Author Archives: Deb Coco

The Bottom Line: Why College VALUE and PRICE are suddenly bigger than prestige

It’s one of the things that make working in the world of college admissions so interesting; each year is different.  It seems that no two admissions cycles are the same and when we gathered as coaches to reflect on what was unique to this past year, a common thread was woven through each of our experiences . . . affordability.

This was the first year that I heard students use the words “value, cost, and financial aid” BEFORE their parents mentioned it.  It was astounding, and was proof that the pendulum really has swung to the point where cost and value matter more to some families than prestige.  Of course, this does not apply to every family.  There are always those who can afford the brand name colleges and who feel it is important to attend one.  However, more and more of our clients are placing higher importance on cost.  And is it any wonder?  The cost of a four year undergraduate education continues to rise, even as salaries do not.  Many parents are looking at an education for each child that may exceed $250,000 and many will not see any financial aid.  Even public schools have eclipsed the $100,000 mark.  So what is a family to do when facing the second biggest expense in their lives?  First, hire a qualified and experienced college admissions consultant so you understand how the world of college financial aid works.  It is important to not rely on your financial advisor or accountant for this advice; college admissions aid is a world unto itself.

When we meet with families at the beginning of our process, a financial aid analysis is one of the first bases we cover.  Application time is NOT when you want to address whether or not you’ll qualify for need based aid; it should be calculated when your student is in their junior year of high school or you may head down a very expensive path.  We help our families understand not just if they will qualify but what it means if indeed they do not.  We also calculate their ability to pay to the dollar, so they will know exactly what each college will expect them to contribute.  We then discuss whether or not their student is a prospect for merit based scholarships.  This can greatly reduce loan burden but it’s important to isolate which schools WILL give your student scholarships.  Many colleges offer no merit scholarships, so it’s important to understand that well before your child applies.  It doesn’t seem fair, but it’s true.  Nonetheless, there are still some amazing values out there.   I have three daughters who are proof.

We often have parents tell us that they have already used the net price calculator on a college website to calculate their EFC (Expected Family Contribution).  But we cannot stress enough that these calculators are notoriously inaccurate.  One of the biggest values we offer to families navigating this often overwhelming process is helping them get a clear picture of the finances involved in college admissions.  It is not black and white, and by understanding it before your student falls in love with a college you clearly cannot afford, you will save time, money and aggravation by tackling the money first.  After all, the bottom line for many families now is “can we afford it?” and students are beginning to be on board with the understanding that loan debt is NOT something you want when they hand you your college diploma.

College Parenting

The Truth About Helicopter Parenting

We’ve all heard the term “helicopter parent” and as college admissions consultants, we are all too familiar with the term and the type. The tell-tale signs start right from our first meeting; parents who won’t let their child get a word in edgewise and who dominate each conversation or workshop by attempting to “sell” their student’s accolades as if we were hosting a contest.

Most of our staff members are parents too and we understand the desire to “brag” about our children’s achievements, awards and academic successes. But the bigger question has become, “are overzealous parents doing our children a favor?” and more importantly “could we actually be acting in a manner detrimental to our children’s success?”

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal by Rob Lazebnik coined this phenomenon “Concierge Parenting.” Never in history have parents taken on a bigger role in controlling their children’s future. Parents answer emails for their students, write their college essays, schedule their visits, the list goes on and on. We tell clients at our Parent Workshops: “Your job is to make yourself irrelevant.” Sound harsh? It isn’t – it’s actually “truly” parenting to teach your children to fend for themselves. You will not be there, nor should you be, when they head off as

If you don’t allow them to spread their wings in high school, they certainly won’t know how to do it when they really are on their own. We see very few parents who allow their children to “OWN” their college search process and in the end, this affects not only the student’s overall self esteem, but makes it very difficult for teenagers to find their own identity.

A recent interview with Erin Chastain, the head women’s soccer coach at DePaul University, a Division I program, shed light on how helicopter parents are perceived from the perspective of a college coach. Parents – listen up. Ms. Chastain notes that students are being recruited at younger and younger ages which allows parents to excuse overstepping their parental boundaries. However, Coach Chastain said that during the recruitment process, it’s not just the athletic prowess of students that coaches are watching – it’s the parents’ behavior.

