Author Archives: Deb Coco

How to prepare when childen’s future beckons

I’ve just returned my from last Parent’s Open House, which makes it official – my youngest daughter will go to college next year. And that means our house will become what most parents dread; the empty nest. And I say “most” parents, because I have plenty of acquaintances who are elated when their children leave – I can’t even wrap my arms around that type of thinking.  For me, having a house full of children was the ultimate joy and watching them grow, an even greater one.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a perfect parent by any stretch and I had my moments of frustration and exhaustion, especially when they were all tiny at once.  I always say that when your children are small you feel an isolated kind of fatigue – there were weeks I felt like we never left the house and I yearned for adult conversation.  And then one day (and it seemingly happens that fast) they become teenagers. You go from having an insular existence of diapers and Sesame Street to running the roads all day, doing loads upon loads of laundry and living at the grocery store.  And of course, it’s hard to forget the sleepless nights waiting for their text telling you they are on their way home from work or have arrived at their friend’s house. All of these things are part of the journey of parenthood and for those of you with much younger children, believe me you will look back one day and ask yourself why you fretted about most of it.  Because children do grow up, and they will leave.  And then all of a sudden there isn’t enough laundry to fill the washer, and there are just two of you for dinner.  My mother tells the story about the first dinner after my younger brother left for college; she went to set the table for three and when the realization hit her that he was no longer at home, she broke down in tears.   Which leads me to one critical piece of advice; the power of the family dinner should never be underestimated – make it a part of your ritual.  I hear all sorts of excuses about why this is no longer possible, but my children were as busy as everyone else’s and we made it happen.  It doesn’t have to be a great meal (it can be take out!) but not only is it the one time everyone comes together to talk about their day, it’s also an opportunity  to get a barometer on their emotions and worries.  The best part for me, though, was the day they returned from their freshman year in college and told me just how much they missed our family meals.  I think I cooked them the biggest Normal Rockwell feast I could pull together.

So, you may ask yourself, what does all of this have to do with college admissions counseling? Quite a bit actually.  At The College Advisor of New York we’ve walked thousands of families through the admissions process, whether we begin working with them in the sophomore year or at the beginning of senior year (heed my advice here, earlier is always best and junior year is ideal).  So we know firsthand that there is a process going on that is visible to the world: the college admissions search, standardized testing, the angst over the college essay, applications . . .the list goes on.  But there is also an internal process happening within a family, behind the scenes and although it may not be perceptible, we see the symptoms all the time.  Parents are full of stress and worry and call us panicked that their child isn’t focused or completing things on time (one of the reasons to hire a college consultant; we have your back here).  Many students tell us their parents are driving them nuts and they have it all under control.  As with everything else, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. But the reality is that everyone is suffering from growing pains and beginning to face the fact that next year, the entire family dynamic will change…dramatically.

How do we handle this as parents? I find myself pausing to take notice of things I know I’ll miss next year.  Having Hannah blast in the driveway every afternoon, backpack flying and chatting about her day, asking what is for dinner.  And I love that she still sits at the dining room table to do her homework while we read in the living room; the fact that our children still enjoy our company is something for which I am eternally grateful.  And the sound I know I’ll miss most; our Labrador following Hannah up the stairs to bed each night as they have for so many years – don’t underestimate the adjustment of the family pet when children leave for college.

My advice is simple to give, harder to take; don’t sweat the small things. Next year when the house is one child quieter, or possibly back to just the two of you, you’ll wish you hadn’t been such a bundle of nerves.  And it’s true, no matter how relaxed you are (or imagine you are), senior year is crazy.  Not just because of the reasons I’ve listed, but when you factor in the anxious wait for college acceptance letters and stress of the financial implications that now face all of us, suffice it to say it’s quite a rollercoaster.  Take some time out and think about what really matters.  When you do, you’ll be able to take a breath (and, if you’re working with The College Advisor of New York, you may breathe even deeper because we take much of the process off your plate – a shameless plug).

My grandfather always told us, when things got rough to remember that “this too shall pass.” And at the risk of sounding old and wise, it’s the truth. The things we fret about when our children are growing, fade into the background and become inconsequential when you realize that their real childhood is over.  But, don’t despair here either, because I’ve found that grown children can become close friends.  Hearing them in the house everyday turns into waiting for their calls and texts and for the most anticipated weekend visits you’ve ever dreamed of.  Time marches on and “when the winds of change blow, adjust your sails.”  Make the most of every moment you have while your children are home and look forward to the new, adult relationship you’ll forge with them when they move out.  College doesn’t mean good-bye, it just means so long for now.  It also means you’ve raised a successful, goal oriented child who will someday make a living of their own!  So, rejoice if you were wise enough to hire a college admissions consultant and if you haven’t yet – give us a call.  Then remember to have a long, enjoyable dinner with your family.

