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College Admissions

By Tonya DuBois

You JUST finished your application and your personal statement, and come to learn that there is a supplemental essay – AUGH! It’s the infamous “why us” essay, right? This one is a little time consuming because you genuinely need to personalize it for each college. Here are some tips to make writing it a little easier:

1. Before you even begin, make a list of all the things you remember liking about this school.

2. Do lots of research on those features you liked and figure out how to make them more specific. What is unique about the school that appeals to you? Is there a specific professor doing really cool research that interests you? Maybe a brand-new program that they are trying to build?

3. Be VERY specific. Pick a class from their course catalog that you’d love to take, or name a specific activity in which you’d like to participate. Mention a program that they have that you haven’t found anywhere else, or a really neat piece of state-of-the-art equipment that you might get to work with there.

4. Consider referring to the school’s history, mission, or core values. If there is something unique that really fits your own upbringing, values, or beliefs, it is worth mentioning.

5. Talk about the differences, not the similarities. Location, size, weather, study abroad programs, exciting sports culture – these things apply to hundreds of schools.

6. Mention that moment when you first realized this college was perfect to you. What sparked that aha moment? Tell a good story and show off your writing style. (But try to stay away from the “I just got that feeling” – that doesn’t provide enough substance.)

7. If you experienced a special moment during your campus visit, talk about it. If it was an encounter with a specific tour guide or professor, mention him or her by name.

8. Bring it back around to you. The admission officers already know their school is awesome. What they don’t know is why YOU are awesome for THEM. If you said you couldn’t wait to take a class in bonsai plants, explain that you’ve been nurturing a bonsai garden since 7th grade. They want to know how you are going to contribute to their school. It’s really more about “why you” than “why us” – it always has to come back around to YOU.

One parting thought…every time you meet a college admission officer – at the campus visit or when they visit your high school or at a virtual information session – always ask them what they feel the differentiating factor is about their school. “I’m drawn to small to medium-sized suburban liberal arts colleges in the northeast. When I go to visit, I hear many of the same things – small class sizes, opportunities for undergraduate research, study abroad programs, etc – what make your college different from every other small to medium-sized liberal arts school?” Ask tour guides and random students you meet this same question. Keep a notebook and write down what they say. This will help you when it comes time for the “Why Us” essay.

Happy writing!


College Admissions

By Tonya DuBois

As you build a list of colleges you are considering, it’s important to balance it with schools where you are likely to gain admission, along with those that are more of a stretch.

You will first go through all the exercises I’ve taught you in order to examine colleges and universities that fit your needs – geographic region, availability of your likely major, school size, and whatever is most important to you. You will then visit a variety of these schools before narrowing down your selection.

Once you have a broad list, you’ll need to categorize the schools into “likely,” “target,” or “reach” schools. It’s important to have 2-3 likely and 2-3 target schools on your list. (If you are aiming for significant merit scholarships, then you should have even more.) As for reach schools, a good rule of thumb is to have one reach school for every likely or target school on your list. If you have 3 likely and 3 target schools, then 6 reach schools would be appropriate and create a well-balanced list.

So, how do you know if a college is a likely, target, or reach school?

1. Examine each college’s Common Data Set online – sections C9-C11 summarize the most up-to-date information about the most recent class that was accepted. This report will show you the average GPA of admitted students, SAT scores, etc. If your academic record falls within their middle 50% of admitted students, it’s probably a target school. If your record falls below, it’s a reach school, and above it’s a likely school.

2. Also check the percent of students who are accepted, relative to those who applied (section C1). Any school that accepts less than 15% of its applicants is ALWAYS a reach school – even if you have stellar scores and grades. Why? Because they simply cannot accept all the qualified students who apply.

A few important factors to keep in mind as you consider this data:

1. In this new test-optional environment, those who tend to submit SAT scores are the students with really high scores; therefore, the scores may look higher than in years past. If you take a look at the previous year’s Common Data Set, too, that will help give you a clearer picture.

2. Students who apply Early Decision will have an increased chance of admission over Regular Decision, assuming they are already competitive in the applicant pool.

3. For public universities, the middle 50% represents both in-state and out-of-state students. If you are an out-of-state applicant, the bar for admission is typically set much higher, so your scores/grades will need to be a little higher than the middle 50% to be competitive.

Now that you have a well-balanced list of colleges, your next step will be to get yourself organized as you start your application process. If you are a part of my Windstar Crew, you will receive a “college application tracker” – an excel document where you can track all your college applications – everything from due dates, to application type, to supplements, and much more. If you are not a part of my program, I encourage you to develop a document to track all the necessary parts of the admission process.

Have fun exploring colleges and finding good-fit options. Remember, for every reach school on your list, there should be one target or likely school too – this will help you achieve balance on your college application list.


College Admissions

by Tonya DuBois

During these uncertain times, when in-person college classes are sometimes limited, students are considering deferment and gap years more than ever before.

It’s important to understand the difference between the two and the ramifications of making these choices.

First, let’s define each term:

Deferment – a choice to enroll at a college, but defer the start date by a semester or a full year.

Gap Year – a choice to enroll at a college, but take a full year to engage in something enriching and productive, such as travel, community service, work, etc.

The policies at each college are different and it is critical that you check your college’s policy before making a decision to request a deferral or a gap year. Below are some general guidelines about how the process works and cautions for you to consider.

How does the process work?

Typically, you would need to select a college and pay an enrollment deposit. You would then complete the college’s deferral or gap year request paperwork and submit by the college’s due date. If the college agrees to delay your start date, you will need to read the fine print and sign an agreement. (With so many students requesting a delayed start date these days, please understand that not all requests are granted.)

A few cautions:

1. Often as part of a deferral or gap year agreement, the college indicates that you may NOT take colleges courses at any other college.
2. Even if there is no agreement as outlined in #1, if you take 12 college credits during a deferral or gap year, you would (in most cases) need to re-apply to the college, as you would now be considered a transfer student, rather than a first-year student. You could risk potentially not being accepted, losing freshman housing, or losing a merit scholarship.
3. If you defer for a full year, you will need to re-apply for financial aid. (If you defer for only a semester, typically the current financial aid form/offer is applied.)
4. If you have a merit scholarship, you will need to ask if that will still be applied if you defer/delay your attendance by any amount of time.
5. If you are an NCAA Division I or II athlete, you need to understand your deferment grace period, to ensure you don’t exceed that and lose eligibility – talk to your college admission office and/or coach to understand these guidelines.

The possibilities for an enriching gap year are truly endless. You could engage in language immersion in another country, teach or volunteer overseas, adventure/backpack/sail all over the world, work or intern in the area of your future major, or maybe even open your own business. If your family supports these kinds of experiences and agrees to delay your attendance in college, it’s worth requesting a gap year. Be certain to heed all the cautions outlined above and ask the right questions. Most importantly…If you have made a commitment to attend college the following year…be sure to stick to it!


College Admissions

By Tonya DuBois

Summer is the perfect time to work on enhancing your college resume. The first thing you’ll want to do is consider your personal brand. What are the main threads that will run throughout your entire college application? What is the academic or extra-curricular area that interests you most and that you are most passionate about? Whatever those common themes are going to be throughout your application, they should be reinforced with your summer activities. If well-aligned with your personal brand, these summer activities will enhance your resume and demonstrate to the college that this interest is authentic. Plus, if you are doing what you love, the activities will be fun, engaging, and lead to self-improvement.