“We are absolutely evaluating the parents on their visit. Do they let their child self-advocate? Are they supportive and respectful?”

Coach Chastain goes so far as to say that they look to the parent’s character to see what they might be getting in a student. If most parents knew their behavior on the sidelines would affect their child’s destiny, would they change their ways? It’s something all parents should ask themselves and not just those with athletes because the old saying “the apple does not fall far from the tree” is often quite accurate.

So what is an over-anxious parent to do? Take a breath first of all. I was always taught that the best way for any of us to learn how to succeed was to fall down and figure out how to get back up. Many of us don’t allow our children that lesson anymore; WE pick them up. And then we make their beds, cook their food, pay for their iPhones and dominate their college search or athletic endeavors. Unfortunately, we aren’t doing them any favors; we are paralyzing them. There is a famous poem by Kahlil Gibran titled “On Children” that I’ve had on my refrigerator since the day my oldest daughter was born. Every parent should read it. . . “Your children are not your children . . . You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. . . you may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.” Sound advice that, when followed, will yield independent, young adults who are able to think and do for themselves. After all, do you really want your children coming back home after college? Probably not.

Make your list and check it twice

As a college admissions counselor, one of the most exciting points in our process is the meeting with a student when they receive their school list. This meeting is a milestone. It means that this student has completed a series of sessions with us based on a number of assessments aimed at the best college “fit.” Fit is a magic word in the world of college admissions and is tossed around quite a bit, but it is paramount to our system.

A good college list is based on a number of factors unique to each student. First and foremost is academic rigor and performance. A student who has excelled in AP classes, knocked their standardized test out of the park and participated in a number of extracurricular activities is sure to have a list with school names all of you would recognize. But what about the” B” or even “C” student? What about a student who has done very well in school but doesn’t have AP classes on their transcript or hasn’t been able to break 1200 on their SATs (that is Math and Reading – writing is really not a factor on the SAT combined score). What will their list look like? Families must also factor in finances, the question of whether or not Division I, II or III come into play (pun intended), and other factors… there are many ingredients that go into this recipe, and it can get quite complicated.

And that is exactly what I tell my students after we wrap up our second one-to-one meeting aimed at finding fit and possible majors and careers. Many ingredients are added to the recipe, which makes each list unique. In addition, the process is dynamic, seemingly always shifting. After all, they are teenagers!   This is why college lists should be revised and refined as the student moves through her junior and into senior year. Students’ academic performance often improves (or wanes) as junior year moves along. Maybe they took the SAT or ACT for a second (or often third time) and the scores increased. This would enable them to either add more competitive schools or adjust the selectivity rating we have already assigned. And often students’ interest change – actually more often than not!

Our college lists are comprised of schools with three categories: Stretch, Probable and Safe. And they are just as they sound. A stretch school is a school we believe will be somewhat difficult for a student to gain admission to. A probable school is one we believe they will “probably” be accepted into and a safe school is, well, self explanatory. We all remember our safeties! And it is worth noting right here that we tell EVERY student that it is extremely important they like (if not LOVE) their safe schools. Why? There are two reasons. First, these are the schools that will usually offer merit scholarships. Merit awards are scholarships based on a student’s academic performance. A school sees a student that is higher than their average applicant and offers a certain amount of money that will not need to be paid back. And as we often tell students, it’s great to be wanted! We see families more and more weighing their options based on finances and having a huge scholarship is hard to turn down.

In fact, financial fit is an area that has become much more critical. Most college admissions counselors do not have this expertise, so buyer beware. I’ve said in past blogs that we will not put a family in the position of having their child fall in love with a school that we know they cannot afford. We recommend that early in your college search process, you assess your affordability by calculating your EFC or Expected Family Contribution. This is the amount that the government and colleges assess (based on a complex formula) that you can afford to contribute towards your child’s education. And it is always MUCH more than you could ever imagine. So what do you do? This becomes one of the ingredients in the “list recipe.” Not all schools give merit money. Some schools are known for generous financial aid packages and others are stingier; your child’s list will have appropriate schools to your financial situation.

Other than social fit and finances, the most important ingredient is of course, academic fit. All colleges and universities are NOT created equal! If a student wants to become a mechanical engineer, they will not see a small liberal arts college on their list. And vice versa. A student who wants to major in Art History or English may savor the small, Socratic method of learning so they probably won’t see the University of Michigan on their list.

