How Teachers Make a Case for Their Students

In "The Art of the College Recommendation Letter" in Atlantic Online, teacher Andrew Simmons pens a revealing look at how teachers make a case for their students. It's a wonderful message for students and parents and a model for teachers. One of the many terrific takeaways: "...I am uncovering and illuminating what has not been made clear. I am not, like a good news reporter, free from bias. I think my students deserve careful consideration. But I have a responsibility to emphasize that without resorting to hyperbole. Students get themselves into college, but when teachers tell their stories well, we can give admissions officers a more enlightened perspective." 

14 Wildly Untrue Things TV and Movies Tell You About College


The Huffington Post takes a look at lies Gossip Girl, Pitch Perfect and Boy Meets World told you about college. We'd like to add a #15 -- "There are only 8 colleges in the United States." Because, as they say in #1 here, everybody goes to an Ivy League school -- or Stanford, of course. For the other lies, read 14 Wildly Untrue Things TV And Movies Tell You About CollegeTrue confession: Our favorites lies were the ones they told in Legally Blonde. What? Like it's hard to get into Harvard?!?

How to Mind your Manners while Applying to College

Lisa Endlich Heffernan of the excellent blog Grown and Flown has some great advice for students -- and parents -- about best behavior and student etiquette so the college application process carries you where you want to go. 

The college process is a long campaign -- it can be exhausting, distracting and anxiety-producing. So good manners should have a place of prominence.  But it is all too easy for an overwrought, otherwise distracted teen to forget what they have been taught.   As a parent I was often distracted by the details of the process, too, and failed in my job of reminding my sons to mind their manners along the way.  So here are a few reminders, I wish I had had.


College Love

John Carpenter has advice for the college lovelorn in this month's guest blog.

Don’t do it.  Don’t fall in love.

It’s the month of love, and you’d have to be blind or an old grump not to see the messages everywhere, brandished in hot pink letters and decorated with cupids and hearts.  I particularly like those little candy hearts that have messages stamped on them such as BE MINE, FOREVER YOURS, and YOU’RE A CUTEY. And of course, because just about everything in this world makes me think of college admissions, February is a month that is also very much connected to what juniors and seniors are going through in that regard. 

For seniors, this short month feels like the longest month, and for juniors, February means watching what seniors are going through while beginning to get serious about their own college search. For both groups, the messages of love are everywhere:  view books, websites, college fairs.  Pick me!  Apply here!  Make us your first choice!  And my message to you:DON’T DO IT. 

Don’t fall in love. 

With a college. 

Not quite yet. 

Best Advice for College Visits

The rite of passage that is the college visit is one of the most important influences in determining where students will eventually apply. Walking across a campus, grabbing a cup of coffee in the student union, buying a sweatshirt at the bookstore… For students, these experiences offer the chance to try on a college and see if it fits and, for parents, these trips can be an important step in the letting- go process. At this point in the year, many juniors may be planning spring visits to campuses and seniors may soon be thinking about return visits as they make decisions. So this month, we asked our high school counselors: "What is your best advice for college visits?" Here's to road trips!

Carolyn W. Clark
Director of College Advising
The Brearley School
New York, New York

College visits start with dreams of ivy-covered walls but often end in total confusion about what you saw and what you thought.   Yet there is no better way to learn about a school than to visit—if you do it right. 

Juniors: Sign up for College Rep Visits at Your High School

Regional representatives from the admission staff of colleges visit high schools throughout the country each year to meet with interested students, both in the spring and fall. These meetings usually take place in small groups for 30 to 45 minutes, to answer questions and provide the latest information about their colleges and admission policies.

Check your high school’s policy about attendance at these sessions. Most schools allow juniors time off to attend, beginning in the second semester. But there may be different requirements. For example, juniors may be allowed to attend only if the session occurs during a free period. Your first responsibility is to your academic work. Check with your counseling department for the college visit schedule.

Common App will feature same essay prompts for 2014-15!

The Common Application announced today that it will retain the same essay prompts for 2014-15! That's good news for students. Typically students have had to wait until August to know what the prompts will be. This way students can get an earlier start. That said, it's too soon for juniors to be working on the essay -- but not too soon to think about them. Take a look at the list now then tuck it away until June or July.

Here's the statement in full -- including the list of essay prompts - from Scott Anderson, Senior Director for Policy for the Common Application:



Essay Prompts Successfully Support Holistic Selection Process

 ARLINGTON, VA – FEBRUARY 11, 2014 - After a positive response from Common Application member colleges and school counselors, The Common Application will retain the current set of first-year essay prompts for 2014-15, without any edits or additions. The essay length will continue to be capped at 650 words.


Seniors: Treat your financial aid officer well...

Right now and in the coming months, you and your family will have a lot of questions about financial aid. It's important to understand how financial aid offices work so that you can foster the best relationship with their representatives.

Financial aid offices are not set up like admission offices. They are often less well staffed, and they have the college’s existing student body to care for, as well as applicants and their families. So financial aid officers walk many tightropes simultaneously. They are charged with meeting the demonstrated need of each family in a way that is consistent with their college's guidelines. Typically they have an institutional aid budget they must stay within, and the pressures related to this can be significant. They must also disburse federal and state funds in accordance with law so must keep up with an ever- changing array of rules and regulations. What's more, they are audited annually, and the stakes are high— if they have not done their jobs well and kept excellent records, their college can lose a great deal of money that will then not be available for students who need aid.

What does this mean for you? You cannot ask a financial aid officer to hold your hand. You need to do as much as you can to master the process, and call him or her with specific and informed questions. That is how you will obtain the best guidance.

Deadlines: Parents, it's your turn!

Hello, second semester, senior year. After the last few months discussing college applications, the focus now shifts to financial aid applications.

Parents often ask whether these applications are worth the time and trouble. My short answer:  Yes. These applications offer the possibility of funding a college education -- grants, loans, and scholarships. (A number of colleges use the FAFSA and CSS College Profile along with the student’s file to determine merit awards or scholarships.)

As Michelle Obama recently said to northern Virginia high school students and their parents, “Don’t leave money on the table.”

The applications

FAFSA—Every college, from a local community college to a very selective private college, requires the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA determines a student’s eligibility for any federal aid, whether grants, subsidized loans, or work-study funds. The application is free; the 2014-15 school year version became available January 1, 2014.

Juniors: Athletes and Artists Take Note -- Your Application Process Starts Earlier!

For students with talent and interest in athletics or the arts, applying to college requires extra preparation and planning. Your timing will be significantly earlier. Athletes will need to plan well in advance for meetings with college coaches, official visits and the recruitment process. Students with talent in the arts will need to plan for the additional requirements of auditions, portfolio review, and interviews that can necessitate significant additional preparation and attention to scheduling and deadlines.

Athletics: If you hope to play Division I or II sports in college, register with the NCAA Eligibility Center by the end of the year. And if you have not already, download the Guide for the College-Bound Student Athlete at

Arts: If you plan to study one of the arts in college, submission of supplementary materials demonstrating your talent requires thought and planning. You should be working on completing any audition tapes, art portfolios, theatre audition pieces or other special materials that may be required for admission to the programs you are considering.