Buyers and Sellers

In Jeff Selingo’s book, Who Gets In and Why A Year Inside College Admissions, he introduces the concept of “college buyers” and “college sellers.” In this blog post, I will focus on whether a private college is a college buyer or a college seller. 

College sellers are the colleges that receive tons of applications and have a high yield (i.e., a large percent of accepted students choose to attend). Because of the high demand for these colleges they don’t need to “buy” students by offering merit aid or tuition discounts. College sellers typically offer financial aid to students who have financial need and a very small percent (if any) of really exceptional students.

College buyers on the other hand, are not in such high demand. They often provide as good or better an education than the sellers, but they discount tuition and/or provide significant merit aid to many students in order to make sure that they have a full freshman class.

Whether a college is a “buyer” or a “seller” does NOT reflect whether students get a great education there.

If you don’t have financial need, but you want your student to get a good price for college, be sure your student includes buyers on their college list.

Jeff Selingo provides these rules of thumb to differentiate buyers and sellers:     

  1. Sellers typically admit less than 20% of applicants on average. Colleges as a whole accept 67%. 
  2. The yield at most seller colleges is nearly 45%, as compared to about 25% at most buyer colleges.
  3. On average, 7% of financial aid that sellers give is a merit-based discount vs. nearly 33% of financial aid that buyers give is a merit-based discount.

Selecting high school classes

This time of year, many students are selecting their high school classes for the Fall. Here are three things to consider when picking classes. 

(1) Be aware that the preferred high school curriculum for applicants of selective colleges include:

·        4 years English

·        3 or 4 years Math

·        3 or 4 years of a lab Science including Chemistry or Physics

·        3 or 4 years Social Studies

·        3 or 4 years Foreign Language. 

(2) Take the most challenging classes (e.g., honors, AP, IB) your high school offers that you can handle without harming your grades, extracurricular involvement or your health. I believe a “B” in an AP class is better than an “A” in a standard class. If you don’t think you can get more than a “C” in the more challenging class, I would advise against it. Look at the difficulty of your entire schedule and be sure to consider how many challenging classes you can handle at one time. 

(3) Different classes expose you to possible college majors and careers. Think about whether you enjoy the class material, whether you excel in the subject and whether you want to learn more about the subject in high school and beyond. If you have an idea of your future college major or career, let that impact the classes you choose.  For example, if you are planning to study math, science or engineering, I would recommend that you take at least four years of Math and Science, including Calculus if your school offers it.

7 Surprising College Application Essay Prompts

With the 2019-2020 application season winding down, here are seven surprising and thought-provoking college application essay or short answer prompts (in random order):

  1. “What is the most compelling thing you have ever read, and how has it changed you or inspired you to take action now, in the past, or in the future? This could be an entire book, a passage or chapter, a poem, an article, graffiti- anything written.” George Mason University Honors prompt 
  2.  Seattle has a rich musical history and SU students love discovering new Seattle music. Tell us: what five songs would be the soundtrack to your perfect college experience? (two to three sentences for each song is appropriate)” Seattle University prompt
  3.  “At USC Viterbi, we endeavor to engineer a better world for all humanity. This vision goes hand-in-hand with the objectives of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and their 14 Grand Challenges. Engineers and Computer Scientists are challenged to solve these problems in order to improve life on the planet. Learn more about the NAE Grand Challenges at and tell us which challenge is most important to you, and why.” University of Southern California prompt
  4. “There are approximately 171,476 words in the English dictionary. Pick your favorite word and tell us why you picked it.” Brandeis University prompt
  5. What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed?” Stanford University prompt
  6. “Who does Sally sell her seashells to? How much wood can a woodchuck really chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Pick a favorite tongue twister (either originally in English or translated from another language) and consider a resolution to its conundrum using the method of your choice. Math, philosophy, linguistics… it’s all up to you (or your woodchuck).—Inspired by Blessing Nnate, Class of 2024” University of Chicago prompt 
  7. Yale’s residential colleges regularly host conversations with guests representing a wide range of experiences and accomplishments. What person, past or present, would you invite to speak? What question would you ask?” Yale University prompt 

Which of these prompts do you think is the most challenging? The most creative?

