College Planning Books

I just finished preparing a list of books for independent educational consultants and the families they serve for the Higher Education Consultants Association website.

These books would be great reference material for you, if you are a high school student or a parent of a high school student:

Dispelling College Myths

  • Where You Go Is Not Who’ll You Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania by Frank Bruni

How College Admissions Works

  • Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions by Jeffrey Selingo

College Selection

  • College Match: A Blueprint for Choosing the Right College by Steven R. Antonoff

College Financial Concerns

  • The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price by Lynn O’Shaughnessy
  • The Price You Pay For College: An Entirely New Road Map for the Biggest Financial Decision Your Family Will Ever Make by Ron Lieber

College Majors

  • Book of Majors by the College Board

General College Guides

  • Fiske Guide to Colleges by Edward B. Fiske
  • The Princeton Review The Best 3xx Colleges by Robert Franek (xx is a 2-digit number that changes with different editions of the book)
  • America’s Best Colleges for B Students, A College Guide for Students Without Straight A’s by Tamra B. Orr
  • Colleges That Change Lives by Loren Pope, Revised by Hilary Masell Oswald

Specialty College Guides

  • The K&W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Differences by Marybeth Kravets and Imy Wax
  • Creative Colleges: A Guide for Student Actors, Artists, Dancers, Musicians and Writers by Elaina Loveland
  • BS/MD Programs – The Complete Guide by Todd A. Johnson

College Application Essays

  • College Essay: Conquering the College Admissions Essay in 10 Steps by Alan Gelb
  • College Essay Essentials by Ethan Sawyer

Going to College Advice

  • The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College by Harlan Cohen

My Pet Peeve

Cornell University

I’m often surprised when I read a newspaper article that says a high school student applied and was admitted to all eight Ivy League universities. I am surprised not because they were admitted, but because I wonder why would anyone apply to all eight of the Ivy League colleges. It makes me wonder if the student applied primarily for prestige or really didn’t take the time to learn about the colleges they applied to.

While these eight universities have some things in common like low acceptance rate, high graduation rate, strong need-based aid, no merit aid, a high ranking in US News and World Report, and the same sports conference, they are more different than they are the same.

Yale University

I am left questioning how “smart” the student really was who applied to these eight schools. I ask myself, would someone who:

  • Liked Columbia University’s strong core curriculum, like the lack of a core curriculum at Brown University?
  • Liked college in a big city like The University of Pennsylvania, like being at a college in a town like Dartmouth University?
  • Liked the focus of the university being on the undergraduate students like at Princeton, be happy at Harvard where there are more graduate than undergraduate students?
  • Wanted to live on campus in a residential college system like Yale’s be happy at Cornell which only has housing for about half of its undergrads?
  • Wanted to go to a college with a semester system, be happy with Dartmouth’s quarter system.
  • Wanted a smaller undergraduate student body like Princeton’s be happy at Cornell where the undergraduate student body is more than three times as large?

Last, but not least these universities have strengths in different majors and some have majors not offered by any/many of the others.

University of Pennsylvania

What’s your reaction to my pet peeve? What do you think makes these 8 schools similar or different?

Computer Science Woes

At many colleges and universities, the Computer Science major is impacted, that is the major continually gets more eligible applicants than it can accommodate. This is a problem that has existed for several years and appears only to be getting worse. At the Cal State University campuses “impacted” is also a designation that allows the Computer Science department to require a higher GPA or specific major preparation as a way to reduce the pool of applicants to those who are best prepared to enter the major.

If you or your student wants to major in Computer Science, you will want to read these three articles to better understand the situation:

  • Here’s what happened with Computer Science majors at Haverford, Princeton, Bryn Mawr, Stanford, Pomona, and San Francisco State in 2018.
  • Here’s an analysis of the Computer Science teaching shortage from 2019 that appeared in the Communications of the ACM, the monthly journal of the Association for Computing Machinery. It also explains how different colleges including RIT, UT Austin, Pitt, UIUC and RPI have tried to address the teaching shortage.
  • Maybe you think I am just talking about the past. Here is a piece from June 2022 on the demand for the Computer Science major at the University of Washington and the reasons for their inability to meet that demand.
University of Washington

Can I Get In There?