In our work, we give numerous assessments to assure families that the schools they visit are an accurate representation of their child’s academic strengths, aptitudes, learning style, personality, and interests, all combined with their finances.

So there is much that goes into a student’s list. At The College Advisor of New York we enjoy all phases of the college search process but the ultimate reward is watching a student find a school from a list we worked hard to create.

You’re a Rising Senior… What Happens Now?

It’s a busy time in the world of college admissions. It is DECISION TIME for seniors. The acceptance letters are in, financial aid offers on the table, and families are considering all their options. It’s exciting and stressful but ultimately it’s the first step towards a child’s independence.

What makes it even more exciting for us as college counselors is just as we are saying good-bye to our seniors, the cycle begins anew as our juniors become “rising seniors.” This was an interesting year in college admissions as students saw a staggering number of deferrals and waitlists. Each year, more students enter the college application process and vie for the same number of slots. The result?   A highly competitive environment. But juniors take heart! We have some advice on how to take the reins and map out a plan for the next six months. And when I say SIX MONTHS I often see students gloss over; six months seems shockingly soon. However, if a senior applies under the Early Action plan (which we advise in many – but not all – cases), then we’re actually just six months from hitting the submit button.

At The College Advisor of New York, we are thrilled when we are able to begin working with a student at the beginning of their junior year in high school.   Junior year is extremely stressful for many students, so we aim to alleviate much of that stress by setting milestones that are easily manageable. Junior year is also the most academically challenging and there are many extras that need to occur alongside students’ busy schedules. Here is some important information that Rising Seniors should pay particular attention to:

  1. Focus on SATs and ACTs.

Standardized testing is the name of the game for juniors – there is no way around it, even if some schools offer test optional policies, every student must still score well on the SAT and/or ACT. But now students have choices and it is always our goal to find the test that each student feels most comfortable with and (hopefully) excels at taking. We offer test prep options and various diagnostics to decode where that comfort zone is. If you are a junior and haven’t mapped out a standardized testing schedule, now is the time to do so! There are June tests dates and early fall as well, but now is the time to know where you stand. Most juniors should have taken at least one round of SATs and ACTs by June.

  1. Teacher Recommendations

Your teachers play a crucial role in your application process (beyond the obvious grading) because every student will need two or three letters of recommendation. We advise our rising seniors not to pack up for summer break until you’ve reached out to the teachers you hope will work with you. I often hear “isn’t it too early?” and the resounding answer is NO! It is a courtesy to teachers who are inundated with requests in the fall. The most popular teachers are often asked to write 50-100 letters and it isn’t fair to spring this on them last minute. You also risk that they cannot accommodate you. So stop by their classrooms before leaving for summer break and let them now you hope to be first on their list. And do remember to write them a note of thanks!

  1. Stay focused

Spring fever is a problem for all of us but especially for high school students ready to leave the stress of junior year behind. We can’t stress this enough: STAY IN THE GAME UNTIL THE END OF THE YEAR! Your junior grades will be closely scrutinized so don’t let up now. As college admissions becomes more and more selective, it is key to present your very best self. If you’ve worked hard junior year, let that be reflected in great grades and final exam scores. You can play when school gets out!

  1. Plan for next year

At this time, most juniors have met with their guidance counselor to plan courses for next year. At The College Advisor of New York, we enjoy helping our students plan their course schedule. Students often ask if it is okay to take (for instance) a business (or other less stressful elective) instead of a core class, like Chemistry or English. Our answer with some exceptions is “NO.” Now, more than ever, schools are looking for students who excel in a rigorous high school college prep curriculum. They are comparing you to thousands of other students nationwide and abroad and now is not the time to take something from the a la carte high school menu. Stick with the core classes and do your very best. If your schedule permits an elective, then by all means add it. College will give you ample time to explore different areas of study and take those classes you’ve always dreamed about, but for now, stay focused on the core.

Junior year is preparation for the rigors of life in college. You’ve been tested academically and outside the classroom as well. The students who balance their studies and extracurriculars successfully, usually adapt well to college.   Heed this advice and the transition to rising senior status (and soon enough, high school graduate) will be smooth sailing!