Learn to Let Go . . . for Your Child’s College Success

At the College Advisor of New York, our initial consultation usually involves the entire family.  Often, this includes younger brothers and sisters, anxious to see what all the “fuss” is surrounding the word “college” and sometimes extended family, such as grandparents, who are supporting their family, either financially or emotionally.  Regardless of the group that gathers, there is always one constant: the anxiety level of the parents.  It is written on their faces – especially when it is their first child embarking on the search process.  As counselors, we’ve helped thousands of families through this and each year it becomes more important than the last to speak directly to parents: How best to be there for your child without inhibiting their need to grow and take responsibility for themselves.

There are few things in life that are a given- one of them is that children grow up.  And, if you’ve done your job well, your children will embrace their future and their independence with self assuredness and confidence.  As painful as it is (and it is painful) to watch your children leave, there is a satisfaction in knowing that you raised them with the ability to tackle the next step.  However, all too often we find parents have more trouble with this part of our process than any other.  In the middle of junior year, our clients typically attend Dean’s “Parent Workshop.”  This is a session focused totally on what the parents are going through.  And as counselors, we understand. We all have children, most of us with a few already in college, so we practice what we preach.  The goal of this workshop is to express just how important it is to let children “own” this process.  We say it again and again: “this is not your college search process . . . it is your child’s.” Is it a partnership?  Yes.  But there is no better time to let kids learn to take ownership and act on their own behalf than within the realm of the search for their college.  We tell parents – “let your children communicate with us directly” – they should be responding to their coaches, not parents.  Our first 2-3 meetings are 1:1 with students for a reason.  We want to hear their voices and learn who they are and what they think. No matter what we as parents want to believe, children are not candid when we are sitting next to them.  Are there times we all meet as a family – of course – quite a few.  But much of our road map requires students to speak for themselves – and it is one of the most crucial components of their process of self-discovery.  After all, next year these students will be on their own.  When parents attempt to steer the course, the process becomes complicated and this makes it much more difficult for students to develop into young adults.  If they are unable to do so, they are less likely to gain a sense of self understanding, which in turn, makes it much more difficult to find a college that’s a great match for who they are.  So it’s crucial for parents to understand that while they should be involved in every aspect of the college admissions process, they should let the student be the quarterback.

We sometimes share a poem with parents by Kahlil Gibran called “On Children” – the opening line of which is “Your children are not your children.  They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts.”  That is what we love to see, children with their own thoughts lovingly supported by their parents and family.  This creates a healthy child and gives them the best chance at an independent and successful future.

The College Search Process “Know Thyself”

As a college admissions counselor, one of the most gratifying parts of my job is watching the personal growth in a student from the time of our first meeting until the day we sit down at the end of senior year and actually help them make their college choice.  Our families normally come to us at some point toward the end of the sophomore year or during the junior year, and many students are convinced they not only know what they will major in but already have a fairly good idea which colleges they want to apply to.  As counselors, we realize just how much this will change over the next 18 months or so, and watching it unfold never fails to intrigue me.

As our process begins, we have our students take a series of assessments aimed at finding the right fit school for them both socially and academically.  I know for busy high school kids, the last thing they want to do is take yet another “test.”  However, when I begin working with them 1:1  and we review their answers, some distinct and important facets of their personalities and learning style come to light and often a window opens for them.  Suddenly, this college search process seems more relevant, and the assessments we ask them to do have validity – there is a “method to our madness.”