You’ll note that most of the ideas I mention below have online alternatives available if in-person activities aren’t possible for you this summer. Every high school student is facing the same challenges you are so be creative, go virtual if necessary, but definitely don’t use our current circumstances as an excuse to skip participating in valuable summer activities.

Here are some summer activities that can boost your resume:

• Summer Camps – There are all sorts of camps available – local, online, or college camps – with various themes from academic subjects to the arts or athletics.
o It possible, I encourage you to consider an online or in person camp at a college that interests you – you will get to experience the college, build a relationship with professors, demonstrate interest to the college, and there will be a record of how you performed in that camp if the admission office wishes to access it. If it’s an athletic camp, you will get a good look for potential recruitment and you’ll see if the coach seems to be a good fit for you.
o Otherwise, consider any camp that will help you to enhance your knowledge on a subject of interest, develop an existing skill, or build a new one.

• College Classes – College courses can be taken online or in person, at a college you may wish to attend, or at a local college near you. Assuming you do well, a college course can help you demonstrate college readiness.
o If attending at a college you are considering, it offers many of the same advantages mentioned above, enabling you to get a sense of the school, develop relationships, demonstrate interest, etc.
o If you are taking a course at any college, there are so many benefits – deeper content knowledge on a subject of interest, experience on a college campus or in a virtual learning environment, learning how to interact with professors during office hours, and working with college-level students on group projects.
o If traditional college courses are a bit too costly, then consider a site like Coursera.com – this is a fantastic resource for all sorts of FREE courses on various subjects.

• Internships or shadowing opportunities – An internship is meant to provide practical work experience for beginners in a particular occupation (it may be paid or unpaid). And, shadowing allows you to observe professionals doing their job.
o Not only do internships and shadowing experiences look good on your resume, but they help you determine if you are going down the right path for the major or career you are considering.
o Keep in mind your hours per week and weeks per year. A 20 hour/week internship for 8 weeks of summer is preferable to a one-week shadowing opportunity, and shows a deeper level of commitment.
o A good place to find these opportunities is through family friends, the local chamber of commerce, a local college career office, or cold calling businesses that may fit your particular niche. Even online job search platforms, such as Indeed.com, often post internships that are available in your area.

• Part-time job – Any job that is a significant commitment (20+ hours per week) is held in high regard by admission officers, especially if you are also working during the academic year, which may or may not be possible.
o If you are artsy, work at a craft store; if you are athletic, work the front desk at a gym; if you are a techy, work in a web design role. Whatever you pick, try your best to find a job that aligns with your personal brand. And, ideally, one you can do all year round.

• Community Service – You’ll want to pick a worthy cause that aligns with your personal brand and allows you to engage with your community in a meaningful way.
o If you want to be a political science major, then volunteering on a political campaign is a great idea; want to be a vet, volunteering at an animal shelter is smart; or a teacher, volunteering at a summer camp would be a great idea.
o Once you decide on an organization that fits you well – stick with it for multiple summers or multiple years, if you can – it’s both more personally fulfilling and also makes for a better resume, showing a significant commitment to one organization or cause that aligns with your interests.
o If you are not sure where to find local service opportunities, I suggest your local United Way website, or your high school guidance office.
o You could also consider starting a service project of your own – a popular one this year was making and donating masks. Starting your own service endeavor demonstrates leadership, initiative and takes doing community service to the next level.

• Learn a new skill – Any new skill is a plus, especially if it aligns with your brand!
o Suppose you want to be a fashion designer but don’t know how to sew, or an architect but have never used Revit or AutoCAD. What if you’ve always wanted to learn to speak Russian, but they don’t offer that language at your school. Or, maybe you want to add expert cake decorator to your culinary skills, or learn a new instrument. These can all enhance your resume.

• Learn professional skills – There are some practical business skills that you simply don’t learn in high school.
o If you want to go into finance, for example, you are going to need to become an expert at Excel, so take a class. Or, if you want work in public relations one day, you may want to take a course in public speaking.
o Check out Lynda.com for reasonably-priced professional courses.

• Engage in Academic Research – By working with a local professor you may be a part of research that gets published in an academic journal – this would be a very powerful summer activity for a high school student!
o Reach out to local college professors in your area of interest and see if they need summer assistance on any research in your future major. It may just be data entry, but still wonderful experience to be involved in research in the subject area that may be your future major. Plus, you have a new contact in your area of academic interest.

• Become an entrepreneur – Running any business is a wonderful learning experience – having both successes and failures to learn from – working on a diverse set of practical skills, such as marketing, sales, and accounting.
o Dog walking, yard care, tutoring, or jewelry making might be fun choices, if they align well with your personal brand.
o A way to take your business to the next level is to start a website or social media pages, develop a business or marketing plan, and track and analyze your data – how many customers did you reach, how many people did you engage through social media, how much money did you make, how many events did you host, how many products did you sell – Keeping the data helps you tell a really good story (and, it also helps you to measure your success).

• Get certified – There are all sorts of certificates that demonstrate commitment that are available to teenagers.
o Become CPR/first aid certified, become lifeguard or get SCUBA certified, or earn certificates in various Microsoft products.
o Check out LinkedIn’s learning certificate courses available online; they cover a wide range of topics that may interest you.

• Enter contests – If you can be competitive and earn awards in a state-wide or even national competition it will give your awards and honors section a significant boost.
o Creative writing and photography lend themselves particularly well to online competitions. But also consider competitions in science fairs, robotics, trivia, or digital design.

• Travel – Perhaps your family spends a lot of time traveling over the summer and you are wondering how you can leverage that for your college resume.
o If you experience a new culture, journal or blog about what you’ve learned.
o Consider creating a travel channel on YouTube or a photo journal of your travels on Instagram. You will have a whole body of work that demonstrates that you’ve deeply reflected on the experience and you could also demonstrate your marketing skills, if you get the kind of reach and number of followers that are impressive.
o Additionally, there are often service opportunities that you could do with your family while traveling abroad, through reputable companies. Volunteerforever.com is a great resource.

• Start something new – Any time you start something new, it shows leadership and initiative.
o Depending on your personal brand, you may want to start a neighborhood book club, or a weekly chalk walk, or a community movie night.
o Think about a succession plan so the activity has good leadership and lives on even after you go off to college.

• College Research, SAT/ACT Prep, Online or Campus Visits – while these may not enhance your resume, per se, don’t forget to budget yourself some time for these important college-related tasks, too!

I hope these ideas help you consider ways that you can build your college resume over the summer. I recommend picking approximately 2 of the types of activities I suggested above, do them fully and do them well. Otherwise, if you try to do too many, you’ll spread yourself way too thin. Do not wait until the summer before senior year to get started. Every single summer of high school should be approached strategically with self-improvement, personal brand, and the college application all in mind.


College Admissions

By Tonya DuBois

It’s February, which means it’s probably the time that your high school is having you register for next year’s classes. As you decide in which courses to enroll next year, there are many things you should consider – related to how the admission office will view your application. Here are my top 5 tips when registering for your high school classes:

1. Rigor of coursework is the SINGLE.MOST.IMPORTANT factor on your college application. Take the most challenging course load you can handle – AP courses, dual enrollment, AICE, IB – are all (generally) weighed equally in terms of rigor.

2. Take 4 years of all core subjects, including foreign language. The biggest mistake I see students make is not treating foreign language like every other core subject. To be truly competitive at the most highly selective colleges, you must take all 4 years of foreign language.

