How many Recommendations?

Keep it simple folks! Give the application what it asks for. Typically a college requests recommendations from:

  • one guidance counselor and
  • one or two teachers,
  • and nothing more…

At this point, hopefully, you have created positive relationships with a few teachers whom you can ask for a recommendation. The teachers should be from junior or senior year, who taught you core courses (i.e., Math, English, Science) or if you are applying to a special program, i.e., music or art, then you would include those teacher recommendations as well.

According to University of Virgina’s  Senior Assistant Dean of Admissions Jeannine Lalonde  admissions blog :

“Colleges ask for the items they would like to receive.  We like having the counselor and teacher perspectives in the application, We always say that we’ll read a supplemental recommendation if you feel like there’s something else we need to know, but repetition is not needed.  In fact, when reading 28,000 applications, repetition can be a bit tedious at times”

Over the years, I have written recommendations for students that I have known through scouts, family friends, etc.  They are often for scholarship applications, an internship program or a job, but rarely are they for a supplement to the college application. Since it often takes several hours to write a great letter advocating a student’s application you don’t want to “use up your favors”, especially if the school does not want additional recommendations.

There’s a saying in admissions, “the thicker the file, the thicker the applicant”.  Remember, don’t pad your application and be sure to send a thank you note (homemade cookies, etc) to your teachers and guidance counselor who took the time to say nice things about you. It is particularly appropriate to send the note around the holidays when most of the application pressure is behind everyone and before you know the outcome. :)

Boost your GPA, without studying!

You don’t have to be Einstein to get great grades!

First impressions count, even in the classroom. It is the beginning of a new school year, so now is the time to let your teachers know that you are a driven “A student. You must let the teachers know, in September, that you are a “Go Getter”. Some school districts pressure teachers into limiting the number of “A”s awarded. This is known as grade deflation. Therefore, often subconsciously, teachers loosely separate their students into 3 sections; the “A”s,  “B”s, and the “C”s and below.

In the next few weeks, you want to impress your teacher with “A” student qualitiesDo this by arriving on time, sitting in the front, asking questions, and turning in assignments. Be the straggler out of class and ask a few more questions. If you are having trouble with a homework assignment, go to “teacher hours” or send the teacher an email requesting an appointment. Finally, do really well, especially on your first assignments or tests. Okay, so that probably requires studying  – the title lied. 😉

Once you have established a good rapport with your teachers, it is difficult to dumb down your grade. Afterall, you are a conscientious and engaged student! This type of bias may appear when grading an test essay or homework assignment or it may even appear when you go for extra help and the teacher tells you exactly what to study for the upcoming exam. That often happens when you go to extra help!

Review all graded homework and tests to see that it was graded accurately and fairly. You may want to challenge your teacher’s grade or request a “do over” for an assignment to bump up your grade. Most teachers respect the student who comes forward and will often offer them a second chance. That is what learning is all about. Additionally, now the teacher is aware that your grades are important to you.

It’s difficult for a teacher to penalize a student who appears to be putting in extra effort. Thus without even doing a lot more work or studying more, your teacher may unknowingly give your grades a boost. In Elizabeth Wissner-Gross’s book,  What Colleges Don’t Tell You (and Other Parents Don’t Want You to Know) 272 Secrets for Getting your Kid into Top Schools, she dedicates a section to what she calls “Registering for an A”,  or letting the teacher know that you plan to be one of the A students in their class. Many of her themes are clearly explained to help the student perform to the best of their ability and be rewarded accordingly.

Your GPA, is the primary consideration of your college application. Forget about joining a million clubs, you need great grades to help your application. Get the highest grades you can, while taking the most challenging courses such as AP and Honors classes. Next in order of importance are your SAT/ACT scores, then essays. Of less importance are; the teacher recommendations, your demonstrated interest, high school extracurricular activities, work, awards  and special circumstances including your family income. The order of relevance of the last few factors differs from college to college, some schools will give preference to legacy as well.