Ultimately, we all have the same goal – as counselors we want to make sure our service is valuable to our clients.  Parents want help with a process they see as overwhelming and students too are often confused with the myriad of options that lay before them.  As our process unfolds, we begin to see the finish line, but so much more has been uncovered than first might meet the eye.  Of course, our desire is to find the right match for a student.  But the self discovery that takes place almost in the shadows is for me, the most rewarding.  I cannot tell you how many students sit with us at our final decision meeting and say something like “I would  never have looked at that school if I’d done this myself” or “I thought I wanted architecture as a career and then you told me to shadow one and now I’m going to study biology!”  So in the end, all the assessments, brainstorming, meetings and campus visits pay off and the next four years of their lives begin to take shape.  Knowing we played a minute role in this self discovery is very rewarding.  The benefits to our process are multi-layered and definitely not limited to the college admissions process.  Having what I always call “an omniscient narrator” throughout this journey is unique and in the end, if I am able to guide my students to a place where they can discover their best selves and step into the next phase of their lives with confidence, I’ve achieved my goal too.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression: The impact of a strong student resume

college resumeAs college admissions coaches, we begin talking to our students early in the process about the importance of a strong high school resume.  For rising sophomores and juniors, it might seem much too premature to begin putting their achievements on paper, but actually it’s quite the opposite.  Colleges want to see active students engaged in a variety or pursuits and at no time does it display better (or come up short) than when printed in resume form.  We are not encouraging students to participate in things they aren’t interested in for the sake of expanding their resume, but we do ask that students think outside the “school box” early in their high schools career and consider how they will be viewed on paper.  A resume is also a great tool to present to the teachers from whom you are asking for a recommendation.  They may know you in their classroom, but a strong recommendation requires more inside knowledge of you as a person and a resume works well here.

A strong resume first boasts your academic achievements by listing your GPA, your class rank, any high SAT/ACT scores and curriculum highlights.  We help our students decide what is appropriate to display and if they have worked with us since early in their high school career, their scores may be higher than average as test prep is a large part of our process.

Achievements are listed next along with any honors.  This is the place to note if you are a member of the National Honor Society or maybe you’ve reached Eagle Scout status.  Achievements of that caliber are what we’re looking for.  Extracurricular activities come below these, along with any community service and then your sports.  Last but not least, employment of just about any kind is appropriate to list.

Doing a resume is a great way for students to find their weak spots too! It’s important to be well rounded but most important to show commitment to an endeavor that you truly believe in.  Beware – if you begin thinking about this too late in the game (say the fall of your senior year) colleges see through it.  They are on the lookout for resumes that are full of only senior year involvement.  A good resume shows not only a strong academic candidate, but one who has been engaged in the community and volunteer endeavors along with extracurricular activities ALL through high school.  This is when it pays to start working with a collage admissions counselor; we help you focus on these issues early enough in the process to make an impact when it really matters.

Athletic Recruitment: We can help you level the playing field

Many parents who inquire about our services are eager to ask if we are familiar with the college athletic recruiting process and if so, how much do we know about the NCAA.  The NCAA is the National Collegiate Athletic Association and is the governing body for more than 1200 colleges and universities and the Division I and II sports they play.

At least 55.5% of our students (and students nationwide) play some type of high school sport.  The decision of whether or not to play collegiately is multifaceted and brings up a host of issues to consider when finding the right fit school for our clients.  We are familiar with this unique process and are happy to help students and parents navigate this part of their college search.  However, it does change the playing field, (pun intended) and thus we need to impart some important information right up front so there are no misconceptions.

First, it is important to differentiate the four levels of college sports; Division I, Division II and Division III . . . and club. They are vastly different in more ways than one – and some will involve scholarship money.  Division I college sports are the creme de la creme of college athletics.  Students who play at this level are recruited by coaches of top colleges and universities at the end of junior year – sometimes earlier – and represent the highest level of play.  They can often (but not always) also combine the highest level of academics (Ivy League).   Sometimes, money is offered in the form of a scholarship, but there is no guarantee.  Division II is a slightly less competitive level of play and those programs sometimes provide athletic scholarships.  Division III is much more focused on the student first and is not nearly as rigorous as DI and DII.  No scholarships are offered, but financial aid and academic – or merit scholarships – are often involved.  Division III still keeps students very busy, but not to the extent of the higher levels.  Club is just as it sounds –  “just for fun” and includes intramural play for those students who want sport to be part of their college experience without the rigors of both the NCAA and beyond.