What prompt did you encounter that you consider thought-provoking?


Gratitude for U.S. College Education

With Thanksgiving approaching, here are three things I am grateful for regarding college education in the United States:

  1. There are colleges available in the United States for any high school graduate who would like to attend.
  2. There are so many different colleges that allow all kinds of students to find a college that meets their academic, social and financial needs.
  3. Students can be undecided about their major or change their mind about their major while in college.
These three things make the American college system unique.
What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving?

Helping Your Children Practice Social Skills During the Pandemic

Thanks to Betty Bodenweiser of Foundation For Learning in Morristown, NJ for letting me share this article which appeared in her September 2020 newsletter.

Our children take away a lot of new information and life skills during the normal school year and through their after school activities. During these times when social distancing, remote learning, and other safety restrictions are in place, how do we help our children learn and practice the social skills they need?

1 – While Zoom and other apps are great for large group “visits,” more personal one-on-one play-dates will be more enjoyable and beneficial. Relationships with others are important to our children’s mental health, and the more personal the virtual visit can be, the more gratifying and enriching the experience. That’s not to say that larger Zoom visits aren’t helpful. Just make sure to schedule one-on-one dates as well. And to add more umph to those visits, plan an activity for the two friends to share while on-line together. Perhaps knitting, painting, or baking. Parents can provide materials or if needed, serve as project tutor during these daily or weekly activities. Your child will be getting good social skills practice during these virtual visits.

2 – Along those same lines, make connections with a study buddy – virtually. Yes, some parents will be forming in-person “pandemic pods”, and while this arrangement has its advantages, it also comes with potential health risks. Consider identifying a parent with a child in the same class and set up a time each day for the two children to practice their spelling, math facts, vocabulary words, study for tests, and anything else that may be assigned? Skype, FaceTime, Google Duo, there are all kinds of free and easy apps that can be used to make these virtual connections so that the two partners can easily “meet up”.

3 – Make video calls to loved ones. Not only will everyone benefit from the emotional connection made while virtually visiting with family and friends, but it will also be a great time to help your child practice picking up on social cues. Yes, it’s more challenging to pick up on tone of voice or subtle nuances in facial expressions or gestures while gazing at someone on a screen, but it’s still a great way for your young one to tune in to other people’s emotions or signs that they might be tired, etc. This is a valuable way for your child to learn how to recognize cues and respond appropriately.

Ideas for in-person opportunities:

1 – It’s always a good time for family game nights, and even more so now that many youth sports and recreation department and other programs are on-hold. Playing games as a family can help a child learn good sportsmanship and enhance rule-following skills. And a note to parents: make sure you model important behaviors while you play, and show your child how to both win and lose gracefully, to avoid criticizing, complaining, quitting, and to play to the end of the game when you then congratulate the winner. 

2 – Learning to work together is an important skill and one that is fairly easy to develop at home. Working together on various household tasks or projects encourages both collaboration and cooperation, so clean out the toy closet and donate the offerings to needy kids, plan a meal and cook it up together, or plant a garden! There are many things you can do around the house that will help your child to work with and support others.

And finally, two quick tips for parents:

1 – Make time to have a good chat with your child. Ask open-ended questions which will allow the conversation to flow and may very well lead to any anxious thoughts that your child may be having during this unusual pandemic life. Let him see you make good eye-contact, listen to what he has to say, model respectful disagreement and other aspects of conversation skills.

2 – Give honest and immediate feedback that will help your child to navigate social pitfalls, allowing him to build better social behavior. For example, if your child is wanting your attention but keeps interrupting a conversation that you are having with another person, stop and turn your attention to your child. Explain that he needs to wait his turn to speak and help him to understand different strategies to get your attention that would be more appropriate and polite.