If you are wondering what your chances are at getting accepted to a particular college or university here are four things to consider:

  1. What percent of students do they accept?
  2. What criteria are important to that college?
  3. How well do you meet the criteria?
  4. Will the major you have selected have an impact on whether you will be accepted?

What percent of students do they accept?  

The higher the percent of students the college accepts, the better your chance for admission. If the percent acceptance is very small, your chance of admission is very small.

Percent acceptance ranges between 2 or 3 % and 100%. Schools that accept 100% include many 2-year community colleges and some 4-year colleges.

Some schools accept a much different percent of applicants depending on whether the student applies as an early decision, early action or regular decision applicant. Percent acceptance may also vary by gender or ethnicity. In-state and out-of-state acceptance rates vary significantly and many public colleges and universities.

What criteria is important?

Important criteria may be reflected in the school’s mission statement. It also may be reflected in published data (see collegedata.com) which indicates how important (i.e., very important, important, considered, or not considered) each of the following is to the particular college:

  • Rigor of secondary school record – Rigor considers the number of years of a particular subject that you have taken.  Colleges often specify the number of years required or recommended for a particular subject like English, Math, Science, Social Studies, and Foreign Language. Rigor also looks at the level of the course you took (e.g., college prep, honors, AP, IB) as compared to what your high school offered.
  • Academic GPA
  • Standardized Tests
  • Class rank (if available)
  • Recommendations
  • Application essay
  • Application interview
  • Level of applicant’s interest
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Volunteer work
  • Particular talent/ability
  • Character/personal qualities
  • First generation to attend college
  • State residency
  • Geographic residence
  • Relation with alumnus
  • Religious affiliation/commitment
  • Ethnicity
  • Work Experience.

How well do you meet the criteria?

For every criteria that is very important, important or considered by a particular college, consider how you will measure up.

For example, consider how your grades and course rigor and how your SAT/ACT test scores compare to the students the college accepts. If your high school has Naviance or SCOIR, you can use scattergrams to get an idea about how your grades and test scores stack up to others from your high school that applied to a particular college or university.

Will the major you have selected have an impact on whether you will be accepted?

The acceptance rate at some universities may also be dependent to the college which you are applying. For example, the College of Engineering may be more competitive than the College of Arts and Science.

Some majors which are in high demand and/or which there are few professors may be “impacted” majors. They may be more difficult to gain acceptance into than other majors. You may get accepted to the college or university, but not for your first choice major. At some schools, no one is accepted directly for a particular major. Students can only declare that major after meeting certain criteria as a college student (e.g., completing certain college courses with a particular grade).

Conclusion

Be realistic about your chances of admission. Be sure to include colleges with a high and medium probability of acceptance, not just colleges with low probability of acceptance.

If you need or want assistance with the college selection and application process, work with an experienced independent educational consultant like me. I help students select colleges which meet their academic, social and financial needs and I work with them throughout the application process to make sure they put their best foot forward in their applications.

Colleges Still Accepting Students

It’s May 2. Yesterday was National College Decision Day, the deadline to select the college you will attend this fall and to make a deposit. 

However, if you are still looking for an undergraduate college for the Fall, go to nacacnet.org and review “College Opening Update.” Currently, the site lists 337 colleges with openings, and the list is updated daily. You can search the site by state (or country) or several other criteria.

When I searched by state for colleges in Pennsylvania with openings, I found a mix of 33 public and private colleges listed alphabetically by college name. For each of these colleges the following information was provided: college name, whether they are public or private school, the size category, whether they are accepting freshmen or transfers, whether housing or financial aid are available, a contact person, email address, phone number and website.

For example, the first entry looked like this:

Albright College
( PA )

Enrollment: Private,non-profit
1,000 – 4,999

Freshman: Yes
Transfer: Yes
Housing:
 Yes
Financial Aid: Yes

Contact: Jennifer Williamson admission@albright.edu

Phone:  (610) 921-7700
Website:  https://www.albright.edu/home/

Albright College

Finding Colleges That Fit

Selecting colleges is a critical piece of the college planning process.

