with lists of dorm essentials that you *have* to buy for students. It can be tempting to fall into the mindset that preparing for college means a series of giant trips to Bed Bath and Beyond, Target, and Walmart. Before you go wild stocking up on every item on the various "Dorm Essentials" lists provided by your helpful merchant, I encourage you to take a moment and think about what is actually essential. Most students do not need an alarm clock (they have a phone), atlas (do they even make these any more?), or DVD player (unless you are time traveling to the 90s and there are no streaming services).
• I recommend getting just the basic items before you leave home. Bedding, bath towels, and a reliable lap top should do the trick. You can pick up the "nice to have" items during a local shopping trip once you have a better idea about how much space you will actually have in your dorm room.
• Most of my students are big fans of the memory foam mattress toppers. Make sure you get the right size to match your mattress. Pro tip: You can use rubber shelf liner to keep it from slipping.
• Bed Bath and Beyond will allow students to purchase items at home and pick them up at a store near campus. They also have a school-by-school list of items that are recommended or not allowed in the dorms. Here is the link to search for your school. 
• The Container Store offers 20% off during the month of July. Again, you can purchase items ahead of time and pick them up from a store near campus. They also offer a checklist of items by campus.
• Students can join Amazon Prime for students for a discounted rate (plus a six month free trial).

Decision Day

It is hard not to view the end of the college application season as the grand finish line to the marathon process of researching colleges, drafting and revising essays, and submitting applications. 

For some, the finish line is a celebration with balloons and a Gatorade bath. If this is your story, Congratulations on your good news! Take a moment to reflect on your journey and thank the people who helped you: your parents, teachers, counselors, friends, and others. But, after the confetti settles, keep in mind that your story is just beginning. Simply getting in is not enough. Make sure you keep up the pace that brought you here, finish high school and start college with determination, energy, and enthusiasm to take advantage of the opportunities you have been given.

Unfortunately, other students may not receive the results they had been dreaming about. Instead of the hoped-for outcome, they receive a polite email with soothing platitudes about how competitive the applicant pool was. And, other students may be waitlisted at their top choice and discover that the finish line has shifted from Spring and into Summer. These students might question whether all of their efforts over the past few months and years was wasted. I get it. Rejection sucks. Take a moment to mourn. And then, my advice to you should sound familiar: Thank the people on your support team. Choose a new destination and rededicate yourself to embracing the challenges and opportunities of the coming years.

Getting into one college or another does not guarantee success. Likewise, not getting in, does not make you a failure. The reality is, that, no matter the outcome of this round of decisions, the race has just begun. Lace up your shoes and grab some Gatorade, you have many more miles to go.

A Response the College Admissions Cheats

The sordid college admissions scandal has caught the public's attention and brought attention to just how far some families will go to get into the "right" college. There are many parties to blame for this appalling crime: the high-stakes private consultant, the cheating doctors and test proctors, the desperate parents, greedy college coaches, athletic directors, and (in some cases) the students. There have been a number of articles written about high priced college counselors and their role in stacking the deck in favor of certain applicants - their wealthy and well-connected clients who seem to be willing to pay almost any price for insider information, influence, and guarantees. As a proud and professional member of both the Higher Education Consultants Association and the Independent Educational Consultants Association, I would like to provide some tips to help you discern between the bad actors and the ethical and professional Educational Consultants I know and  with whom I collaborate.

My role as a Professional Independent Educational Consultant is:
• Encourage a thoughtful exploration of the student's best fit college (academically, socially, and financially)
• Support students in building a realistic and balanced college list based on those factors
• Identify and share authentic avenues for exploring a student's academic and extracurricular interests
• Facilitate the process for students with genuine learning disabilities to receive legitimate accommodations on testing and in the classroom
• Meet with Educational Psychologists, test prep, and tutoring providers to ensure that they are qualified professionals acting in a student's best interest
• Brainstorm and act as an editor (not a writer!) on essays, activities, and other application materials
• Visit colleges throughout the country and build relationships with other admissions professionals to understand the culture and environment on those campuses
• Promote a mindset where the outcome of the (unpredictable and sometimes unfair) college admissions process does not determine your self-worth as a parent or student
• Follow the ethical guidelines of the National Association for College Admission Counseling and other professional groups like IECA and HECA
An ethical college consultant will NEVER:
• Make a guarantee of admission to a certain college
• Discuss potential "side doors" into a selective college
• Encourage a student to fake a learning disability
• Fabricate extracurricular or academic accomplishments on behalf of a student
• Accede to the parent's wishes about the perfect college without working directly with the student to discern the student's best fit
• Draft, complete, or submit essays or applications that are not the student's own work
• Lie to, cheat, or bribe high school counselors, test proctors, or admissions professionals
The college search and application process is filled with uncertainty and anxiety. As someone who has worked with hundreds of students and their families, I assure you that the ultimate prize is not getting in to a top college. It is the growth and self-awareness gained from how you address those challenges. A student's potential and future successes are not defined by their parents, test scores, GPA, or the colleges they get into, but rather by their own efforts and willingness to do difficult and challenging things. And, while the outcome of admissions decisions can be different from what students and parents hoped for, those decisions are not the final chapter. Our role is to support them in that journey, not to complete it for them.