Great grades are not handed out easily. You are competing with your fellow classmates to be recognized as one of the top students in the class. You may not be the smartest brainiac in the class, nor do you have to be the teacher’s pet. You must earn your grades by demonstrating that you are an engaged student. The bottom line is that you need to let your teachers know, by actively reaching out to them, that you are working for good grades.

Don’t forget to ask GOOD questions!

Editors Note: Originally published  9/2013. We thought it was time to reprint to help your student have a great 2015-16 school  year! 


Laying the Groundwork for Achieving Better Grades

Report-Card-Freebies-300x284If your student is capable of achieving “A”s but is happy with “B”s, how do you ignite the desire to do better? They have to want it. You can nag, plead and punish, but all that nudging may only amount to a lot of unpleasantness.

Note: This is not about getting into Harvard or Yale, it is about motivating the underachiever.

The #1 recommendation amongst college counselors is to go on some super college campus tours with your sluggish student. Make it fun, choose an attractive campus, go on a beautiful day, buy a t-shirt, be open-minded and attend the information session. Visit a school that has a lot of school spirit or attend a big football/basketball game. If you have not done this be forewarn, lots of families are doing this. Whether it is consciously or unconsciously parents groom their children to do well by visiting their alma mater’s games and reunion events.Hustle Lincoln

When attend a college information sessions, which is strongly recommended, a highly selective college
will tell your student that they expect to see  “A”s, and a few “B”s are okay. Your kids are hearing it from the source. And they will also say hat the student should take challenging  classes in high school. No more nagging folks, the Admissions Rep delivers the message for you!

You don’t have to spend big bucks to visit a great college, choose one that you can make as a day trip.

Most Influential Information Sources in Application Decisions

These recommendations are not about getting into a prestigious schools, it is about creating options and possibly earning merit awards. The higher your student’s GPA and SAT/ACTs are, the greater the possibility for scholarships, grants and merit awards. Choose a school where your child has grades that are in the top 25% of their enrollment and merit scholarships may come their way.

It is not too early to visit a college with a freshman, especially since achieving “A”s is always easier during 9th and 10th grade than 11th and 12th.  Dial down the pressure and let them know that this is just information gathering. One rising high school junior visited some competitive colleges during a summer vacation. When he realized that good grades might get him into a really cool school, he went back to school in September ready to work. Consequently, he made the honors list the next four semesters. Clearly, he could have earned a few “A”s in the early high school years.  Since your GPA is cumulative those 9th and 10th grade grades can be helpful or hurtful to the big picture.

Success breeds success. Once a student gets on a roll of good grades, teachers unconsciously may favor the student. (See How to Boost your GPA – Without Studying). Furthermore, since most schools’ better teachers are teaching the honors level classes, wouldn’t you want your child to be in that classroom verses the goof off, zoo-like classrooms?

If teachers have said that your child “does not apply” themselves, a few fun college visits could be the tool which motivate them! If all else fails, offer them $20 bucks for every “A” they bring home or book they read. Just kidding… in the meantime go on a college visit.





College Rankings, a questionable Beauty Contest

With over 3,ooo colleges and universities in the US, it is impossible not to check out a school’s ranking. Annual publications such as US News “Best Colleges ” and Princeton Review’s “The 377 Best Colleges” often become staples when college shopping. With tuition being sky-high, you want to do your research. However, different books mean different rankings. Who do you trust?


The vicious contest of rankings

Remember, the goal of the publishing industry is to get you to purchase their books. This is reason # 1 why you should interpret each college ranking with a grain of salt! If the rankings do not change each year, then there is no need to publish and sell a new book. So starts the vicious cycle of ranking colleges.