The process has many nuances and can feel like “smoke and mirrors” for many families. Add to this the growing pains that are currently being felt by the NCAA, and it can make a complicated process even more mystifying.  Like the college search process, the athletic search process has different steps.  First, a student is identified and evaluated by a coach.  Sometimes, however, student athletes need to be proactive and contact coaches on their own.  This is an area with which we can help.  For Division I and II sports, potential student athletes must register at the NCAA Eligibility Center by visiting the NCAA website at  For Division I and II players, the NCAA set July 1 as the mandated date before which a coach may not contact a junior.  There are many instances where this is worked around and this also adds to the confusion of this process, but those are the rules and it behooves a student to adhere to them.  Once a coach has reached out to a student, there will be a dialogue of emails, texts and phone calls followed by school visits and the “official” visit.  Prior to the visit a coach may request a video tape.  Coaches will often want to see a student’s transcript and SAT scores when things become serious.  The deal is really closed when a letter of commitment is offered.  This can happen after an official visit, or on the national “letter of intent day” but it is usually at some point in October of a student’s senior year.

This is, of course, an abbreviated version of what can seem like a long and drawn out process.   As with everything, knowledge is power, so it is important to know up front the channels students must traverse in order to end up where they will be happiest.   Blending a student’s academic and social fit with what they want to achieve athletically can be challenging and adds another tier to the “right fit” we aim to help find for our clients.   Playing a sport and being a team member can add dramatically to a student’s overall college experience.  It can also be quite a lot to juggle the books and all the team’s commitments so going into this “eyes wide open” is extremely important.  We are skilled at incorporating this exciting process into our program and enjoy watching students and their families find the right school with the right program – it’s a win-win!


Is Imitation The Sincerest Form Of Flattery? Why The New SAT Is Like the ACT.

As college admissions counselors, we stress to our students that their applications are pieces of a whole.  Strong grades in rigorous classes, demonstrated devotion to their extracurricular activities, recommendations from teachers who know them well – all are factors that help them feel empowered because ultimately,  they have some sort of control.  And then there are the standardized test scores.  Nothing seems to provoke anxiety as quickly or acutely as the SAT.

We would be lying if we said these scores don’t matter, because they do.  They are really the only component of an application that “levels the playing field.”  However, the playing field is about to get some new rules.

The College Board recently announced that the structure of the SAT would undergo “sweeping changes” in the spring of 2016 (CNN, March 5, 2014).  For decades, the SAT has been the iconic standardized test;  however it is now being outpaced by the ACT, it’s only competitor.  Here again is more proof of the changing college admissions landscape.  According to Dr. Dean Skarlis, President of the College Advisor of New York, “We’ve been advising students to take the ACT for almost 15 years putting us ahead of this recent trend. The SAT has a fundamental bias; it focuses more on strategy than on curriculum – that is a problem.  Ultimately the best predictor for a student’s collegiate success is their high school transcript. Because the SAT is not curriculum based, students struggle with the structure and their scores often do not reflect their true academic ability. The ACT, on the other hand, is directly tied to high school curricula across the United States.”

We’ve steered hundreds of students struggling with the SAT towards the ACT with excellent results. The announced changes to the SAT will “make it more like the ACT” (New York Times, Tamar Lewin, March 5, 2014). There are multiple factors that set the ACT apart from the SAT.  These include students not being penalized for guessing and an optional essay.  The 2016 SAT will adopt both of these.  Other changes to the SAT will include:  a revamp of the vocabulary section, scoring will revert back to the 1600 point scale (it has been 2400 since 2005 when the writing section was added) and the essay will now have a separate score. The math section will be updated and only allow calculators for certain problems, each exam will have a writing section based on “source documents and a reading passage based on one of the nation’s founding documents . . .” (New York Times, Tamar Lewin, March 5, 2014).  Big changes in an attempt to keep pace with changing times and competition.

And there are more reasons for the College Board to take notice.  For the first time last year, the ACT was taken by more high school students than the SAT.  Also, the rise in “test optional schools” is nothing to sneeze at.  A recent study by William Hiss, former Dean of Admissions of the prestigious Bates College, finds that there was “virtually no difference in grades and graduation rates between test submitters and nonsubmitters.” (NPR, Eric Westervelt) And every year more schools become “test optional” for the very reason we cited above; a child is more than their test scores.

So where does this leave you as a student?  At the College Advisor of New York we administer what we call a “Diagnostic” during either sophomore or junior year, depending on the student.  This allows us to get an overall picture and focus on where a student might have a weak spot.  We then partner them with our test prep company, Prowess Test Prep, to give a student the best chance of preparing for whichever exam we believe will better display their academic “prowess.”

Whether it be the SAT, the ACT, or both, standardized tests aren’t going away.  Stay tuned for more as information will continue to be released about the new SAT.