3. If you are planning to be a STEM major in college be sure you take Physics; some colleges are now requiring Physics for STEM majors. Please don’t overlook that important subject.

4. Particularly if you are an under-classman as you read this, consider the scope and sequence of courses at your school, so you set yourself up for success. For example, if you are deciding between pre-Algebra or Algebra for your freshman year, which course do you have to take freshman year to be eligible for Calculus senior year? You don’t want to make a decision in 9th or 10th grade that will prevent you from taking the most rigorous coursework later.

5. Consider your major. If you KNOW the major you plan to declare in college, then your coursework should reflect your interest in that subject area. The most challenging courses should be in your area of future study and your electives should be in that area, as well, whenever possible. This will send a clear message to the application reader that your interest in the field is authentic.

The single most common question I get asked about registering for courses is this… “Is it better to get a B in an AP course (or IB, AICE, Dual Enrollment), or an A in a regular course?”

The answer is that, mathematically, they are identical. Colleges typically re-configure your GPA based on their own internal system. A common way to do this is to count only core subject classes, and give a full point of “weight” for AP, AICE, IB, Dual Enrollment, and a half point for Honors courses. So, basically, a B in an AP course becomes an A on your re-configured GPA. Here’s the thing…with all else being equal, the colleges want to see that you’ve challenged yourself, so I’d recommend selected the more rigorous course, even if you might get a B.

Lastly, colleges often give each applicant a rigor “score” when they review your application. Let’s say they give you a score on a 1-5 scale…don’t give them any reason to give you a score that’s less than a 5. If you take only 2 years of foreign language, then you’ve just hurt yourself. If you take a science elective (say Marine Biology for example) instead of an AP science (like AP Physics), you’ve just hurt your rigor score again. Having said all that, you know your limitations – if English is just not your thing, you may not end up taking AP Literature as a Senior – and that’s OK. Play to your strengths, and show rigor everywhere that you can. At selective colleges and universities, there is no factor on your application that is more important than rigor of coursework, so course enrollment decisions should be done strategically and with great care. If you would like to review your course selection options for next year, in the context of future college admission consideration, please set up a 1-on-1 consultation with me.


College Admissions

By Tonya DuBois

There are over 4,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. How do you find that one that’s just right for you? Here are some questions to ask yourself as you are considering which college will be the perfect match.

What geographic region of the country do you want to be in? Do you want to be in the snow or among the palm trees? Two hours from home or a plane ride away? Geographic region is a great place to start because it eliminates hundreds, or thousands, of schools right from the get-go. Consider climate, distance from home, access to mountains or ocean – whatever landscape suits your hobbies and interests.

What size college would be best for your learning style? Do you prefer being anonymous and taking classes in large lecture halls? Enjoy taking some of your courses online? Are you really comfortable advocating for yourself and reaching out when you need assistance? If so, a larger school might fit your learning style best. Do you enjoy class discussions? Like the feeling of knowing everyone and them knowing you? Want to step into a leadership position right away? Enjoy having close relationships with your teachers? Then, a smaller school may be more appealing. Do your research – visit some large and some colleges – and get a feel for what you like.

What campus setting would you prefer? Do you imagine yourself on a secluded campus with vast courtyards and acres of walking trails, or in an urban setting where you campus spans several city blocks? You probably know if you prefer urban or suburban or rural settings already. If not, visit a few different types of schools. Urban schools often have great cultural opportunities – theaters, museums, restaurants, a diverse local population, and lots of opportunities for area internships. A rural setting often lends itself to a tight-knit campus community with many on-campus events and gatherings, and a special relationship with the local community.

Does the school have what you want to study? While this is a no-brainer for many majors, it’s important to do some research if you want to study something very specific. While a school may have an engineering program, they may not have aerospace engineering, for example. Also, depending on your major you may prefer to attend a technical university or one focused exclusively on the arts rather, than a more generalized research university or liberal arts college. Do your research, read about the professors and courses offered, the ability to change majors (if necessary), and the employment opportunities students have in your major after they graduate.

Does the college fit your academic profile? You’ll want to go to a school that challenges you with the right level of rigor. By exploring a school’s middle 50% of their last accepted class, you can identify if it will be a realistic option for you. Your final list should include some safety, some target, and some reach schools (those below, within, and above your own academic profile) to help ensure that you will earn multiple acceptances and will enroll in a school that’s going to feel like the right academic fit.

Will you fit in culturally? This is very important and sometimes hard to figure out. If the campus is conservative vs liberal, homogeneous vs diverse, arts-oriented vs athletic-oriented, or residential vs commuter – all of these factors can play a role on whether or not you feel at home there. Ask good questions to students when you visit, and check out the student reviews on unigo.com – this is a great place to get a cultural feel for a school.

There is one really important factor that I did NOT mention…cost! You and your family should know what the bottom-line number is that you are willing to pay each year, but do NOT let this impact your initial search. Often the most expensive colleges end up the cheapest after financial aid or merit scholarships, so cast a wide net and don’t base your application decisions on the “sticker prices.” Instead, wait to make your enrollment decisions until after you can compare net costs of attendance of multiple schools, once financial aid and merit awards have been received.

After you’ve established a long list of schools you’d like to consider, visit some big, some small, some urban, some rural and see what appeals to you most. (Visits may be done either in-person or virtually, these days.) You can then hone your list from there. If you work with someone like me, you can often say, “I fell in love with school X because of Y” and I could name three to five other schools that have a similar feel. It’s a great time to tap into expert guidance, as you build your college list and find those colleges that will be the perfect match.


College Admissions

By Tonya DuBois

I am writing this is January of 2021, as families are both starting off a new year, and also preparing last year’s taxes.

If you are a part of the Class of 2022, then the 2020 taxes you are working on in the coming months will be used when you apply for financial aid. If you are a part of the Class of 2023, then whatever you do in 2021, which will be reflected in the taxes you prepare next year, will have an impact on your college financial aid. So, it’s time to really start paying attention to your income and assets. Below are a few tips as you start off this new year, specifically in regard to preparation for completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). And, of course, always consult a professional financial advisor regarding these matters.

1. Know which taxes you’ll need when applying for financial aid. If your student is entering college in Fall, 2022 you will need to reference your 2020 taxes (year prior-prior). Therefore, you need to start paying attention to your income and assets (for the purposes of financial aid) as early as sophomore year.
2. You’ll need to apply 4 years in row for aid, beginning in October of the Senior year of high school, and for each of the next 3 years.
3. In a divorce situation, it doesn’t matter which parent claims the student on their taxes for financial aid purposes.
4. There are some assets that are “reportable” and some that are not reportable on the FAFSA. Your home equity in your primary residence and your 401(k) plans are among the assets that are not reportable. Keep this in mind as you consider where you are investing money each year.
5. On the FAFSA, 529 plans in the student’s or the parent’s name are reportable, but in another relative’s name, with the student listed at the beneficiary, they are not reportable. (Pay attention to distributions from the 529; however, and how that will be reported.)
6. Trusts are reportable – even if restricted and not accessible to the student at this time.
7. When divorced, the FAFSA only requires you to report the income/assets of the parent the student lives with most.
8. If the parent the student lives with most is re-married, then the new spouse’s income/assets are also included in the reporting.
9. For boys to receive federal aid, they are required to be registered with the Selective Service System (aka the Draft).
10. Private colleges often require families to also complete the CSS Profile for institutional aid; familiarize yourself with this form, as the reportable and non-reportable factors differ in several important ways.

