Stanford University

Anna Takahashi, Eastside College Preparatory School

Located just north of the affluent town that is home to Stanford University, East Palo Alto has had a history of crime and violence and Silicon Valley's boom economy has largely bypassed the community and the families of the Latino, African American and Pacific Islander students who reside there. Today, the dropout rate for students from East Palo Alto is 65%. 

In 1991, a Stanford student started an after-school basketball program for East Palo Alto kids in grades 4 through 8, linking participation with attendance at a daily study hall. But he soon realized it wasn't enough for these students, who, after eighth grade, would be bused 20 miles away to the nearest high school.  So in 1996 that Stanford student, Chris Bischof, founded Eastside College Preparatory School, private school with an intensive, college-prep curriculum.

With an initial class of eight students, at one point, Bischof, who is today Eastside's principal, was using park benches in a muddy lot as a classroom. Today, more than 300 students enrolled in grades 6 through 12 attend school on a full built-out campus that includes boarding facilities for more than 100 students.

Rejection: "And of course none of it matters very much at all..."

A faithful reader reminded us "It's that time of year again..." and asked us to re-post Joan Didion's essay on being denied admission at Stanford University. So to remind us all there is life after decision season, here you go...


"And of course none of it matters very much at all, none of these early successes, early failures. I wonder if we had better not find some way to let our children know this..."

Maureen McRae Goldberg of Occidental College Answers 8 Questions

February is Financial Aid Awareness month. As students and families research financial aid, fill out the FAFSA, and assess their options this month, we asked Occidental College's Director of Financial Aid Maureen McRae Goldberg "5 Questions." And she graciously answered eight for us.

Occidental College is a private liberal arts school located in the oak and eucalyptus covered hills of Los Angeles' Eagle Rock neighborhood. Designed by Rose Bowl architect Myron Hunt, the campus' stucco and red tile roofed Spanish Colonial architecture covers 120 acres. No surprise then that Occidental has been the setting for more than 80 movies and television shows -- from the Marx Brothers' Horse Feathers to Star Trek III, as well as Glee, Parenthood and Arrested Development. It has also been a feature film stand-in for the real-life college campuses of Stanford and Princeton.

Fred Hargadon on College Admission and the Dodecahedron

Last week Fred Hargadon passed away. Hargadon worked in admissions at Swarthmore, Stanford and Princeton. In any room where college admissions people meet, there will be Fred Hargadon anecdotes. (We have several in our book!) He was a great communicator, with a dead aim for the college application process, conveyed with compassion and a wry sense of humor.  His acceptance letters from Princeton famously began with the single word "YES!," a phrase now carved in stone in front of Princeton's Hargadon Hall, the dormitory named in his honor.

Joyce Smith, executive director of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, recently shared a letter Hargadon wrote to prospective students and we'd like to share it with you. You have to love a letter that citesThe Phantom Tollbooth, Harry Potter's sorting hat, SAT scores and becoming bilingual. 

Here's one of our favorite pieces of advice:

Madeline Levine on Courageous Parenting

Don't miss the wonderful post from psychologist Madeline Levine on the Challenge Success blog: Six Things That Matter More Than Perfect Grades. One of the many gems in this piece: #4 Interests/Passions -- I’ve had moms call me worried that their four-year-old child doesn’t have a “passion.” Life is their passion. Depending on temperament, for many kids, interest is enough... Real interests and passions grow out of talent, time and practice. They make life rich. Read the whole thing here.


Madeline Levine is a psychologist with over 25 years of experience as a clinician, consultant, and educator, and author of the New York Times best-selling book, The Price of Privilege.

Challenge Success, began life as the highly successful SOS (Stressed-Out Students) Project at Stanford University. Today, the research-based organization develops curriculum, conferences and other programs for parents, schools, and kids looking for a healthier and more effective path to success in the 21st century.

Why Starting Your College Essay May Feel Like the Death Drop in Gymnastics

First, let me tell you what you already know: start the essay early. (Like, now.) Revise it often. Be open to topics and possibilities. Ask people you trust (parents, teachers, friends) for feedback.

