Tag Archives: University and college admission

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.

Don’t Miss Dr. Dean Skarlis Speak on College Planning

The Society of Financial Service Professionals (SFSP) of ENY is hosting an evening with Dr. Dean Skarlis, of The College Advisor of New York, in which he will provide his insights on the college selection process. The event is open to all SFSP members and their clients and is a great opportunity for Chapter Members to provide extra benefits to those clients who may have children approaching college age.

Light refreshments will be served; hope to see you there!

Wednesday, January 14th
6:00 – 7:30 P.M.
Italian American Community Center
Dante Room
$20 for Members & Client Guests
$35 for Non-Members

Dr. Dean Skarlis, President of The College Advisor of New York

Dr. Skarlis will outline the steps you and your clients need to find the best fit college. Some of the topics he will cover are:

  • The top 5 factors colleges look for in applicants
  • The financial aid process
  • Proven strategies to reduce college costs
  • Rankings/schmankings: understanding why “fit” is critical
  • SAT/ACT strategy and the NEW SAT
  • How to make the most of college visits
  • The importance of the essay

For more information on Dr. Dean Skarlis, please visit the College Advisor of New York website.

For further questions regarding this event, contact Melissa Shriver at ENYChapExec@gmail.com.

More about Dr. Dean Skarlis

Dr. Skarlis is the President and founder of The College Advisor of New York. Dean has more than 23 years of experience in higher education, including 6 years as a Consultant at American College Testing (ACT) and 9 years as an administrator at Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh. A passionate student advocate, Dean has taught at the graduate and undergraduate levels, and has served as a Senior Lecturer at Tiffin University. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from Allegheny College, an M.A. in Psychology from Duquesne University, and a Doctorate in Educational Policy and Administration from the University of Pittsburgh. Dean also earned a certificate from the Harvard University Institute on College Admissions. His research has focused on quality teaching and learning, retention, and program design at four-year colleges. He is a member of the National Association of College Admissions Counseling and the Independent Educational Consultants Association.
Dr. Skarlis has conducted presentations about college admissions for thousands of students, parents, faculty, and administrators at more than 220 colleges, universities, and high schools across the United States. He has also been a featured speaker and trainer for hundreds of families, financial planners and Certified Public Accountants on the intricacies of college financial aid and scholarships. Nationally, he has appeared on ABC World News and has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal twice, and most recently. Locally, he has been a featured guest and member of the “Answers Team” on CBS 6 WRGB TV, WTEN TV, Fox 23 News, and the YNN – Channel 9 “Family Living” segment which is broadcast across upstate New York. He has been quoted in several local and national publications including an article in The Washington Post entitled, “The Dirty Little Secrets of College Admissions,” The New York Post, The Times Union, The Associated Press, TheStreet.Com, and Capital Region Living Magazine, as well as The Portable Guidance Counselor, a book about the college admissions process published by The Princeton Review in 2010. Dean also serves on the Board of Directors of the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce and the East Greenbush-Castleton Youth Baseball League. In his spare time he coaches Little League Baseball and Pop Warner Football in the community of East Greenbush, NY.

The College Advisor of New York
18 Corporate Woods Boulevard
Albany, NY 12211
(518) 512-3021

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.