How not to select colleges. I’ve seen students who have built their college lists in a poor or even random fashion. Often they were unhappy with their subsequent college experience. Sometimes they ended up with an unplanned transfer that cost time and money or they dropped out of college.

Don’t select colleges:

  • So you or your parents can brag about the college.
  • Because someone else, not you, likes the college.
  • Without reflecting on what you want in a college and knowing how the college meets that criteria.
  • Because someone else went there or is going there.
  • Because of ranking.

Identifying college criteria. Consider why you want to go to college and what makes a college right for you. If you go to a residential college, the college will not just be your education; it will also be your home and social life. Identify academic, social, and financial criteria by reflecting on what you need and want.

Separate your college criteria into must-have and nice-to-have categories. If you have too many must-have criteria, there may not be any colleges that match all of them. Talk with your parents or guardians about how much money they have to help you with college costs so you can identify realistic financial criteria.

As you identify college criteria, avoid these common traps.

Don’t:

  • Get hung up on published college rankings. You are building the best college ranking: a ranking that is based on criteria that are important to you!
  • Eliminate small colleges for the wrong reasons. So many students say their college must be bigger than their high school without thinking this decision through. If a student goes to a large high school, this decision might eliminate a large percentage of colleges. For example, almost 62% of U.S, colleges have under 2500 students.
  • Limit the distance the college is from home because you think that will save you money. Other parts of the country have excellent colleges that may be less expensive than the colleges in your region even with the additional travel costs. Consider how often you will be going home or your family will be visiting you each year when making this decision.
  • Focus too much on a major. Be aware that many students in the U.S. are undecided about their major when they start college or change their minds about their major after they start college.
  • Leave financial concerns until after you have selected colleges. If finances are important, need-based and/or merit aid should be integral to the college selection, not something you worry about after you have made your college list. Most aid comes from the government or the colleges. If you have financial needs, select colleges that meet as close to 100% of your need as possible. Most colleges don’t meet 100% of your need leaving you with a financial gap that is hard to fill. If you are seeking merit aid, select colleges that give merit aid, typically these are colleges where you will be in the top quarter of their incoming class.
  • Eliminate a college because the list price is high. The important price is the price college will cost your family after grants and scholarships. You can get an idea of how much need-based aid you might receive by using each college’s Net Price Calculator. Sometimes the Net Price Calculator also estimates merit aid.
  • Stop addressing your learning differences when you go to college. If you have been receiving accommodations during high school for learning differences and/or ADHD, this is not the time to go it alone. Research and visit with the disability services personnel at the college.
  • Stop addressing your mental health needs when you go to college. If you have mental health needs, learn about and meet the campus mental health professionals before college starts. Be sure to make arrangements to continue meeting with your current mental health professional or establish a relationship with a private, off-campus mental health professional in case the campus services are inadequate (e.g., a limited number of sessions per semester, too long a wait for appointments).

Finding colleges that meet your criteria. Once you know what you are looking for in a college, search for colleges that meet most or all of your must-have criteria and have many of your nice-to-have criteria. Many search engines can help identify colleges based on common criteria (e.g., size, location, majors available) including NCES College Navigator, College Board’s Big Future, and Naviance. More unusual criteria will often require the use of additional resources.

Researching colleges. Once you have identified colleges that meet most of your needs and wants, do in-depth research on:

  • Chance of admission
  • Academics (e.g., general education requirements, class sizes, tutoring availability)
  • Likely majors (e.g., number of professors for the major, number of students in the major, required courses for the major, areas of research)
  • Career services and what happens to graduates (e.g., jobs, graduate school)
  • Dining and housing
  • Clubs and activities
  • Social life
  • Surrounding community.

Take notes about what you learned, what you like and dislike about the college, and questions you have. 