I don’t have to tell you what’s at stake, because you already know that too. And you probably also know that starting what Anne Lamott calls the “#$%*& first draft” is hard too, and so is revising that @#$&* first draft. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it; it means try not to listen to the Greek chorus of prohibition and foreboding in your head. You know, the one that’s intoning “This is a stupid idea. Nobody cares. I can’t come up with anything except clichés. Nothing interesting ever happened to me. Thousands of people have already written about this topic.”

Thousands of people probably have written about this topic, and thousands more probably will. There are no new stories under the sun, but there are new ways of telling them. Let me tell you something else: there’s no “right” topic. You don’t have to write about leadership or persistence or overcoming adversity, unless you want to.  Write what you know, no matter how humble or unspectacular-seeming. You may find in so doing that the qualities you’re seeking to communicate in the essay (persistence, creativity, talent, passion, humor, kindness, curiosity) will announce themselves without fanfare between the lines.

Palo Alto High School's Sandra Cernobori is our Counselor of the Month


College Advisor Sandra Cernobori was sitting at her desk in the College and Career Center of Palo Alto High School in Palo Alto, California, when a parent came in to talk to one of her colleagues. She was not a parent at the school, but had some questions about college admission. A few minutes into the conversation, the visitor said to Cernobori’s fellow advisor, “Let me go get my son, I want him to hear this.” Whereupon she brought into the office her 18-month-old child. Yes, you read that correctly, her 18-month-old child.

Welcome to the world of college advising in the heart of Silicon Valley where the college learning curve -- and the pressure -- starts early for some.  Founded in 1894, Palo Alto High School, known as Paly, is nationally known for its academically rigorous environment. Its campus, which serves more than 1900 students, sits across the street from Stanford University. “Our students are often from families that are highly educated or highly value education, so expectations are high,” says Cernobori. “But we also have families where the parents have not attended four-year colleges.”

Ralph Figueroa on the New Essay Prompts: Room for Every Story

Ralph Figueroa is Dean of College Guidance at New Mexico’s Albuquerque Academy. Figueroa was one of 15 counselors who served on the Outreach Advisory Committee for the Common Application, advising the organization about the role that writing plays in an holistic selection process.

He joins us here today to talk about the new essay prompts, the process that resulted in the changes and the issues the committee grappled with to arrive at the new guidelines for students.


 What impact do you foresee the changes in the writing prompts having?


I hope that these changes will make students, families, and teachers think about these essays and talk about them in a new way. Change can be scary, but I am confident that when they read the prompts and the guidelines, they will realize that we have given them real freedom to find the best way to convey information about themselves that will give colleges a better idea of who they really are --beyond the numbers of the admission process.


What impact, if any, do you foresee for students?


Jon Boeckenstedt, DePaul University, Answers Five Questions

Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for Enrollment Management at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois, joins us this month to answer five questions about the largest Roman Catholic university in the country.  

Founded in 1898, with just 70 students, today DePaul has almost 16,500 undergraduates, and is also the largest private university in the state of Illinois. The school has five campuses throughout the Chicago area, with the two main campuses located on 36 acres on Chicago's north side in the Lincoln Park neighborhood and in the downtown Loop.

Juniors: Applying as a Student Athlete

For students with talent and interest in athletics, applying to college requires extra preparation and an earlier timetable. Here are some areas to pay attention to as you research schools:

*             The differences among the NCAA divisions, including eligibility requirements, availability of scholarships, and the influence of your athletic ability on an admission decision.

*             The nature of the different athletic conferences -- NESCAC, Ivy League, Pac-12, Western Athletic, Northeast Ten, etc.  The conference to which a school belongs has an impact on your time commitment, the level of competition and the availability of scholarships and financial aid.

*             The particulars of applying as a student athlete. At each school, deadlines, additional materials required, scholarships and the rules governing recruiting and academic eligibility can differ.


For more information on applying as an athlete, including questions to ask as you make unofficial visits and input from deans of admission such as Stanford's Rick Shaw and Associate Athletic Directors such as University of Iowa's Fred Mims, see  Chapter 18, "Students with Special Talents", in College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step.