When a college is ranked in the top 100, it is deemed more desirable, which positively effects an increase in applications. The more applications a college receives, the lower their acceptance rate become, which helps their overall rankings! For example, a school may it receives 5,000 applications and it offers 1000 acceptances, thus the acceptance rate is 20%. The following year, the school sees a jump in applications to 10,000  (Maybe the basketball team won the big game or they now offer free applications.)  However, the school still can only offer 1000 letters of admission. The increase in applications is good for the college because now their  acceptance rate is 10%. By increasing the number of applications they receive, they increase their deemed attractiveness or desirability. Wow, the college is hot! It will move up in the rankings.

It’s Good to be King or Queen…

The higher a school moves in the rankings, the easier it is to fill seats, collect full pay tuition and increase the school’s endowment. These qualities assures a college a seat at the table of the Top, Best, Fabulous Colleges. Life is good. There are clear benefits of being highly ranked. What is a school to do?  How do they get to crack into the top-tier?

Each publication has its own measures of how it ranks the colleges, US News “Best Colleges” includes factors such as student selectivity, alumni giving, retention rate and peer assessment amongst others measures. Thus a college will work very hard to improve their rankings in these categories. Unfortunately, a few colleges, even very selective schools have been accused of skewing their statistics to demonstrate more favorable data than the competition.

Like a beauty pageant contestant will use all sorts of tricks to enhance her beauty, so might a college skew their own self reported statistics to boost their image. The rankings of colleges are not a definite science nor should it be. A top-tier school might be an absolute awful place to attend if it’s not the right fit for the student. Selecting a college is a very personal. Factors such as location (i.e., cities, mountains, rural) or culture  ( i.e., liberal, intense, athletics, religious)  are not typically measured in these rankings. If you go to school # 254 on the list and you love your classes, can afford the tuition and make great friends, wouldn’t you rank this perfect school #1?  After all, isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder?

Deferred from EA or ED? Take action!

Pick Me!No rest for the applicant weary! If you have been deferred from
schools where you applied Early Action or Early Decision, now is the time to show “Demonstrated Interest”.

In the next few weeks, you can improve your chances of moving from the “limbo” stack of applications to the “Admitted” stack. There are many ways for the student (not parents!) to demonstrate interest:

  1. Visit campus again, and be sure to register with admissions office when you do.
  2. Email your admissions counselor, ask good questions, and confirm that your application is complete.
  3. Send any additional information which may have not made the application deadline, i.e., did you get published in the school newspaper, make the honor roll, earn a great report card, or receive other acknowledgments? Send a copy of your award with a note, “just thought you would like to know….”
  4. Respond to all emails from the admissions officers, even if they seem superfluous or not serious. They are!
  5. Do you have an opportunity to interview with the college? Be sure to go for it.

Note: This is also an important tactic for the regular admissions cycle. However, if you are notified that you have been waitlisted, these are the same type of initiatives you will need to take to move off the waitlist.

You need to show the love! Many Admissions Departments consider demonstrated interest very seriously. They want to improve their acceptance rate and increase their yield of accepted applicants who commit to attending. Every time a college can improve their Admissions statistics, it benefits their place in the college rankings, the holy grail in a university’s endowment.

Be assertive, enthusiastic and motivated and  give the Admissions Department a few more good reasons why they should accept you.  :)




Seniors – Step 1 Write a Resume

Having your resume ready is one of the easiest tasks of starting the resumecollege application process, yet it can have a tremendous impact on the overall outcome.

The student’s resume is an important reference guide for the teachers who will be writing your recommendations and a handy tool for yourself, for when you complete your applications, all of your activities and the participation dates are in one location. A teacher’s recommendation may be the tipping point of your application. Make sure they know all the super things you have done.

Your resume recaps almost four years of  your life and “paints” a picture of who you are. Categories to include:

Education – High school name, GPA, level of courses such as AP/Honors

Leadership – Highlight if you were a team captain*, club officer, work manager or in Scouting

Volunteer – Activities may be church or community related

Athletics – List the sports, the years you participated (9th, 10th…). *Alternatively,  you may want to list if you were a team captain in this area.

Extracurricular – This includes everything else; dance, yearbook, etc.

Work Experience – Colleges love kids who have part time jobs!