You can find college information from websites and social media, college brochures, college newspapers, current students and alumni, college fairs, virtual college visits, independent college guides and books. Familiarize yourself with a variety of sources to gain an objective and broad understanding of the data and choices facing you. One of the best ways to learn more about a college is to experience it firsthand through an in-person campus visit, preferably when college is in session.

Visiting colleges. Plan your college visit. During that visit, learn as much as possible by:

  • Attending an info session
  • Taking a tour
  • Sitting in on a class
  • Looking at bulletin boards
  • Eating in the cafeteria
  • Reading the school newspaper
  • Talking to students
  • Staying overnight (if available)
  • Having an interview (if available)
  • Having your parents talk with the financial aid office
  • Talking with a professor or chairperson of the department you would like to major in
  • Walking or driving around the surrounding neighborhood.

Building the list of schools you will apply to. Based on your college research and visits make a prioritized list of colleges you would be happy to attend from the first choice to the last choice.  Select six to eight schools.  No more than a third should have a low probability of acceptance.  Include at least one college with a high probability of acceptance and at least one with a high probability of acceptance that your family can afford without aid.  In some cases, you may want to apply to between four (e.g., if your four top choices are all high probability of acceptance) and ten colleges (e.g., if you want to apply to more low probability of acceptance schools or if you are shopping for the best financial aid package).


If you follow this process, it is likely that you will be happy with your college experience and will meet your college goals.

The Big Decision

The time for the “big decision” for high school seniors is quickly approaching. For those who have been accepted to more than one college, it will soon be time to make the final choice.

Now is a good time to visit or re-visit the campuses and surrounding areas of the colleges you are considering. It is time to ask and get answers to any final questions. Here are some things to consider:

  •  Academics – Review the core curriculum courses and the required and available courses in likely majors and minors. Consider class size; opportunities for internships, research, a senior project, and travel abroad; accessibility to professors, and support in finding a job and/or graduate school when you finish your undergraduate studies.
  • Social – Consider school environment (e.g., location, size, weather, distance from home), as well as your social, political, extra-curricular and religious needs.
  • Financial – Know how much tuition, room and board, books, travel, and miscellaneous expenses will cost. Make sure you understand your financial aid package, including how much you will need to pay back each month on loans and how long it will take you to pay back those loans.

What other tips would you give high school seniors faced with the big decision?

How Will I Afford College?

Parents worry about how much college will cost and how they will afford college. Other than purchasing a home, college is usually the largest investment a family will make. Hopefully, families have been saving for college from the time their children were small. But with four years of college costing as much as a quarter of a million dollars, family savings are typically not enough.

A common misconception that parents have is that their financial salvation will come in the form of private scholarships. Private scholarships make up only 6% of all scholarships.   

The biggest source of aid is through the colleges. Families can save thousands of dollars by selecting the right colleges. Some parents might jump to the wrong conclusion when reading this. They might think that this means their child needs to attend a college with a low sticker price. Colleges, however, are like airplanes. Different people are paying different amounts for the same service. Surprisingly, private colleges may be less expensive than a public in-state college. 

Students need to select colleges that fit them financially, as well as academically and socially. The junior year of high school is a great time to begin the college selection process. If you are a rising senior, and haven’t considered the following financial questions, try to address them now. 

On the financial side, you need to know:

  1. How much money has been saved for college?
  2. How much need-based aid do you qualify for?
  3. Which colleges meet a high percent of need?
  4. Which colleges meet the need primarily with grants, instead of loans and work/study?
  5. How much merit aid do you qualify for?
  6. How many years will it take to graduate? (Students will want to check the 4-year, 5-year and 6-year graduation rates at the colleges they are considering.) 
  7. How much money is the most the student should borrow?
  8. How much money is the most the parents should borrow?

Some families, without the money to pay the college sticker price, ignore these issues and stick their heads in the sand. I don’t recommend that since the family may run out of money before college is completed or the student/family may be saddled with incredible debt for years to come.

Other families invest significant time to research these issues. Some families hire an independent college admissions professional like me, who understands these issues and the available resources, saving the family money and preventing the family from taking on too much debt.
 
What has your experience been?  What questions do you have?