College Fair season is upon us. Here’s how to make the most of it!

As college admissions coaches, we are frequently asked by the parents and students we work with whether or not they should take the time to attend their high school’s college fair. For those new to this process, a college fair is an event where multiple (usually between 50 and 100) colleges and universities come to one venue to entice prospective students to take a serious look at their school. Most large high schools will offer at least one to their students. Sometimes, other venues like community colleges, offer similar or larger college fairs. We highly recommend that juniors (and often sophomores) take advantage of this unique opportunity to see so many schools (all in the same room) ready and waiting to answer their most pressing questions.

At The College Advisor of New York, we build a unique college list for each of our students and it is our recommendation that they visit at least half of the schools we recommend. However, we know that now more than ever, families and students are pulled in many different directions, and it is often impossible to make it to every campus before submitting an application. This is where the college fair comes in.

Admissions offices from all over the country send their “A” team representatives to these events and they are ready and waiting to answer your questions. What is the best way to approach a fair? It pays to have a plan. High schools will post the list of colleges that will attend their fair a few weeks prior to the date. This way you’ll know how many schools on your list will be represented and you can plan accordingly. We do NOT recommend visiting every college who attends the fair. This is why you should do some research before you go. We suggest limiting your discussions to 10-12 schools. Don’t walk into the room without a pen, paper and something to hold the multitude of literature you are about to be given. That said, don’t stick to your comfort zone either. This is THE time to branch out and take a look at schools you might otherwise never have considered. I can’t tell you how many of the students we help tell us, “I would never have considered that school, but you put it on my list and I met them at my college fair!”

Parents should let their student take the lead and make the initial connection. Fairs are set up just like they sound – rows and rows of schools right next to one another. Find a school you want to start with and make contact with their admissions’ representative by introducing yourself. Have at least two questions written down and get the answers. Try to think of questions you can’t find the answer to on the school website – this is the time to get more personal and focus on something you might not have found online. Maybe you want to major in Art Conservation, which is extremely rare, and they are one of the few schools to offer it. Ask how many students are currently enrolled in this major. Admissions representatives are well versed in all aspects of the school they work for, and they love to talk to students. If they don’t know the answer to your question, they will find it for you. Usually, they will offer you their business card, and here is a crucial piece of advice for student: If you are interested in “X” school after speaking with them, take these cards home and write a thank you note (or email) to the person with whom you spoke. Sadly, a personal note has gone the way of the dinosaur, but there is enormous value in sending one. And, if you are truly interested in “X” school, they will track this interest. Most colleges monitor a student’s interest whether it is via campus tours, social media or a personalized note.

Some advice for parents: be on the look-out for application fee waivers. Most schools will have a postcard for students who stop by their booths with a code printed on the card. This code, when entered into their application, will waive the application fee. These fees range from $50-$75 PER SCHOOL, so saving on a few of them is nothing to sneeze at!

At the end of the night, it’s wise to take all your material home and organize it into piles: “Interested, Not Interested and Maybe” and make notes. This way, you can keep tabs on schools you want to follow up with and visit if your interest is piqued.

Will a college fair replace a campus visit? No. But it will help to streamline what can seem like an overwhelming process. It allows you to “cast your net wide” and then narrow it down, without ever leaving your high school gym.

Financing college: What you don’t know can hurt you

We see it on the faces of almost every single parent who walks through our door. It’s the look of disbelief at what just ONE year of their child’s college education will cost, much less all four. The sticker price is staggering, ranging from $90,000 to $250,000, depending on the school and a variety of other important factors. Parents feel a bit deflated and this is understandable; they are facing the second largest investment of their lives, not to mention that most people have more than one child . . . needless to say it can be overwhelming.

And that is where we come in. At The College Advisor of New York, we’ve helped thousands of families find a way to send their children to college without “losing the farm.” How? Knowledge is power and financing college is no different. The earlier in the college search process that you understand how much money you will be expected to contribute towards your child’s education, the better chance of finding a way to come up with the money.