BONUS TIP: Even if you feel you won’t qualify for aid, complete the FAFSA anyway. Many schools require the completion of this document, even for merit scholarship consideration. There are online FAFSA calculators that families can use to estimate if they are likely to be eligible for need-based aid.

The cost of private college averages over $200,000 for 4 years. This is an enormous investment that can make attending college cost-prohibitive for many. In addition to applying for federal aid through the FAFSA, there are many other avenues for tuition discounts: state aid, institutional aid, merit or athletic scholarships, etc. If you need assistance identifying ways to qualify for tuition discounts, or strategies to qualify for more, Windstar College Counseling can help.


College Admissions

By Tonya DuBois

With 2020 behind us (whew!), let’s look ahead toward 2021 with optimism and enthusiasm, and our future goals in mind.

Below are the top 10 New Year’s resolutions for high school students who aspire to apply to college. By accomplishing these 10 goals this year, they will be well-poised to tackle the college application process with ease.

1. I will find ways to connect with individuals and with my community, even if things are still virtual for a while.
2. I will take the most challenging coursework possible and work hard toward achieving A’s in order to set myself up for success.
3. I will work on developing my “personal brand” and will align all my activities/electives/community service with my most significant skills, interests, and talents.
4. I will spend time each week studying for the SAT or ACT. (Florida students: If this year taught anything it’s that you WILL need these test scores here in Florida…no matter what!)
5. I will get to know my high school counselor, since he/she is required to write a college letter of recommendation for me.
6. I will research colleges and visit – either virtually or in person – and I will consider even those I’ve never heard of before.
7. I will keep an open mind and consider a wide range of colleges – big, small, private, public, near, far, urban, suburban.
8. I will ensure that I am making an impact in my community and working toward the 100 hours of community service that I’ll need for many college scholarships (including Florida’s Bright Future Scholarship).
9. I will seek out free resources to prepare me for the college search and application process, including the financial aid process.
10. I will aim high while also setting realistic expectations for myself.

If high school students can accomplish these 10 goals this year, they will be on the path to success as they approach the college search and application process.


College Admissions

By Tonya DuBois

So many families are concerned when their son/daughter isn’t sure about their intended college major. Please do not fear. There is a whole world out there of subjects and careers that your 18-year-old doesn’t even know exist yet. In fact, 75% of students enter college undeclared. And, 30% of students who enter college with a major declared, change their major (at least once) during their four years.

If you are that student who just doesn’t know quite yet. Or, you have so many different interests that you couldn’t possible pick just one – it’s OK to apply undecided.

There are 4 key situations when you should strongly consider NOT indicating a major, and listing “undecided” on your college application:

• When you truly don’t know yet
• When you have a wide array of interests and skills and your resume/application reflects that
• If your high school GPA is not strong in the area that interests you most
• If you have no supporting evidence throughout your application that your intended major is truly something you are passionate about (relevant clubs, awards, coursework, part-time jobs, community service, etc.)

There are some situations when you should strongly consider listing an intended major:

• When you are applying to a large university and they need to understand to which college you are applying. For example, some larger universities may have schools inside their university, such as: college of arts and sciences, college of education, college of engineering, college of nursing, college of music, etc.
• When you have a long-standing interest, skill, or talent in a particular area and it’s clearly demonstrated through your activities and coursework
• If you have a GENUINE interest (with supporting evidence) in a subject that is not popular at a particular college. For example, the school’s most popular majors are math/science related and you want to be an English major
• If declaring your major early will allow you entrance into classes that would otherwise be closed to freshmen
• When major-specific housing or merit scholarships are offered

From a strategic perspective, sure…the most popular majors at a specific school are also often the most competitive in the admission process. However, they also tend to have more spots available. It’s important to do your research at each individual college to see if declaring or stating “undecided” is best for you.

The key is simply to be authentic. Is this your main area of interest or not? In most cases it’s easy to transfer or change majors and, at many schools, you are not even expected to declare a major until the beginning of your Junior year.

I do have one caution about declaring a major on your application – please be certain that you understand how easy (or how difficult) it is to do an internal transfer at the colleges/universities you are considering. This is particularly relevant at larger universities, where you may be transferring from their College of Arts and Sciences to their College of Education, for example. How feasible is it to make a change and will it cost you a full semester or year of time (and money) to change majors?

My parting thought is this….explore lots of possible majors and careers online, take online quizzes and assessments, and check the job boards for jobs you think might interest you. Research what different jobs pay, if those jobs are available in the area you hope to live, what degree is required, and if these jobs will be practical 10-30 years from now. What if the one thing you love it totally impractical for a major? Advice from me….minor in it! That’s what I did…and being a dance minor was really rewarding and great fun.


College Admissions

By Tonya DuBois

During the COVID era, many colleges and universities have changed their testing requirements. In fact, two-thirds of all 4-year college and universities are test blind or test optional for the Class of 2021. Some have made these changes also for the Class of 2022 and some have made these changes permanently. For a complete list of schools and their testing requirements, please refer to: www.fairtest.org

Let’s start by defining some of these terms.

Test Optional: Colleges allow students the option of submitting SAT and/or ACT scores. If submitted, the admission committee will consider your scores. If not submitted, the applicant will not be penalized. There are over 1,500 colleges and universities that are currently test-optional (as of October, 2020).

Test Blind: Even if submitted, the admission committee will not consider scores in their admission decision process. There are over 60 colleges and universities currently test blind.

You may come across this term, so let’s define this too:

Test Flexible: Colleges allow students to submit test scores other than SATs or ACTs. For example, a student may submit 2 SAT II Subject Tests and an AP exam score, if they wish, in lieu of SAT or ACT scores.

All of this leads to a very important question – when should you submit scores and when should you hold them back? First, you should always use the test optional status to your own advantage – there is not a one size fits all answer.

If your test scores fall above the college’s middle 50% range for admitted students, then I recommend that you submit them. If your test scores fall below the college’s middle 50% range, then I suggest that you do not submit them. If your scores fall right in that 50% range, here are some things to consider:

How does your GPA, rigor of coursework, extracurricular involvement, and teacher recommendations stack up?

• If they are exceptional and your scores are average, then let the admission committee focus on the exception parts and don’t submit scores.

• If these items are below average, then let your average scores help you out and send them in.

• If all these factors are right inside the 50% range – GPA, rigor of coursework, extra-curricular involvement, SAT/ACT scores, etc. – then my suggestion it to go ahead and submit your scores. It simply can’t hurt and would eliminate any consideration that perhaps your test scores weren’t very good.

• If your test scores fall into the middle 50% and you are a first-generation college student and/or a recruited athlete, then I would especially encourage you to submit the scores.

Please note: even schools that indicate they are test optional or test blind do have exceptions. For example, if you are a recruited athlete, an international student, a home-school student, or if you are applying for merit scholarships, it’s important to further clarify the specific testing requirements for each school.

What about 9th, 10th, and 11th graders? I recommend that under-classmen prepare as if all your colleges will require testing. We aren’t sure what the future of college testing requirements will bring, and depending upon your list of schools, each requirement could look a little different. And, even if test optional, an excellent score will serve you well.

All applicants should keep in mind that with the test scores a non-factor as some schools, the rest of your application matters even more. It is more important than ever to write a quality essay that highlights something unique about your character, communicate your activities in an interesting and engaging way, and demonstrate your interest in the schools to which you are applying. If you need assistance with any of these items, please reach out to me at: info@windstarcc.com.

