Five Things You Can Do To Maximize Your College Visit

“Think about when you purchased your first home. It was a new experience so I’m guessing you did some prep work first: researched online, talked to people who had “been there, done that” and came up with a list of a few “must-haves” and “definitely do not wants” before you ventured out to look at your first few homes. It’s no different when it comes to visiting colleges.”

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"Show me that you love me"

There is so much attention given to the agonizing process of waiting and wondering “will I be offered admission to my top college" once students submit their application that we forget once the acceptances are sent out, the shoe is now on the other foot.

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The “three little words” that are most important in college planning

“Is taking another year of language/math/science a good idea?” “Should we focus on the SAT or ACT”? “Which activities are best to do this summer”?

Whether it’s a simple “yes or no” question, or one that is more involved, to get the best answer, the 3 most important words to add on the end of each of the above sentences is…”for MY teen”. 

It’s no different than if they had an upset stomach and you googled “what are the top 3 best foods to ease nausea”.   Let’s say the answers are bananas, ginger and papaya (which they are, I googled it!) and they were allergic to all three. Those may be the best, but not the best for YOUR teen. 

It’s no different when it comes to college planning and preparation.  Those 3 little words help you take the facts and data and utilize them to help your teen maximize their strengths and continue to discover who they are. 

Let’s take the SAT vs. the ACT.  You can do all the research, look up concordance tables, compare test formats and find out that statistically, your teen is better suited for the ACT.  Does that mean that’s what they should focus on? Maybe. Until we add in those 3 little words and we learn that:

  • They are applying to colleges that superscore the SAT, not the ACT
  • They actually feel more motivated to study for the SAT and feel they can improve their score by doing so
  • All of their friends are taking the SAT on the same day and they want to take it with them

The combination of knowing the specific requirements for their colleges, their feeling of confidence in their ability to prep for the SAT and the feeling of relaxation they get from knowing they will be with their friends sets them up for maximum success. 

The same goes for choosing activities.  If your student is interested in a specific major such as pre-med, nursing, performing arts or engineering there should be strong indication of their interest in their choice of activities.  But adding in “for my teen” helps to customize what those choices are based on what they’re interested in learning more about or what they already know they enjoy doing.  (And increases the likelihood they’ll want to participate without prodding). And that’s even more important if they haven’t yet chosen an area of focus. 

There’s something magical that happens when their choice of activity sparks a new interest that blossoms into something that they thoroughly enjoy and want to learn more about. Not only does that come across loud and clear on their application, it also could be the beginning of a new pathway for their future. 


It Doesn't Have To Be Like This

WHEW!   Students and families all over are exhibiting a collective sigh of relief as the last of the colleges send out their admission decisions.  Whether the overall feeling is joy or sadness, at least there is closure to this very long and surprising season. 

This year was a particularly rough one for a variety of reasons.  A record number of applications were received with more students than ever applying early action and early decision.  This article is from the Daily Northwestern but many colleges were also able to fill anywhere from one-third to one-half of their incoming freshman class from the early pool, leaving more students deferred or wait-listed than in years past.  

In California, the Cal State colleges turned away 32,000 students because campuses were too full to accommodate them and trustees are under pressure to fix this.  And feedback I’ve received on my Facebook page say that states like Florida are experiencing similar challenges. 

The results this year from the UC’s are so unexpected that many counselors moving forward are reluctant to categorize any of them outside of a “reach” school for their students. 

There are no easy answers or quick fixes to these or any of the other numerous factors that make the admission process increasingly more challenging.  Many of these factors are due to the sheer increase in the number of students who are applying to college, but there are a few things we can do to take back some of the control.

Here are a few ideas:

#1 – Just say NO to random applying to the UC’s.  

I’m all for making the process easier.  There is no need to do a separate application for every single college when much of the data is redundant. But not SO easy that students can easily double the number of colleges they apply to. The Common App streamlines that process while also including a separate section for each individual college, which often requires unique questions or supplements. Not so with the UC application or the Cal State application. Almost all of the information, including the essays, are all the same which makes it far to easy to randomly apply to all of the colleges without researching much about the college or the fit, hoping to get into one or two and then deciding where they want to go. Multiply that by hundreds of students and it easily increases the number of applications received by, well, a LOT!

Even so, I can almost forgive that practice over the students who apply with absolutely no intention or desire to even attend a UC.   The stories I’ve heard from students about friends who didn’t even want to go to a UC or stay in California but applied “at the last minute, just because…” or “because my friend/relative/neighbor thought I should" makes me cringe.  Especially when I hear about students who were waitlisted at UC Santa Cruz or denied at UC Santa Barbara who had that as their dream schools. It’s hard not to think about how those decisions might have been an “admit” with less “random” applications submitted.

#2 – Embrace the area between the east and west coast.  