College consultants toss the term “EFC” all the time, but what does this acronym stand for and the bigger question is, what does it mean? It stands for “Expected Family Contribution.” This is the number that schools calculate to determine how much THEY feel YOU can contribute towards your child’s education. And believe me, it’s always much more than you anticipate. The simple example goes something like this. If “X” school costs $55,000 per year and your “EFC” is $20,000 per year, then you are expected to be able to pay $20,000 of that $55,000, and College “X” will come up with some – NOT all – of the difference in financial aid. However, if your “EFC” is $70,000 in that same scenario, you would receive no aid. I am oversimplifying it here, but this is the easiest explanation.

So how do schools calculate this number? There are two ways: the Federal Methodology and the Institutional Methodology. One is the government’s formula for need based aid and the other is the calculation required by many private colleges. Various colleges require both and neither formula assures that you will receive any aid; they just calculate your EFC to determine your financial need. Confused? You’re not alone.

There are so many factors that go into determining this magic number, but not many professionals out there that can help you A.) calculate it and B.) know what to do once you have it. One of the first questions we ask of our new clients is “do you have a financial advisor?” Many of them do, but most financial advisors and accountants do NOT understand the nuances of the college financial world (and they would admit that themselves). Just as we tell families not to rely on their English teacher to advise them on their college application essay, here too is a word to the wise: Seek out a college admissions counselor who knows the financial aid process. And because my blog always contains one shameless plug, here it is . . . The College Advisor of New York is the only college consulting firm that incorporates the financial aid process into the college search process. Dr. Dean Skarlis is the “go to” professional for financial advisors. He answers their college planning questions that so often arise with their clients. He also runs seminars and trainings specifically aimed at educating financial professionals on how to plan so that families can keep more of their hard earned money. He is one of the few people out there with this expertise.

What exactly does this mean to our clients? It means our parents have the peace of mind that on May 1 of their child’s senior year, they will not be staring at a college education they can’t afford. It means that they won’t have just one; they will have several college options to choose from. We help our families weigh whether it is wise to spend more money at the brand name school or less (often MUCH less) at the less well known university where they received a large award. And the game is changing here too, because we are finding that even our families with the ability to truly afford those expensive schools, are choosing the school that gave them aid in one form or another.

And that brings me to one more point. All financial aid is not created equal. Many of our families will never see any “need” based aid. But they don’t have to despair. We help them to seek out schools where their student will stand out, and thus receive merit scholarships. The caveat here is that all schools do not offer merit aid; another reason not to rely on a financial planner but to instead turn to a college admissions consultant who knows the big picture. The stakes are very high, and the road can be confusing. As I’ve said in past blogs, our process seeks a fit in three areas; academic and social for the student and financial for the family. By working with us, you know right from the start what you can afford. More importantly we help you strategize about how to cut your costs, and come up with the money to pay for school. That is truly peace of mind and one that will never leave you telling your child “we just can’t afford that school.”

All colleges are not created equal. Why “fit” is more important than ever

Our goal for every family with whom we work is to help them find colleges that are a great fit socially, academically and financially. While many think they understand the concept of social fit, they may not, so I thought I would take a few minutes to define it in more depth for you.

There are many different aspects of what goes into the social/cultural environment on a college campus. Some schools are dominated by a Division I sports culture; others are highly intellectual. And while it’s widely known that the general political and cultural climate on college campuses is quite liberal, the full depth of what that means may not be clear to many.

My middle daughter is a sophomore at a large East Coast University. She is very happy there and has found it to be a good match for her on all levels. However, we often laugh at some of what she is forced to participate in as a college co-ed in today’s world. A shining example came through recently when she forwarded a survey to me that the Office of Residence Life asked everyone to complete. It focused on “sexual orientation.” One of the many questions posed to her included “How would you describe your sexual identity?” And there were NINE possible answers (I still can’t figure out what at least six of them mean and neither can she). Beyond the standard “Asexual and Bisexual” we have a menu including, but not limited to “Queer, Questioning, Pansexual (?), and Fluid”… Really?!

Academic fit is easy to understand and as college admissions consultants, we strive to help students find it, but social fit is more ambiguous, and I find it easier to describe to a student by ascertaining what they WON’T want on a campus after I get to know them via the assessments and our 1:1 meetings. There is the simple explanation in describing a student body as either “conservative” or “liberal.” Parents who seek a conservative school for their child will find it more challenging to find a variety of options, with the exception of several dozen Christian colleges, and perhaps a couple dozen additional more “traditional” colleges. A quick Google search or this article will provide surprising information about Yale’s “Sex Week.” Big name schools aren’t the only places you’ll find this fascination with sex. At Allegheny College in conservative Western Pennsylvania, there was more than worship going on in the chapel. And many of these ideas are working their way into the actual curriculum. At Skidmore College, students can take a class called “Queer Theory.”