Below are some specific links that you may find helpful as you explore testing requirements at your college or university of choice. Please keep in mind that the most up-to-date information can be found on each institution’s individual website.

Test Optional Link:
https://www.fairtest.org/university/optional (when using this link, please refer to the key at the bottom of the page)

Test Blind Link:


College Admissions

By Tonya DuBois

You did it! You got in….now it’s decision time. Here are some tips to help you decide:

1. Make a short list – 2 to 3 schools – and go visit them again. This visit should be very different from the campus tour: Sit in on classes, eat in the cafeteria, stay with a host student overnight, check out several dormitories, explore the surrounding town/city, talk to professors in your intended major. Admission Offices should arrange these sorts of visits for accepted students.

2. Spreadsheet the real cost of attendance. Start with the “sticker price” and deduct all the grants, scholarships, etc. Consider the loans and if you can really afford them. If some schools are a car ride away and others a plane ride away, remember to consider this factor in the real cost of attendance.

3. See if the schools have an “accepted student” twitter feed (or similar) and follow them for more detailed information.

4. Do you know anyone who is a current student at the schools you are considering? If so, reach out and learn what it’s really like. Your Counselor may be a helpful resource, as well.

5. Make a pro/con list. Go one step farther and weigh each pro/con with a number of +1, +2, +3 or -1, -2, -3. See which school ends up with the best score.

6. Discuss all of the above with your parents and determine which school is the best fit for your and for your family.

7. Get the deposit in by the May 1 deadlines. For colleges that do NOT guarantee freshmen housing, the earlier you can get that deposit in, the better!


College Admissions

By Tonya DuBois

Find Yourself on the Dreaded Wait List? Here’s a list of 10 things you should do:

1. Evaluate if this school is still your first choice and if so, reply as required by the college, that you would like to stay on the wait list.

2. You must still deposit and plan to attend another institution.

3. If you are accepted from the wait list, you’ll be enrolling sometime after the May 1 enrollment date; therefore, ensure you know all your options as a late enrollee regarding: housing, financial aid, etc.

4. Some colleges rank their wait list. If you call, they are generally willing to tell you if they rank and where you rank, so you know if your chances are good, or slim. You can also ask what their statistics are – do they generally go to the wait list and if so, how many students tend to come off the wait list?

5. Ask the Admission Office if they interview wait listed students. If so, schedule an interview to make your case (well-crafted and well-thought out, in advance, of course).

6. Write a letter to the Admission Office stating any new information/updates they might need re. additional achievements/awards, etc. Make your case for why you are a good fit. And, if true, let them know that if accepted, you will enroll. (Have at least 2 adults review this letter before sending.)

7. Ask your Counselor to call and/or write to the Admission Officer on your behalf, confirming your continued interest. And, if the school remains your first choice, this should be directly stated by your Counselor.

8. Your 4th quarter grades suddenly matter more than ever. Continue to study hard and earn great grades. Have your school counselor send the college a year-end report.

9. Remember, you are on the wait list because the college feels that you are, indeed, qualified for admission. They simply admitted too many students who already meet a similar profile. If you presented yourself as the student-athlete, or the future doctor, consider what else you can tell them about yourself, that may allow you to fit into a more unique niche. Include this information in your letter.

10. Lastly, do not harass the Admission Office – one contact to get all your well-planned questions answered and one contact to mail in your letter and any updates should be sufficient.


College Admissions

By Tonya DuBois

It’s that time of year! How about setting a few resolutions for each year of high school to achieve good college application readiness? Here are some ideas of goals you can set for yourself:

Freshman Year of High School:
1. I will take the most challenging coursework possible to set myself up for success
2. I will find activities, jobs, and community service that all speak to my true passions

Sophomore Year of High School:
1. I will calendar out all my projected SAT I / SAT II / ACT testing dates/strategies for the next two years
2. I will get to know my college counselor at my high school

Junior Year of High School:
1. I will be open minded about colleges I had never heard of before now
2. I will visit as many colleges as possible before summer starts, so I can see campuses while classes are in session

Senior Year of High School:
1. I will make the most out of my summer before Senior year – will register with Common App, Coalition App, and will draft ALL of my college essays before Senior year begins.
2. I will learn how Naviance works (or the alternative internal software my high school uses), so that I can properly request transcripts and letters of recommendation from my high school, well in advance of application deadlines.

1. If I haven’t been through the college application process in the last 5 years, I will engage a private College Counselor to be sure we don’t miss any important steps or due dates.
2. I will understand the meaning of “demonstrated interest” and will take my son or daughter on as many campus visits as possible.
3. I will let my son/daughter cast a wide net (inside agreed upon parameters) when applying to colleges and will only let finances drive our decisions AFTER all financial aid / merit scholarship packages are received.
4. I will try my very best to allow my son/daughter to drive this process and we will select only one regular day a week to talk about it.
5. I will set realistic expectations.


College Admissions

By Tonya DuBois

You can be 100% certain that your financial aid / merit scholarship package will not improve on its own. If you want a better aid package, you must ask for it! Here’s how…

• Reach out to the Admission Rep for your territory
• Show gratitude for the original award
• Re-state key accomplishments
• Include merit offers from other comparable schools
• If true, state that school is your first choice, and with a better package, you will enroll

• Reach out to both the Admission Rep for your territory and the FA office
• File an appeal – explain financial circumstances not included or fully explained on initial paperwork
• Show offers from comparable schools that have a lower net cost to you
• If offered loans, inquire if there is anything you can do to convert those to grants
• If true, state that school is your first choice, and with a better package, you will enroll


College Admissions

By Tonya DuBois

Wondering what to do when you’ve been deferred?

First, a deferral means that the admission office believes that you will be competitive in their regular pool. So, there is actually some positive validation in a deferral. (Though, it may be hard to believe right now.)

You should do 5 things once deferred:

1. Re-assess if this school is still among your top choices (or still your #1 top choice school).

2. If so, then write to the admission office and express that the school remains a (or THE) top choice. If it is your #1 school, then you should tell them that if accepted, you WILL enroll.

3. Be sure your School Counselor reaches out to the school, as well, to communicate your continued, genuine interest. If still your #1 choice, be sure that your Counselor indicates this in the conversation with the Admission Office.

4. Send additional materials, such as: your next quarter grades, additional test scores, any NEW information – like getting the lead in the school play or being selected Captain of your basketball team. Do NOT bombard the admission office with additional reference letters, or information they already have on your application.

5. Re-visit your list of schools to which you are applying. Would you be happy attending any one of these? Do you have a good mix of safety, target, and reach schools? If not, then you may need to do some more research and even go on additional campus visits to round out your list.

The best a deferred student can do is control the things that he CAN control, like: keeping his grades up, communicating his continued interest, and having a sound plan for his other applications. That’s the most important message…control the things you can!


College Admissions

By Tonya DuBois

Planning your college campus visits? Here are some great questions to ask your tour guide:

What makes this school unique compared to other similar schools of similar size?
What is one thing you would change about your college?
How easy/difficult is it to register for classes? Do you get into the classes you want?
Do you need to take some classes online?
What is your largest and your smallest class this year?
What is the Freshmen retention rate?
Do you sometimes meet 1-on-1 with your professors?
Are any of your classes taught by a teaching assistant?
What is your favorite campus tradition?
Where is your favorite place to hang out on campus?
What % of the student body belongs to a fraternity/sorority?
Do most students stay on campus or go home on the weekends?
What was your favorite/most interesting class you’ve taken so far?
Can undergrads work with professors on research?
Are certain dorms more appealing than others and why?
When off-campus, where do students mostly hang out?
Have there been any recent student protests? About what? And, how did school respond?
When walking around at night, what safety measures are in place?
What do you wish you had asked when visiting college campuses?
What is your best piece of advice for an incoming freshman?
What surprised you most after you started here?
Where can I find a school newspaper?