The plethora of applications this year was a good thing in that it helped families get creative and think outside the box.  For students who said they wanted to be in the Northeast (meaning NY or Boston) they ventured north and south to explore Delaware, Maine, Rhode Island, and New Jersey.  My California students expanded their definition of “near family” to include relatives and friends which opened up many options in different states.  Those that wanted to be "near skiing” found that it’s a lot less crowded to do so in Idaho, Utah or Montana than Colorado.  Want four seasons but don’t want to travel far?  Flagstaff has that plus it’s a cute college town. 

#3 – Explore different lists.  

Notice how the lists of “reach” colleges tend to correlate with the ones on U.S. News & World Report lists? Families tend to think that if they haven’t heard of the college it isn’t that good.  But the question is, good in what?  There are tons of colleges out there that excel in many areas and, based on your criteria, can provide an amazing college experience.  For example, if school spirit, traditions and athletics are your “thing”, you can find some great schools off of this list.  Or check out the recent NCAA Basketball tournament bracket. Plus, the ones in less "demand" are also the ones that may be able to offer more "financial incentives" (merit aid) for attending.  

#4 – Get paid for good grades

The “prestigious” and “name” colleges are not only difficult to get into, they also offer little if no merit money or scholarships.  If you’re into prestige, how about graduating in 4 years with little or no debt.  That's an achievement that's noteworthy! Taking your hard work and good grades and test scores to colleges that are in less demand can do that for you!  

#5  - Put together a purposeful, well-rounded list, based on what's important to you and why

Combine all of the above and put together a list of criteria based on what is important to you and why so that you can create a targeted and purposeful college list.  One that includes a wide range of acceptance profiles that are well researched AND that you are interested in attending.  It doesn’t mean that you can’t add to it as you go along, based on input from friends and family, but when you do receive input, you’ll have a foundation against which to evaluate the information.   









"The Road To Success Is Paved With Good Intentions (and avoiding physics)"

Sometimes the pathway to college feels like the menu at In-N-Out Burger.  There are only 3 choices of combos and if you don’t pick one of those, you can’t eat there. 

For those of you who aren’t fortunate enough to live in a state with In-N-Out, let me explain.  As you drive through or walk inside, you are greeted with 3 choices:  Hamburger, Cheeseburger and Double-Double.  You can get fries with that, and ONLY fries, and a choice of soft drink or one of their delicious shakes.  That’s it! 

When you look at the college admissions requirements, it can seem just as limited and restrictive:

You MUST take 4 years of language.  You MUST take as many AP’s as possible.  You MUST take the SAT or ACT.  Oh, and you can vary your activities (beverage) but a leadership role (fries) are really your only choice. 

One might wonder why anyone would eat at a place with such a limited menu.  WHY is it so popular?  Well, guess what?  It's NOT! There’s a “secret” menu with WAY more choices.  You just have to know about it and ask for it. 

Happily, for colleges, you don’t have to dig too deep to find alternatives to the “regular menu” and there are WAY more choices.  Beyond the U.S News & World Report lists are thousands of colleges with options that appeal to a wide variety of students! 

It is easier than one might imagine to actually order “off the menu”.  To find colleges with requirements that allow students to focus on the subjects and activities in high school that a student likes and excels at vs. taking classes over and over in subjects that focus on areas they are weak in or strongly dislike.  Want to take less language classes, check out the requirements at Colorado State.  Standardized testing not your thing?  Visit to find colleges that are test-optional

Plus, BOTH focusing on strengths AND avoiding areas of weakness can help the student discover a new pathway and opportunity they might not have otherwise found!

There’s the student who switched from calculus to business math in high school only to discover his love of accounting. 

Or the student who opted to apply to colleges that were test-optional, and focused that time to strengthen her art portfolio.  She not only deepened her love of art, she sold some of her work!

Focusing on areas of interest and strength can continue in college as well.

Take the student who entered college with an interest in psychology and a desire to want to help others.  This continued to strengthen until she hit a "weakness roadblock" 3rd quarter of her sophomore year, where she realized she had to take physics.  The thought of a quarter of physics was too much to bear, and the only major available with all the classes accumulated thus far was communications studies.  She course-corrected based on the goal of avoiding physics and graduating in 4 years which introduced an entirely new major and led to a 25 year career in broadcasting. 

One might call that decision immature and short-sighted.  That it was a short term choice (NO Physics)  vs. a long term sacrifice (suck it up and take the class and complete the psychology major). 

And I would tend to agree.  But if I had to do it all over again, I’d do the same. (insert wink and a smile!)

Each choice we make helps us evaluate our values, honor our skills and strengths and use that information to course correct along the way.  Communication studies helped me rekindle my love of radio and music from my childhood and integrate what I loved about psychology into my career.  Not a day went by that I didn’t “counsel” and “coach” my sales teams and I am using my love of coaching and counseling every day in my current career as a college coach! 