These are extraordinary times we’re having during this pandemic. The world has turned upside down and social life as we know it has changed in many ways. Take comfort, knowing that children are generally resilient and able to adapt well in challenging circumstances. As parents, we can help them to learn and practice good social skills that they will need in life, even during this time of social distancing and distance learning.


The COVID-19 College Experience: What Can You Expect? (Part 2 of 2)

In my last blog post, I began to address how I expect COVID-19 will impact the college experience in the 2020-2021 school year. In this post, I discuss other ways the college experience is likely to be impacted.
Campus Dining–Normally, college dining halls are indoor places where students congregate and socialize while eating. Because of social distancing concerns, I think students will not generally be eating in the dining halls. They may be eating primarily in their dorm rooms or in outdoor locations, when it is warm and dry enough.
In a “normal” semester, many dining halls provide an all-you-can-eat experience with self-service for many foods. I expect that all-you-can-eat and self-service will be eliminated for 2020-2021.
Some colleges are trying new ways to get meals to students. For example: 
  • Rider University allows students to order meals from smartphone apps and delivers the meals to food lockers, where students can pick them up without interacting with others.
  • George Mason University and the University of Houston are piloting robotic delivery fleets that deliver meals to students.

Rider University
Dorms – I think that this year three or four people in a dorm room will disappear. I expect there will still be doubles.
Reducing the density in dorm rooms and putting aside rooms for quarantine, means that there will be less housing available on many campuses.
The cleaning frequency of shared spaces, like hall bathrooms will increase.
Extracurricular Activities – The number of people gathering at any activity will be reduced. For example, the maximum number of people at parties will be reduced based on the venue space.
Many activities may be canceled or altered significantly because of the need for social distancing. For example, some contact sports will be canceled or played without students in the stands.
International Scene– I expect there will be fewer international students on campus, because many international students can’t get visas, especially freshmen. Many study abroad activities will be canceled or postponed due to the inability of US students to get visas to go abroad and/or because of the COVID-19 situation in other countries.
Financial Aid – More families may be looking for need-based financial aid because of loss of jobs, cuts in pay, death of a student’s parent, reduction in asset value and medical bills.
More families may take Federal student loans because the interest rates for 2020-2021 are much lower than in previous years. The Federal student loan interest rate for 2020-2021 is 2.75%, and the Federal Parent PLUS loan interest rate is 5.3%.
College Finances – Many colleges will be struggling financially. As of June 22nd, more than 750 colleges had openings and many expect a bigger than usual summer melt. State funding of public universities is likely to go down in many states because of reduced tax revenues and increased expenses related to COVID-19. The college revenue shortfall may lead to program cuts, pay cuts and layoffs, and even college closure. For example, the University of Alaska will cut 39 academic departments. Elmira College (NY) is eliminating several academic programs and is reducing its staff by 20%.
The Big Picture – The 2020-2021 school year is one in which colleges will need to plan carefully, communicate clearly to students and their families, enforce safety precautions, and be creative and nimble to respond to the changing conditions. There are serious risks for all involved.

The COVID-19 College Experience: What Can You Expect? (Part 1 of 2)

The fall semester will be unique because of COVID-19. While every college will be a little different, here is what I expect you may find.

COVID-Safety – Colleges will try and make sure that students arrive on campus COVID-free by doing some or all of the following:

  • Testing for the virus,
  • Taking temperatures,
  • Asking about COVID-19 symptoms and travel.
To prevent the spread of the virus on campus, colleges will enforce social distancing, the wearing of masks, reduce physical interactions, and have additional cleaning. Social distancing will often require fewer student in a classroom or in a dorm room. To reduce physical interactions, colleges may use doors that open automatically or assign a single person to open doors in a particular building. Colleges will have plans for quarantining students that come down with the virus and will have contact tracing in order to know who the infected person has come in contact with. Colleges will also make special arrangements for high-risk students and employees; this may mean online classes for those students or faculty. The biggest unknown regarding COVID-safety is whether students will follow the college’s guidelines.
Academics – Colleges have taken different approaches regarding delivery of course material in the fall semester. Plans include on-line synchronous, on-line asynchronous, in-person and hybrid course delivery. Many schools, not teaching on-line, will need to spread out classes across more hours of the day, more days of the week, and/or more months of the year to teach in person, while social distancing.
According to a Chronicle of Higher Education survey of 960 colleges published on June 14, the college plans for course delivery are as follows:
  • Planning for in-person – 65%
  • Proposing a Hybrid Model – 11%
  • Considering a Range of Scenarios – 9%
  • Planning for Online – 8%
  • Waiting to Decide – 6%
Here are plans announced by four colleges that reflect a variety of different approaches:
  • Beloit College plans to break the semester into 2 modules, in which students take 2 courses in each module. “The aspiration is to have a residential learning experience next year, but if COVID rages, this flexibility allows us to have it only affect half a semester, possibly.”
  • Stanford University plans to spread instruction over four quarters, including the summer. Half of undergrads will be allowed on campus in fall. Students who are permitted on campus will switch with their peers each subsequent quarter. The four quarter year would allow Stanford undergrads to complete two quarters in residence, and at least one quarter remotely.
  • The University of Notre Dame will resume in-person classes on August 10. Classes will begin two weeks earlier than usual so students can complete a full semester by Thanksgiving. They hope that by skipping a traditional fall break they will reduce the likelihood that students will bring the virus back to campus.
  • The 23-campus California State University system is planning for on-line classes, with limited exceptions for essential lab courses and clinical classes for nursing students.

College planning and COVID-19

Here’s a summary of some college planning activities that have changed because of Coronavirus and how you might respond:

  • SAT and ACT – A number of SAT and ACT test dates have been cancelled. So far, the College Board has added a September 26 test date. Some additional colleges have announced they will be test optional.
  • AP – The scope of both the AP classes and exams have been reduced. There is a new at-home testing option.
  • College visits – Most colleges switched to virtual visits and information sessions. Attend virtual visits and information sessions, communicate with admissions personnel to get your questions answered, look at college videos online, read student feedback on sites like and, read online versions of the college newspaper, talk with current students or recent graduates, and follow the college’s social media to get a better feel for the colleges you are considering. Be looking for changes in college visit policies. Come colleges are planning to switch to in-person campus visits starting in June (many of these will be of one family at a time and limited to outside spaces at their college.
  • Deposit date – Some colleges extended their deposit dates from May 1st, often to June 1st for 2020. The extra time may help students learn more about the college, determine if they can still afford the college, and appeal the financial aid where there has been a significant change in family income and/or assets due to Coronavirus.
  • Summer activities – Summer plans (e.g., jobs, summer classes, volunteer activities, travel) for many high school students have or will be cancelled. Plan meaningful alternate activities. There are a lot of things you can do from home. For instance, you can take a free or low cost online class on Coursera, Udacity or edX, learn a foreign language on, practice a foreign language in Language Bird’s Chirp Room™ Chat or volunteer from home.
  • Extracurricular activities – Many extracurricular activities have been cancelled this spring and/or will be cancelled in the fall. See if you can move your activity online (e.g., via Zoom) or pursue your passion in an alternate way. You may want to explain extracurricular activity changes that were out-of-your-control in your college applications.
  • Online classes – Many classes have moved online. It is likely that in some areas of the country, high school and/or college classes will be online or hybrid (i.e., partially online and partially in-person) in the Fall.
  • Grading – Many schools are switching from letter or numerical grades to Pass/Fail or Credit/No-credit grades. When you have a choice, consider how this will impact you (e.g., college or grad school admissions or merit aid).
  • Finances – Families may have fewer resources available for college funding because of the loss of job or an illness/death in family. Appeal your financial aid package, if your family’s financial situation changes significantly.

I am working with high school sophomores and juniors on college selection and applications remotely through Skype. Contact me at to schedule an appointment.