Photo: A small thumbnail photo in the upper right corner makes you more memorable!

Most Proud Of – This is a 1 or 2  sentence statement that personalizes your resume. It is not typical of a resume to include this, but it will help your recommenders with writing about you, i.e.: Most Proud Of: As avid outdoors person, over the past ten years I have hiked  in more than 15 US National Parks, including Yellowstone (WY), Everglades (FL) and Denali (AK).

first impression The resume is a useful ice-breaker. Bring copies of it with you to campus visits, college fairs, or if colleges visit your high school.  It is a great way to make a memorable impression.  Let an admissions officer know that you are greatly interested in their school and ask them if they would like to see your resume. Many will decline (large state schools- not interested!) but often smaller liberal arts colleges view this favorably.

Later in the application process, a resume will be helpful if you are applying for local scholarships or interviewing with a college representative.

Parents can play an active role in organizing the student’s resume since it is not submitted with the college application. Organizing applications, essays, test dates and deadlines along with a full course load is a challenge for a high school senior. Some parental assistance on the administrative and organizational side can be helpful.

Sophomore & Junior College Prep Checklist

Calling all 10th & 11th graders! Here is your check list and game plan for applying to college. With proper planning you will have acceptance letters that you will make you proud. ***

If you are in 11th grade, hopefully, you have visited a few schools and taken eitherChecklist the SAT or ACT. If not then register now for both the ACT  and SAT.

What to Know and Do

Your grades and course load are the most important measures when colleges evaluate your application. If you are falling behind, work hard, get good grades, and get tutoring (especially in math and science). It could save you $1000s of dollars if you win academic scholarships.

Don't be "Deer in headlights"! Be prepared.

Get a summer job. This can start as early as 14 years old. The more work experience you have, the more you impress the admissions departments. Note that during the school year a part-time job should not compete with your schoolwork.

Get involved – Your resume should show that you have participated in community service and have had some type of leadership role in any activity i.e.; sports, work, scouts, volunteering, or school club. Summer is the perfect time to focus on this.

The quality of your extracurriculars are more important than the quantity. Take your passion or interests and develop it in these three areas:

  • Leadership – You are Captain, Leader, or President of your “passion”.
  • Community Service – Share your talents, give back to the community.
  • Enjoyment – Do it, because you love it (music, sports, robotics). This is what makes you interesting!

Visit colleges – Go on official tours and attend information sessions. Every college visit will help you determine where you want to go. The more schools you visit, the better decision you will make.

Read extensively – or take summer community college classes in subjects that interest you. Take them for non-credit or if your high school allows for credit.

Take both SAT and ACT in January, February or March of junior year. Better to collect your test scores early rather than waiting for the May and June tests.

If applying to highly selective colleges  note that they require the “ACT with Writing” or SAT II Subject Tests. The advantage of ACT vs. SAT,  is that it does not have separate Subject Tests (SAT IIs). If you are submitting SATs, then you need to sit for additional SAT II Subjects tests. The Saturday test offerings are far and few, so it becomes quite complicated taking multiple test requirements.

If you will be submitting SAT scores (not ACT) then think about taking SAT Subject tests in both Sophomore & Junior year, when the material is fresh. Note that AP exams can sometimes substitute for SAT II in rare cases.

Once you have a test score benchmark, you’ll know if you need to study more and what types of schools are in your target. You can retake your preferred test (ACT or SAT) again in June. Do not wait until senior year.

Create a list of colleges. Go to ‘s “Super Match” or “College Search” to help you create your list that include two reaches, six likely s  and two safeties. You will input your GPA, SAT or ACT scores, desired geographic location, size of school, major, etc.

Create your resume. A resume is helpful for many reasons and it is easy to do. This will be helpful when completing college applications, for teachers who write your recommendations and for college and job interviews. Parents can help you with this task by collecting and organizing your information.