And physics?  Not so much. 


"The Waiting is the Hardest Part"

There’s a meme going around that says, “January is the Monday of months”.  That cracks me up because I’m not sure what that means, exactly.  Does it mean the month feels longer than other months?  Does it mean it’s the month that takes a while to get back into after the holidays?  And, do most people feel that way?

Like with everything in life, what it means depends on how we interpret it, based our own perspective.  For example, I LOVE January, since it’s the month of my birth!

Poor January also gets a bad rap in the world of college admissions as the “Black Hole” of months.

It’s the place where the application seems to disappear without a trace, while families sit in limbo and await the news.  Yes, to paraphrase the late, great Tom Petty, the waiting can certainly be the hardest part of the process, but do most students feel that way?

Generally, no. In talking with current seniors, they actually feel pretty “chill” about the whole thing.  Sure, there are schools they are waiting to hear from, but they say that "there isn’t anything they can do",  it “is what it is” in terms of when they will find out and there’s a ton of other stuff going on, so they don’t have time to think about it too much.    

This was quite a relief to hear! 

I also asked the seniors I worked with last year and they expressed similar thoughts.  Sure, having the philosophical perspective of time and distance helps, but they all said it "really wasn't that bad".  It helped to have applied to a range of colleges where they were able to "find out about some acceptances early and know they were going somewhere".  That helped ease the initial stress.  And, with each passing day, "it was more in the back of my head and not a pressing matter".  As they focused on the events of their senior year, they even "kinda forgot about it" and it was more "out of sight, out of mind". 

It turns out, our kids have it right.  In reading articles on the psychology of waiting, ruminating over something we have little or no control over just increases anxiety.  

And that makes sense. 

The less control we feel we have over an outcome, the more we may feel anxious or uncertain.  Like when we’re sick.  It is definitely NOT fun, but we know what we need to do to get well and we do it.  It’s often WAY worse to watch our loved ones feel awful.   And that seems to be consistent with waiting on application results. 

So, as parents and family members, what can we do to get through this?

One of the best ways to lessen anxiety and stress is to focus on the present and make the most of the time you have together, as this article suggests.   Or, in the wise words of one of my former students:

“...for anyone in the waiting period, I would say to have fun and celebrate”!   Cherish the time you have together and focus on the "what is"  The “what will be” will be here soon enough! 




Trust The Process

"Trust the process" is a phrase that is often heard in the coaching and counseling profession and one I resonated with immediately.   It is defined in a variety of ways but for me, it means that once I’ve put together a plan or strategy and done my best to execute it, that even in the event of unexpected results I know that there is learning in that moment that will help me to reach my desired outcome.

You might think that this concept would be most widely associated with the “woo woo” world of spiritual growth.  I thought that as well – until I “googled” it.  To my surprise, the majority of articles that came up were related to sports!  And I was most excited to see my beloved “Cubbies” and their fearless leader Joe Maddon reference it in their 2016 World Series victory.   Plus, there are tons of quotes from successful athletes that talk about how success is the intersection of “preparation and opportunity”.  That’s a tenet of “trust the process”. 

It totally makes sense that focusing on the overall process and not just winning and losing as the ultimate outcome for success is a great way to achieve a long term or even a short-term goal.  This is what helps athletes come back after a slump or teams adopt a multi-year approach to successful championships. 

Most victories in life are rarely a straightforward path – nor do things happen overnight.  It is a journey that involves twists and turns and unplanned obstacles and how we respond to them and what we learn is a key factor in reaching our goals. 

And there are no better examples than in the pathway to college, especially when it comes to college acceptances.

Once you’ve developed your plan, prepared for every aspect, and know and trust you’ve done your absolute best, and pressed “submit” on the application,  “trusting the process” helps you to know that what happens next is out of your control.  This can minimize the anxiety, stress and disappointment from being deferred, wait-listed or even denied and know that this is but a small part in the overall journey.   That this unforeseen “twist” could lead to choosing a college that turns out to be the perfect one you wouldn’t have researched more closely or even ultimately chosen if this hadn’t happened.

One only need read Frank Bruni's 2015 bestseller to hear many stories from students who thrived at their 2nd or 3rd choices.  I wish I had a dollar for every student I’ve met that has told me that the college they are currently attending wasn’t their first choice and they “can’t imagine going anywhere else”. 

As we begin a new year, I wonder what it would be like if we applied this foundation as part of how we approached all of our goals?  Identifying the outcomes we want to achieve and also trusting that the victories and defeats we experience are part of the overall process and provide us with the awareness and freedom to use what we learn from these experiences in any way we choose?

Like not getting the lead in the school play and turning that into a love of improv.  Or dropping an AP class that frees up time for an internship.  Or using that low SAT score to find a test-optional college that may not have otherwise been on your radar.

Or winning the World Series after 108 years!