Are these type of courses truly worthy of academic credit? One could successfully argue that they are anti-intellectual, yet these examples are not isolated. But regardless of one’s political, cultural or religious beliefs, many parents, and some students, are simply unaware that these subjects and programs are offered at most colleges and universities throughout the country. And this brings me to one critical question that, as college admissions professionals, we constantly ask ourselves: How can we prepare families to ascertain an accurate view of the cultural and political climate on their college visits? More importantly, how can we help students understand their developing world view, and the type of college that will help them both support and challenge it so that an appropriate level of learning occurs?

The best way to fully understand these issues is for students to gain self awareness by asking themselves who they are and what they believe. We spend a good deal of time discussing these issues with them. But we also recommend that students spend considerable time researching schools carefully online. Students and parents should view the list of majors and courses offered. You can read guidebooks like the Princeton Review’s “Best 379 Colleges,” and follow the school’s Twitter feed, or “like” their Facebook page. Most importantly, you MUST VISIT the colleges to which you plan to apply, and do more than take a tour. Talk with students; sit in on a class; grab the school newspaper and read it on the drive home. Get the “vibe” of the student body and the campus in real time. Is the campus too intellectual for your student? Is it too focused on Division I sports? What kinds of extracurricular activities are taking place?

You are about to invest a small fortune so you must understand what the social/cultural climate will be like. If you take this advice before you submit applications, you have a much better chance of finding a place where your student fits in and feels they can take an active role in their education.

Why coaches aren’t found on just the athletic field anymore

It’s a common question that we are all asked probably at least once per day; “What do you do for a living?” And my answer: “I’m a college admissions coach,” often prompts another question right on its heels . . .”What is that?”

I answer to two titles: college admissions “coach” or “counselor.” Either way, here is what we do and why any family about to embark on the college admissions process, should think about seeking our help.

At the College Advisor of New York, every family works with one college admissions coach through their student’s college admissions process. That means that from the day you walk through our doors until May 1 of your student’s senior year, there will be an experienced professional guiding you from start to finish. We carefully shepherd families through all phases of what can be a very intimidating, confusing and yes, expensive endeavor. When all is said and done, most colleges cost somewhere between $100,000 and $250,000 – per child. And this is, of course, paid with after tax dollars. So for most families, paying their child’s (or usually children’s) tuition is the single most costly endeavor they will undertake other than purchasing a home

Back to the question of “what we do.” Our coaches work 1:1 with students early on in our process to establish a pattern for majors and careers. We do this via a unique set of assessments that also aids us in determining a good social and academic fit for them. At the same time, our financial aid counselors are working with parents to determine what their financial fit is, as well as how to maximize financial aid and scholarships. This help extends into the senior year when we help families file the necessary financial aid forms.

Given the huge shortage of guidance counselors in high schools across the country, there is now, more than ever, significant value in having us give your child this personalized advantage. We are also very careful which coach works with which student; it’s not a random assignment. We have nine college admissions coaches, all with unique talents, and we pair them very carefully with students based on personality and learning style. This also means that our admissions coaches work with fewer than 20 students each year. Contrast that with the average student to counselor ratio in our nation’s high schools of 471 students for every one counselor, and you see how much more attention and guidance you’ll receive.

Our students are given a personalized list of colleges that accurately reflects results compiled from the recipe above, blended with their grades, scores and specific needs. The list is provided along with advice on how to research and visit colleges. It is based on our staff’s visits to more than 300 colleges over the years. We help students refine their list as they make their own visits, until we arrive at an appropriate number of schools for the student to apply to.