Recommendations! At the end of junior year, ask two teachers to write your college recommendations. Many teachers cap the amount of number of recommendations they will write, so ask early!

If your school uses Naviance become familiar with the college “Scattergrams”. The scattergram profiles college’s acceptance rates in that high school based on the students SAT scores and GPA.

***If you do not want to stress out about applying to college, you can postpone doing many of these tasks. However, this may mean that you end up going to less selective colleges, miss out on receiving merit awards, and miss deadlines for big flagship universities. Less selective colleges can be fabulous learning institutions and experiences and can be perfect for many students.  ***

Be a college geek and get it done! 


Your College List Strategy…

Few students will apply to only one school (usually for the purpose of early decision or they have the heart set on their flagship public university), but for the rest September is the time to polish up your final college list and commit to sending 7 to 10 applications.

Smart applicants will cast a wide net of schools that fall into the below categories:

2 Reach Schools

Match Schools

Safety Schools

2 Financial Safeties  

= 10 Applications

Guidelines of  “Reach”, “Match”, “Safety” and “Financial Safety”:

Reach schools– have low acceptance rates, and your GPA and SAT/ACT scores are might be school’s average. The college also has a very low acceptance rate.

Match schools–  means you have a realistic chance of being admitted. For a school to be a match,  your GPA and SAT/ACT scores are above the college’s average and the acceptance rate >30%.

Safety schools–  GPA and SAT/ACT scores are well above the college’s average and the college has a high acceptance rate, >60%. Note that a college hates to be considered a “safety”, so be sure never to mention that you think they are a safety!

Financial Safety– means you apply to schools that you can afford to attend; in-state public college, community college,  or a college which will give you significant scholarship. There are very few opportunities to receive big scholarships. Examples include if you are a recruited athlete, or your SAT/ACTs are outstanding and a less selective college offers “full ride”.

Where to start? You have talked with friends, family, and your guidance counselor. You have attended college fairs and visited a few campuses. Now print a copy of bart “College Comparison Spreadsheet” and start filling it out. Our favorite site for researching a college’s data and fast facts is

Do you want Merit Scholarship offers? Then apply to more “safety” schools and “Early Action” schools. If it is a state university, apply ASAP. Many are rolling admissions so do not wait until the deadline! As the saying goes “the early bird gets the worm, the acceptance, financial aid and the scholarship”! Note that very selective colleges rarely offer merit scholarships, although they will offer financial aid, and that usually means loans.

Applying to several colleges, at about $60 each, is expensive. However, do not limit yourself because of the application fee. Remember you are “casting a wide net” and want to create opportunities to be considered for merit scholarships. If it is too expensive, apply for a fee waiver. Go to  fee waiver application .

Do not let your high school guidance counselor discourage you from applying to your well researched, list of 8+ schools! After you have received several Acceptance Letters, your next hurdle will be comparing tuition, financial aid and maybe merit scholarships.

Many colleges are offering “Priority” applications which often will waive the application fee if you apply by a certain date. Do call your favorite admission office and find out if they are offering “Priority, No Fee” applications. An increase in applications benefits the college’s rankings so many are offering this marketing strategy. Colleges want you to apply to them.

Do you have your List? Now attack those applications!

Pondering SATs, ACTs and Test Optional Colleges

Are you troubled with high-pressure, expensive standardized testing for college admissions? You are not alone.


 There has been a ground swell of support for the nonprofit organization, FairTest – The National Center for Fair and Open Testing whose mission includes ending the misuses of testing practices.  maintains a list of approximately 850 Colleges and Universities that are either deemphasizing the use of SAT & ACT or have gone completely test optional.

If a college or university has moved away from requiring SAT or ACT test scores it means that they will be evaluating the applicant’s GPA, class rank, course load and extracurricular activities more intensely. Many of the colleges believe that this increases the diversity of the student body. Furthermore,  admission departments see that test optional colleges have become more appealing to a greater audience of students. If you are interested in one of the colleges on the FairTest list, be sure to verify the school’s specific admissions guidelines.