Questions to avoid??? Anything you can readily find on their website!


College Admissions

By Tonya DuBois

In the counties where I live and work, the average high school student to counselor ratio is 300 to 1. And, most of these counselors have many more responsibilities beyond college counseling. I, on the other hand, never work with more than a dozen students at each grade level at one time, and am available to you all year round.

Here are some ways that the one-on-one attention of a Private College Counselor can help you. The Counselor will:

• Get to know the student and the family and understand the student’s ambitions, which will help to identify the best-fit schools, tailored to meet his/her needs.
• Give you guidance on which schools are safety, target, and reach schools so that you can develop a strategic list of schools to consider.
• Lay out a step-by-step plan to reduce stress and ensure that you don’t miss any important deadlines.
• Strategically plan high school course work and standardized testing schedules.
• Brainstorm essay topics with you and provide feedback on drafts.
• Assist you in preparing for on-campus interviews by conducting mock interviews and by providing you with a list of commonly asked questions.
• Lay-out a plan on how you can “demonstrate interest” to a college.
• Identify jobs/internships/community service opportunities that complement the student’s interests, talents, and ambitions.
• Help you build an extra-curricular resume.
• Develop a customized application strategy for each student, depending on his/her academic achievement, special talents, and educational goals.
• Evaluate offers of admission and provide guidance on wait list or deferral strategies.
• Provide unlimited support.

Private College Counselors, who are actively involved in their profession, stay up-to-date on industry trends and changes. Since so much has changed since when Mom or Dad applied to college, it’s important to receive expert guidance on this constantly-changing college application process. To see how I can help, please message me on Facebook, or send an e-mail to: info@collegecounselingswfl.com


College Admissions

By Tonya DuBois

Fall of Senior year can be overwhelming. In addition to keeping up with your course work, and extra curricular activities, you will be dedicating several hours each week to college applications, essays, campus visits, etc. In order to cut down on the stress, try to do as much as you can during the summer before your senior year. Here are some suggestions:

1. Be sure to like/follow my Facebook page for helpful updates and reminders: https://www.facebook.com/collegecounselingswfl/
2. Also like/follow:
3. If you have not yet selected your classes, choose quality coursework; in your strongest areas of study, you should enroll in AP/IB/ACE courses, whenever possible.
4. Get a summer job or internship, or participate in a community service activity that is consistent with your desired area of study and/or special talent.
5. Take a test prep course to improve either your ACT or SAT scores, depending on which test you prefer.
6. Register for the August SAT or September ACT test to get one last set of scores in before school starts.
7. Clean up your social media pages, so that they are college-admission-office-appropriate! Also, if you don’t have one yet, set up an e-mail address for yourself that is college-admission-office-appropriate too.
8. Work on your extra-curricular resume.
9. Work on your Common Application (and/or Coalition Application).
10. Start brainstorming/drafting your college essays. You can find the essay prompts for the Common App here: http://www.commonapp.org
11. If you are an athlete, register with the NCAA Eligibility Center: http://www.athleticscholarships.net/ncaa-clearinghouse.htm
12. Read a book (not assigned in school) on a topic that interests you – preferably in the area of your intended major or of your extra-curricular interests. Be prepared to talk about this book in college interviews.
13. If you have a special talent, work on your highlight reel, portfolio, etc.
14. Research the colleges that you are considering.
15. Once you know which colleges/universities interest you most:
a. Call their Admission Office to get on their mailing list
b. Follow their Social Media pages
c. Schedule a campus visit through their admission office
d. If you have a special talent or interest, be sure to ask how you can get in touch with the department head, advisor, or coach and see if you can meet with them, too, while on campus
16. Plan for your campus visits, by: doing practice interviews and writing lists of questions you want to ask at each school.
17. Visit the colleges/universities of your choice. You should visit a few different “types” of college – large/small, urban/suburban, specialty/liberal arts to see which type feels like the best fit.
18. Consider an Early Decision / Early Action strategy.
19. Make a list of all the application due dates for each college to which you plan to apply.
20. Read my blog for other helpful information: https://www.windstarcc.com/blog/

PLEASE CONTACT ME AT info@collegecounselingswfl.com IF I CAN BE OF ANY ASSISTANCE.


College Admissions

By Tonya DuBois

Junior year is, without a doubt, the most challenging year of high school, academically. Help reduce your stress by doing whatever you can the summer before Junior year to get started on your college search and application process. Here are some suggestions:

1. Be sure to like/follow the following Facebook pages for helpful updates and reminders: https://www.facebook.com/collegecounselingswfl/
2. Get a summer job or internship, or participate in a community service activity that is consistent with your desired area of study and/or special talent.
3. Take some practice PSAT tests online.
4. Look at the SAT and/or ACT testing schedule and put the relevant registration dates and testing dates on your calendar. I suggest that you take one ACT and one SAT sometime in the winter (January is a good time). You can decide which test you prefer, then work on some test prep before taking one of those tests again in the Spring. I recommend that you take SAT II Subject Tests in the spring (May/June) around the time you are taking your final exams. (Very few colleges still require these, but if you believe you will apply to the most highly selective schools and/or colleges inside the California system, be sure to take some SAT IIs. Some STEM majors also require them in a relevant subject.)
5. If you are an athlete, register with the NCAA Eligibility Center, and familiarize yourself with the specific rules: http://www.athleticscholarships.net/ncaa-clearinghouse.htm
6. Read a book (not assigned in school) on a topic that interests you – preferably in the area of your intended major or of your extra-curricular interests. Be prepared to talk about this book in future college interviews.
7. If you don’t have one already, establish an “appropriate” e-mail address for contact with colleges.
8. Research colleges and start to develop a list of safety, target, and reach schools that you would like to consider with safety and target schools being your primary focus.
9. Once you know which colleges/universities interest you most:
a. Call their Admission Office to get on their mailing list
b. Follow their Social Media pages
c. Start scheduling campus visits. You should visit a few different “types” of colleges – large/small, urban/suburban, specialty/liberal arts to see which type feels like the best fit.
10. Read my blog for other helpful information: https://www.windstarcc.com/blog/

PLEASE CONTACT ME AT info@collegecounselingswfl.com IF I CAN BE OF ANY ASSISTANCE.


College Admissions

Early Action vs Early Decision – What’s Right for You?
By Tonya DuBois

First, let me explain the difference between Early Action (EA) and Early Decision (ED).  Early Action is when you apply to a college at some early due date (typically in October or November of Senior year) and you hear back on the admission decision early too (typically Mid-December); you have no commitment to enroll.  Early Decision is the same, except that it is binding – you are obligated to attend the college if admitted, and you often need to make that decision prior to the typical May 1 deadline.  By contrast, regular decision deadlines are usually January/February with admission notification in March/April.