Our coaches then work painstakingly (and again, 1:1) with their students to brainstorm, write and submit some of the best college essays out there. And these just aren’t words with no substance to back them up . . .every season our students receive notes back with their acceptances stating that their essay was “compelling”, “unique”, “exceptional” – those are just a few of the adjectives we’ve heard. And here is the perfect time for my once per blog shameless plug: at the College Advisor of New York, our acceptance rate is 91% compared to the national average of 62%- the numbers here don’t lie We understand what colleges are looking for in an essay (and it’s not what your English teacher might be telling you). We don’t write essays for students; instead we coach them to craft a piece of original writing that reflects a slice of their “story” that stands out. Another common question? “Is the essay really that important?” and the answer is a resounding “YES.” It is often the difference between the small envelope and the fat one.

We also keep students on track, and parents at bay, so that the student is empowered to own their admissions process. In the end, we help families make the best decision possible based on all of their options. And, because we know this field so well, our students have a multitude of options when May 1 of senior year finally rolls around. But, the decision isn’t always clear cut – school A over school B? Take out a loan for a more prestigious name vs. no loans and merit money at your safety school? It can be agonizing, but we coach you there too. We help you to tune out the noise and focus on what really matters. And we’ve come to know families and students so well by this time that we understand what matters to them, because it’s different with each family.

So, that is why when we sit down at our final decision meetings, we so often hear eight words that warm our hearts: “We could never have done this without you.” For an admissions coach, hearing this means we’ve achieved our goal. And after all, any coach’s job (athletic or scholastic) is to guide, assist, nudge, mentor, strengthen and cheer. We are there with you, on the sidelines and in the game, from start to finish.

Deferred? You’re in good company. Here’s what to do next.

The first thing my high school senior does every day when she gets home from school is run to the mailbox. Why? Because it’s admissions season, and for those students who applied Early Action or Early Decision, it’s time to expect envelopes in the mail. We’ve all heard the rumors; “fat” envelopes are the good ones, and “skinny” envelopes are bad news. But what happens when the skinny envelope doesn’t have bad news? It’s probably the “D” word . . . Deferral. What exactly is a deferral? Well, according to the American Heritage Dictionary it means “to put off.” And that about sums it up in the world of college admissions too; you’ve been “put off” until the regular decision pool and now won’t hear until sometime in March.

To be deferred in the Early Action pool, means that the school to which you’ve applied decided they weren’t ready to make a decision on your application. They don’t disclose they “whys” of this decision, they just inform you of it. So, for some students it’s often worse than a flat out rejection because it puts you in a holding pattern. And at The College Advisor of New York, we’ve been fielding phone calls and emails for about two weeks from anxious parents and students because this admissions season saw the highest deferral rate in history. Why? The reasons are varied, but the simple answer is that schools are seeing record numbers of applications – and unless they increase the number of students they accept, there are only so many spots to go around. So, they defer you to their regular admissions pool and see who else you are up against when that round of applications rolls in.

The bigger question becomes what to do. Can you increase your chances in the bigger “regular” admissions group? The answer is a resounding YES. As we tell all our families, never forget that colleges and universities are businesses. Often, when we remind people of this simple (but overlooked) fact we get a confused stare. But it’s true. Schools have to make money too and they are much more likely to accept a student who demonstrates interest in them. This is something that we tell every student we work with…get out there and demonstrate your interest! Did you fall in love with “X” university? Well, tell them, and explain why! “Like” them on Facebook, “Follow” them on Twitter – schools track your interest and they are much more likely to accept a student who is a good candidate for accepting their offer admission. If you were deferred from your top choice, there are many ways to better your game. Contact the admissions office and let them know they are your TOP choice. Are your first and second quarter grades good (or maybe great)? Submit them! Did you or your athletic team win an award the school doesn’t know about? If so, please inform the admissions representative. And there is no substitute for what I like to call “boots on the ground.” Often students haven’t been able to make that last visit to even a top choice school. Now is the time to go visit. Schools track this too and it matters to them that you’ve made the time to tour. If that isn’t possible, contact your local admissions representative and request an interview. There are many ways to show interest; use any and all that you can.

Students often think that once they’ve hit the submit button on their applications, their job is done. Maybe twenty years ago that was the case, but times have changed. After showing your interest, remember to keep applying. We urge all of our students to toss their hat into the Early Action ring because the rate of acceptance, is often but not always, higher. But now, more than ever, college applications are becoming a roll of the dice (even for the top applicants). However, there are ways to increase your chances and as college admissions counselors, we know how to help you do so. If you have deferral letters sitting in front of you, submit the regular decision applications that you put on the back burner and work hard to make them spectacular.