Although it is not recommended that students eliminate all standardized tests (test scores maybe be required at a later date for scholarships, job internships, etc.) it is a liberating to know that they can be taken out of the equation for some college applications.

Surprisingly, if one is going to put effort into achieving high scores, before they even go the route of hiring private tutors, standardized tests are expensive.

Typical Standardized Testing Expense incurred by middle-income students:

Standardized Tests Potential Fees*  
SAT exam $55- most students take at least twice $110+
Sending 3 additional scores** (either ACT or SAT) $50+
SAT Study Guide $32
1 ACT exam, with writing sample*** $56.50
ACT Prep Book $30
SAT Subject Tests may be required for highly selective Universities $26
Total (without test rep classes) $305.50****

* Both ACT and SAT offers fee waivers for low-income students.

** If  applying to more than 4 schools, you pay an additional $11 fee per school. This example demonstrates applying to 7  schools (4 + 3 paid ) .

*** Many students will take both the SAT and the ACT exam since a student may score higher on one verses the other.

**** More expenses are incurred if the student takes a test preparation course. A Google search found that in a New Jersey zip code a 30-hour, in class Princeton Review SAT class is $999 and an 18-hour Kaplan prep class is $599.

Another consideration is the amount of time each exam involves, which is 4 hours long, plus factor in another hour for traveling to and from the test center. A student will spend more than half of a Saturday for one test. Many students will take at least 3 tests since they may take both ACT and SATs, take the SAT subject tests or retest to improve their scores. This is time that could be spent at a part time job, doing homework, playing on a team or looking at colleges. The  SATs and ACTs are big business and they are both a financial and emotional drain.

Although it is unlikely that your complete list of targeted schools will include all test optional schools, knowing that many of your top choices are Test Optional, may eliminate some of the stress and help you decide how much you want to invest into the standardized testing ordeal. Unfortunately, most large state flagship universities rely heavily on the standardized test, which may be used for both admissions consideration and merit scholarships.

Check out to see if any of your favorite colleges or universities are test optional.  However, for good measure sign up for the free SAT and/or ACT Test question of the day. A daily dose of these questions is truly a painless way to tackle your test preparedness. :)




Don’t be a Ghost Applicant

Who are you?

Admissions officers like your application but still don't know who your are.

Admissions officers like your application but still don’t know who your are.

You have worked hard submitting so many college applications over the past few months. Your essays were crafted with care, you did your best on the SATs and ACTs, and paid a whole bunch of $70 application fees (ouch). Now it’s time to rest, right? Nooooo!

There is more work to do! Admissions officers are reading thousands of applications. And 100s of the candidates could be identical to you; same scores, same course load, same extracurriculars. Who will get the coveted acceptance letter? It will be the student who has expressed a true interest in attending their school. The other kids in the pile of applications never visited campus, never requested additional information or visited the website. This applicant is a phantom, he or she is a GHOST. After all your hard work in submitting your application, do not be a ghost applicant!

Many colleges, especially the smaller liberal arts schools, track the interest that you show. This is called  “demonstrated interest”. By demonstrating interest, you may increase your chances of receiving an acceptance.

Demonstrated Interest could be:

  • Visiting campus and registering with the admissions office
  • Attending college fairs, introducing yourself to the admission officers
  • Sending a question via email to the admission officers
  • “Liking” the college’s Facebook page
  • Responding to emails from the college
  • Checking with admissions office regarding the completeness of your application
  • Logging onto their college portal system (if they have one)
  • Participating in the college’s admission webinars
  • Visit the college again!

Demonstrating interest assists the college in evaluating whether you are a serious applicant verses a ghost applicant. Ghost applicants have the tendency to not attend the college if an offered an acceptance.  Their reasoning maybe that the student thinks of the college as a “safety” school. Offering acceptance letters is a big deal to a college admissions office. It effects their overall admissions statistics which then effects their rankings. Give your application a boost by demonstrating interest!