Early Action     (EA)     Non-Binding

Early Decision (ED)     Binding

Here are answers to some of the most common questions I am asked about Early Action and Early Decision.  And, below is an abbreviated and easy-to-follow chart, which outlines the same information:

  1. Is there an admission advantage to applying EA or ED? It is always an admission office’s goal to have a high yield – a high number of accepted applicants who enroll.  With this in mind, a guaranteed admit from an acceptance (ED) does tend to give an admissions edge, especially if your GPA, test scores, etc. already fall within the school’s admission standards.  Early Action sometimes offers a slight bump as well, but the statistics are not as persuasive.  In either case, you are demonstrating a high level of interest in the school (something that it tracked); therefore, if you are deferred to the regular admission pool, you have that one additional factor working in your favor.
  2. While applying ED to a school, may I simultaneously apply EA elsewhere? Usually, yes.  It’s important to check with each individual school’s specific policy.
  3. While applying EA, may I apply to multiple schools EA? Usually, yes – you may apply to as many schools as you wish EA, unless the school specifies that they have a “single choice early action” plan.  A singe choice early action plan prohibits you from applying anywhere else early.
  4. Does applying ED put me at a disadvantage to negotiate Financial Aid, since I’m obligated to go there? Yes – applying ED puts you at a distinct disadvantage in the financial aid process.  You will only have one Financial Aid offer, with no ability to compare offers, or negotiate.
  5. If I apply early and am not accepted, is there enough time to start preparing other applications? Not much!  If you apply early and are not accepted, it’s a good idea to have at least a few other applications prepared and ready to go.  If you apply early, you should learn of your admission decision and financial aid package in mid-December.  Some regular application deadlines are in January, some in February (sometimes as early as January 1).
  6. If I apply ED or EA, will October SAT I or SAT II test scores make it in time for consideration? What about November tests?  October tests will typically make it in time, but you should check with the individual schools on their policies.  November test scores usually will not (depending on the school’s deadline).  When you complete your application, you should indicate “future test date” so the college is alerted that they are awaiting additional scores.  With the addition of a new August SAT test date, it’s a great opportunity to take tests one final time then, if you are applying EA or ED.  By doing your final testing in August, you won’t have to be stressed about whether or not the colleges will get your scores in time.
  7. Are there any down-sides to applying ED? There are a few down-sides.  First, you will not be in a good position to compare or negotiate financial aid packages.  Second, you cannot change your mind.  You must go there if accepted. 
  8. Are there any down-sides to applying EA? There are no significant downsides to applying early action.  The only time I would encourage you to wait, is if you feel you could benefit from another round of standardized testing, or another semester of grades.  Early Action is a fantastic opportunity – you can get all of your applications finished in the summer before senior year and have a relatively stress-free experience, allowing you to focus on your course work and your grades.  Additionally, if you receive multiple acceptances, you’ll have plenty of time to make campus visits to help you make your decision.

Early Actions is a no-brainer.  If the schools you are applying to allow it, then apply Early Action to as many schools as you can.  Early Decision, on the other hand, is a very serious commitment.  Because the acceptance will be binding, you should only apply Early Decision if you have a clear-cut first choice after having investigated many colleges and visited plenty of campuses to compare them.  Do not make this very important decision just to avoid the headache of multiple college applications.  And, especially do not consider applying ED if you will rely heavily on financial aid. 

Please keep in mind that no matter where you apply, or when you apply, each college has requirements regarding your academic and disciplinary standing at the completion of your senior year.  Getting in early does not mean that you can coast through the rest of your senior year getting sub-par grades, nor does it mean that you can get lax on following the rules.  Everything you do after your college acceptance can still have an impact on whether or not your school of choice will allow you to matriculate in the Fall.  Enjoy your senior year, but continue to hold yourself to the same standard you always have.



Early Decision (Binding)

Early Action (Non-Binding)

Is there an admission advantage to applying early?




When applying early, may I apply early elsewhere?

Usually, when applying ED, you may apply EA elsewhere (though always check the school’s policy)

Usually, when applying EA, you may apply EA elsewhere, except in “single choice EA” plans (always check the school’s policy)

Does applying early put me at a disadvantage re. Financial Aid?



If I apply early and am not accepted, is there enough time to start preparing other applications? 

Not much, but yes

Not much, but yes

If I apply ED or EA, will October SAT I or SAT II test scores make it in time for consideration?  What about November tests?

Usually October tests will make the deadline and November tests will not.  The best option is to take August SAT tests

Usually October tests will make the deadline and November tests will not.  The best option is to take August SAT tests

Are there any downsides to applying early?

1.     You will not be in a good position to negotiate financial aid.

2.     You can’t change your mind


Not any significant downsides. 



College Admissions

By Tonya DuBois

According to a study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling about half of all colleges and universities weigh “demonstrated interest” as a factor in their admission decision.  What is demonstrated interest?  It is a way of measuring how interested they believe an applicant is in attending their school.  If the applicant’s interest in the school is sincere, he/she will probably demonstrate that by visiting the college, signing up for an interview, applying early, etc.

Why does demonstrated interest matter? When colleges and universities are ranked by publications (as they so often are these days), one factor that is considered is their admission yield – the percent of accepted students who actually enroll.  Therefore, it is in the college’s best interest to admit individuals whom they believe will ultimately enroll.  Similarly, students with a high level of interest from the outset are less likely to transfer out, another metric assessed in rankings.  And, let’s give the colleges the benefit of the doubt and assume that it’s not just about the rankings…The more interested you are in attending their school, the more likely that you will be an active contributor to campus life.

Who uses demonstrated interest as an evaluation tool?  About half of the colleges and universities out there.  A school like Stanford or like Duke won’t need to use this metric because they are so selective that they can assume that most students who apply are genuinely interested in attending, if admitted.  However, for the colleges and universities in the next tier of selectivity, it is often an important factor.

Once you establish your top 3-5 schools, you should find a way to show them that you are most interested in their programs.  How do you do that?  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Call the university yourself (don’t have Mom or Dad call) and request to be put on their mailing list. This is the first step, and an easy one to cross off your list.  Your mailbox will be filled with glossy brochures in the latter half of high school, thanks to purchased mailing lists and marketing attempts.  But, calling and being put on the admission office’s own mailing list is an important first step.
  2. Be sure to like/follow their pages on social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs – whatever they have – show your interest by following, liking, commenting, etc.  Be sure not to like/follow 25 different institutions, just the 3 to 5 that interest you most. Additionally, they track all clicks – open every e-mail the college sends you and spend some time clicking on pages important to you on their website.
  3. If a College Admission Rep visits your high school or has a table at a local college fair, be sure to attend the meeting/visit their table and fill out an information card. Most college rep visits and fairs take place in the Fall and most visits welcome both Juniors and Seniors.  It’s always a good idea to do some research about the school advance, so that you can ask good, detailed questions about their specific programs.  It’s important to complete their information card, so that they have a record of your interest.
  4. Arrange for BOTH a campus tour AND an information session (either in person, or virtually). Call the school in advance to figure out the timing and be sure you pre-register.  It’s important that you arrange your visit, and that you ask the questions during the tour or at the information session.  Mom and Dad should try their very hardest to take a back seat.  If it is difficult for your family to make the financial commitment to visit schools, this is a great opportunity to call your admission rep and ask about campus fly-in days and/or financial support for visits.  (While you’re at it, you can ask if they are planning to visit your high school in the Fall.)  Often Admission Officers are assigned specific territories, so be sure to identify from where you are calling, so you talk to the right person.
  5. When you visit the school, schedule to meet with a coach, or department head, or club advisor. Especially if you are particularly passionate about a course of study, or an extra curricular, then make time to speak with the faculty member in charge of that program (if this is allowable, of course).
  6. If something is listed as “recommended” or “optional” in their admission process, you ought to go ahead and do it, if it’s one of your top choice schools! For example, an interview may not be required, but you should schedule one if the school offers them.  As always, do research in advance and come up with some good questions to ask. Another popular optional item is a supplemental essay, often “Why do you want to attend _____ University?”  You should take the time to complete this essay and make it very specific to the institution.  It should not be generic.
  7. After doing any of the above suggestions, be sure to send a personal thank you note. It could be by e-mail, but taking the time to write a note the old-fashioned way, is always better.  Keep in mind that copies of these notes will go in your file.
  8. Apply Early Action or Early Decision. There is no clearer message that you are most interested in an institution than applying Early Decision, of course!  Early Action is your next best option.  Be sure you understand all the rules involved for each.  (A topic for another day.)