As the old saying goes “flattery will get you everywhere.” In the case of a deferral, it’s the name if the game. Tell the school that deferred you that you’re VERY interested and still have your nose to the grindstone and it just may get you an acceptance. Follow our advice and that thin letter just may turn into the fat envelope in March. Good luck!



Write on and on . . . Why the written word is back in style.

writing pictureAs a college senior, my oldest daughter recently interviewed for a position with a well known financial investment firm. The job will entail analyzing financial data for their real estate investment sector.  After spending an entire day in Dallas and completing a series of interviews, she was told that in addition to her transcripts, resume and recommendations – there was one other item they required:  A writing sample.  One of the six people she interviewed with asked if she was surprised by this request;  why would a position requiring someone to compile and analyze financial data need to submit a writing piece? “Why aren’t we asking you to compute an equation for us? “ they probed.  Luckily, she knew the answer and delivered her response with conviction. “An Excel spreadsheet can compute the data for me, but not everyone can write.”  Indeed.  And they went on to tell her that they see day in and day out, job candidates who cannot communicate effectively and most importantly, write well. “We’ve let smart people go because they cannot communicate in a sophisticated manner.  You have to have these skills before you come through our doors.  They are the skills that separate a good candidate from an exceptional one.”

As college admissions consultants, we see this every day and ponder the reasons for decline in high school students’ writing capabilities. At The College Advisor of New York, a significant part of our comprehensive college search process revolves around the college essay. . . two words that have come to wreak fear in the hearts of high school seniors and their parents.  For good or bad, the college essay has taken on a life of its own. Years ago, it was the interview that provided a window into the soul of the applicant; however most students will never experience an interview before they push submit on their applications.  And given that a college application is chock full of data, there has to be something that fleshes it out.  Enter the essay.

Most high school seniors have never been asked to write anything quite like Common Application asks of them . . . “Tell us your story” . . . what could be more open ended than that prompt?  Seems easy right?  So many possibilities.  Think again.  And all of our coaches at the College Advisor will attest to how difficult this exercise is for the majority of our students.  Ask them to write a document based question on the effects of the Columbian exchange on the formation of the economy of the American colonies – no problem.  But ask for a piece of creative writing focusing on them and we find the result is often student paralysis.

I wish I had an answer as to why the phenomenon is so pervasive. I’m sure if we interviewed five different educational professionals we would hear ten different explanations, all of them legitimate.  There is no question our American educational system is in peril, but that is for another blog. I am now heading in to my fifth season working with students as an essay coach and I admit to seeing a decline in their ability to handle this assignment each and every year.

So where do we begin? If you are working with an admissions counselor, you are admittedly ahead of the game, and if you are not – give us a call (my once per blog, easy to find shameless plug).  And please, don’t think for a minute that we write the essay for you – nothing could be further from the truth.  But we do spend session upon session brainstorming, drafting and critiquing this extremely important document.  As lovers of the written word (we read hundreds upon hundreds of essays each season – we really love this stuff) we strive for more than just “let’s get this essay submitted.”  It is our sincere hope that our students take away a larger lesson as a result of our intensive process.  It’s not easy by any stretch, but our seniors produce some of the finest essays (we hear this first hand from application readers) because they worked long and hard, dug deep, drafted and found their voice.  And that is what this is all about – the student’s voice must shine through.  Anyone can write a data based document, but not everyone can WRITE.  Facts speak for themselves; creativity is rare.

So the lesson here is (besides how wise it is to hire an admissions counselor that knows what colleges hope to read) don’t ever shy away from writing.  High school seniors who think this difficult journey is over once high school ends, are sadly mistaken when freshman year in college rolls around.  Because gone are the days when English and History majors were the poor students up all night slaving away on their papers.  Engineering and Chemistry and Biology majors . . . you too will be asked to participate in writing seminars all four years of your undergraduate degree.  This may be surprising, but it’s true.  Why?  Because employers are finding that they can hire the brightest and the best, but if an employee can’t write effectively, it reflects poorly on them as an organization.  And top firms have gone on record stating that now, it’s time to get back to basics.  Which is why my daughter carries her writing portfolio to every interview, relieved she attended a college that saw this handwriting on the wall.