The infamous “college list”

It’s summer before senior year, your friends keep talking about where they will apply to school and that has many students freaking out about where they will apply come fall.  Parent input plays another role in the choices students make about applying to schools.  The “list” students make can be a daunting task and will change many times throughout the next five months.  While there are several opinions about what to consider when selecting schools and which students “should” apply to particular schools, the information can be overwhelming and not always accurate. I encourage families to not only read articles and check out websites, but also ask questions to admissions representatives, college counselors, and speak to school alumni.  Everyone will have different information, some will overlap and for the rest, parents and students will have to make the best judgment to make a decision.

Applications to college are expensive, each application will range price from $35-$110 just for applying. Plus, students will need to submit test scores (with additional costs), and may need to schedule an interview on campus or with a local alumni. Saying all that, it is important to be strategic on selecting which schools to invest that money.  Below are a few strategies on creating the college list that can help families make sound decisions.

1) Look at the admissions rate (for in-state and out-of-state students). While it would be pretty amazing to apply to several brand name schools, only about 1% of the students that apply to brand name only schools will be successful in their admissions decisions. The college board college search does have that particular statistic (look under “applying”) and students can see what their chances are of getting in. In addition, students can also look at the GPA break down for most schools. For example, one can see how many students with a GPA between a 2.5 and 2.99 are admitted to American University.  Then, students can see how many students are admitted that are residents of that particular state.



2) Apply strategically. Now that application fees are so expensive, one must wonder, who applies now just to see if they “get in” to that school with 10% admissions rate?  But students still apply to these schools even if they have a slim chance of getting in. Knowing the admissions rates and the percentages of students applying with the same GPA range is helpful to apply strategically. Select 1 or 2 schools with a small acceptance rate (reach for the stars!) and consider applying to mostly schools where a student’s GPA and test scores fall into range.  Also, have a back up plan, apply to 1 or 2 schools where you are guaranteed admissions (the local state school, maybe).

3) Know what you want. This isn’t to say, know what you plan to do in 10 years or that you have your life plan already figured out. Most students that attend 4 year universities apply as “undeclared” major. It’s the most popular major out there!  There is much more to college than taking classes; students will be living in a new environment, interacting with new people, spending Friday and Saturday night socializing (either in the library or with friends at dinner).  A social environment is critical to a student’s success in college. Know what your interests are beyond the classroom-sports, activities, theater, nature, fitness, reading, music, competitions, and the list can go on and on. When a person has an idea about what they want and what they picture their ideal world to be after moving from their parents/family home, it makes selecting a college environment a bit easier. The subject of study is an added bonus. Also think about turning this list into a ranking order of “must haves” and “okay to haves” rather than just a laundry list of wants.

4) Use your words wisely. All applications are thoroughly read. Each word is critical.  After reading thousands of applications, I have seen first hand how students sell themselves short by not using the description sections to describe an activity, event, project, or award appropriately so the reader can understand how it is critical to the applicants growth and experience. The same thing goes for the personal statement.  Begin by writing a resume, and seek support in wording and descriptions (the same way an adult seeks guidance on writing a resume for employment).

5) Go towards the money. While this one may be a challenge to understand from a students perspective, it is the number one concern of parents when students are applying to college. College is expensive, and the tuition continues to rise. When researching schools, I encourage students to also review the scholarships page on the school’s website, ask about school specific scholarships when visiting the campus or meeting with an admissions rep. Find out how much money is given to students on average, and how many students get full tuition compensation. 44% of all students attending college receive some form of financial aid (scholarships, grants, loans).  This is also determined by family income. To see where you stack up, check out this website:

The decision to attend college is a huge one and the sticker price can look as if we are purchasing a single family home in Southern California in four years.   While a person can always pay back the money, we cannot pay back experience. The college experience will live with us for our entire life, bring us our best friends, and help up launch our future plans. But, getting that “Accepted” letter comes first.


A checklist for college-bound rising seniors

Four months remain until the deadline for UC and CSU applications. Many of the early action/decision application deadlines are in early November. In an effort to keep the sanity during the senior year, it is important that families begin the application process in the summer.  Below is a checklist for students and families to begin a tedious process of applying to a four year university.

  • Register for the ACT or SAT and two (2) SAT Subject tests. The SAT Subject Tests are strongly recommended for UC schools and any private school in California and many schools outside of California.  Find more information at or Students that qualify for the free/reduced lunch at school are eligible for a fee waiver to take these important tests.
  • Surf the internet to find college scholarships and financial aid information. Some programs and companies begin advertising scholarship opportunities early, be the first to request an application! Remember to check your school’s website for event dates specifically on financial aid and FAFSA assistance. More on scholarships to come in a future post.
  • Make sure you will meet the “A-G” requirements. There are 15 high school courses that students must take to meet the minimum admissions requirements for UC, CSU, and most other schools.   Be sure to review courses completed and speak with a counselor about other recommended courses that can help the transcript stand out.
  • Students must earn a grade of C or better in all A-G courses to be eligible for admission to the university. Students must also complete the required courses for high school graduation. I have been witness to students who received a rejection letter in the summer because of missing high school graduation requirements.
  • Finish your essays for college admission. Have your family/friends/counselor re-read the essay and offer insight on what would best describe you within the word limit.  Sign up for the college office workshops and check your high school website calendar for important information and events happening in the college office. Most high schools have several visits from colleges and universities throughout the U.S. Take advantage of the visits in the fall to connect with an admissions officer from schools where you intend to submit applications.
  • Invest in a wall calendar. On that calendar, make note of all college application deadlines for schools to which you will apply.  Use the calendar during the year for any other deadlines or due dates (Cal Grant, scholarship deadlines, transcript requests, testing, etc).
  • Letters of Recommendations: Narrow down which teachers you will ask to write a letter of recommendations for private universities and scholarships. UC and CSU applications do not require recommendations but applications for certain programs within these systems will ask for references.
  • Create your resume. Be prepared with this resume/brag sheet when you return from summer break. Students may use resume templates on MS Word or stop by the college office this summer for assistance on how to create your resume/brag sheet.
  • Create an email account solely for your college application and scholarship related materials. Most schools and programs have taken to communicating with students only via email.  The email address is oftentimes also your password for various sites.  Keep all this material in one safe place online so you don’t have to search in several locations for information.  Keep the email address simple to remember and professional enough to use for communicating with schools.
  • Stay organized! Keep files for each school, scholarship or program.  Make note of anything sent or received from each school.  Save yourself procrastination-induced stress and prepare for the college application process before it begins!

Please contact with any questions about the application process.