Want to know if your top choice schools consider demonstrated interest as a factor in admissions?  Look at the school’s “Common Data Set” and search for question #C7 (just type in “school name common data set” in your search bar).  The last row of the chart is labeled “Applicant’s Level of Interest.”  If you see a check mark in any box, other than “Not Considered,” then the school tracks demonstrated interest.  Many schools will assign you a number in your application file that indicates just “how” interested you are….if you have done all of the above, the number will probably be very high.  If you have done none of the above, your rating will very low.  Don’t let your rating be low for a school you really love.  If you are truly interested, you would do all of these things anyway, right?  Do what you can and show them the love!


College Admissions

By Tonya DuBois

If you were in an elevator with the admission counselor deciding your fate and you only had 60 seconds to say something about yourself what would you say?  You wouldn’t waste your time talking about your GPA or your extra-curriculars, right?  (Because your admission officer is already going to be able to read that on your application.)  What do you wish they would know about YOU – why should they “pick you” over some other applicant?  This is how you should approach your college essay. 

Think about the singular college counselor who is reading hundreds, or thousands, of applications.  You want to grab his or her attention.  You want the reader to fundamentally like you and think you would be a valuable asset to their school.  How to you do this?

Tell a story – only one story.  A singular anecdote that illustrates that one trait that defines you and makes you unique. 

First, brainstorm what story you want to tell.  Make a list of ideas and bounce your ideas off family members or others who know you well.  Which one is most unique, relative to what you think others may write about?  Which one idea is the singular thing you would want that admission officer to hear in your elevator conversation?  Of your list, which is the topic that they can’t read about anywhere else in your application?

Next, read samples of outstanding college essays online.  This will help you understand which ones really stand out and how to build your own framework that works for you.

Once you select your topic, be sure to follow the instructions of the prompt.  Do not write one generic essay and try to make it fit other prompts.  Pay attention to the instructions, word count requirements, etc.  Then, follow all typical writing conventions you learned in school, like building an essay with an introduction, body, and conclusion, following one theme throughout.

Keep the focus of your story very narrow.  Remember that 60 seconds in the elevator?  You can’t get off track and must keep to your point in a concise and interesting way.

Put on your creative writing hat.  This is a creative writing piece, more than anything else.  It should be a story that pulls the reader in, allows her to create a picture in her own mind of the experience.  The reader should see, smell and feel the scenario you are describing.  Help tap into all of their senses with descriptive words.  When you read a good book, the images run like a movie in your head, correct?  This short essay should do the same.  The reader will be able to remember you, because they visualized your story in their head.

The last thing you’ll want to do is have some adults read your essay and give you feedback.  If you are too embarrassed for you mom to read your essay, then you probably shouldn’t be submitting it in the first place.

Remember, a good essay is just expected and likely won’t sway the admission decision one way or the other.  An outstanding essay could give you an edge, and a poor essay could earn you a denial of admissions.  Your essay needs to be good enough to not affect you adversely.  And, if it’s truly outstanding, then it could help you. 

One parting thought….in some universities, admission officers are only allowed 4 minutes to review each application.  How much time will they really spend reading your essay?  In some cases, not a lot.  Much like that brief moment in the elevator – make sure your story grabs their attention, and for all the right reasons.


College Admissions

By Tonya DuBois

If you are a 40-something parent, as I am, you will recall how important it was to be “well-rounded” when you applied to college.  We were involved in everything imaginable from athletics, to the arts, to community service, all vying for the longest, most diverse, and most impressive extra-curricular resume.  Well, times have changed.

Now, as you usher your teenager through high school and ultimately toward the college admission process, the focus is different.  “How can my child prove to the admission office that she is TRULY passionate about this one thing?  I need them to know that she’s not just putting it on her resume for the sake of it, but that it really means something to her.”

Before I answer that question….First, why the change in the first place?  Being well-rounded was not a good predictor of which roles the student would fill once on campus.  Would the band have a sax player, or would this particular sax-playing athlete prefer to play a sport when he got to campus?  Since he did both in high school, how would the college admission officer know?  Knowing that they are admitting an expert rower, or dancer, or oboe player, rather that someone who COULD do those things, helps them build a well-rounded class, which is always the goal.

What are steps you can take to achieve the desired “niche” status?  If your child has a true passion and talent for a specific activity/subject matter, here’s what to do….

  1. Make sure that the course work reflects the student’s passion. If a student wants to major in Japanese studies, spent a year on an exchange program in Japan, and has a Japanese garden at home, but is taking Spanish in school, then he may not be sending the right message.  One small shift – taking Japanese language – either in school or out – would make all the difference in sending a clear message about this student’s strong desire to immerse himself in understanding the Japanese culture.  Just focusing on the extra-curricular list, to illustrate the student’s passion is a mistake.
  2. Have the student’s interest shine through in the extra-curricular resume. If the student is framing herself as an outstanding swimmer, then she should be on the school’s team for all 4 years (hopefully as Captain by Senior year), she is likely involved in a competitive team outside of school, she should get herself certified as a life guard, volunteer to teach children’s swim lessons and/or water safety, maybe even get SCUBA certified.  This tells the right story!  The applicant’s school activities, recreational activities, part-time job, and community service experience should all align whenever possible.
  3. Make the right contacts when you visit the college campus. If the student is a fantastic artist, he should make an appointment with the appropriate department head when scheduling the campus tour.  He should bring a portfolio with him that showcases his work across several different mediums.  (Leaving an electronic portfolio behind on a memory stick would be great too!)  Be sure your teenager has done all the necessary research about the college’s program before this meeting, and has created a list of detailed questions to ask.  By taking this extra step during your campus visit, not only is the student showcasing his talents, but he is also demonstrating real interest in their specific program, which is also very important (and a topic for another day).  And, please, be sure a thank you note gets sent after the visit.

Please understand, there is still plenty of room in a freshman class for that student who is President of the student government, plays the violin, works at Habitat for Humanity every weekend, is the captain of the cheerleading squad, and is on the award-winning Math Team.  But, if your students had a special skill or talent, be sure it is very clear to the reader of the application – after all, the reader wants to get to know the applicant, not read a superficial list of activities, right?

My parting thought is always the same – no student should ever do something (or not do something) simply for the sake of the college application.  But, when the talents and interests and dedication align and the students are truly doing what makes their heart sing, then all of these things happen organically.  Their course work, extra-curriculars, jobs, volunteer work all fit together beautifully and reflect their authentic self.  Now, you just have to get them to brag about it a little!