What Your Guidance Counselor Won’t Tell You

Valedictorians are denied admission by elite institutions frequently.  According to 2009-2010 NCES data, there are more than 23,000 high schools in the U.S. and each one has a valedictorian. Further, according to the U.S. Dept. of Education, more than 35% of graduating seniors have an A average. There are a LOT of well-qualified applicants to Ivy League institutions and other elite colleges that don’t get in!  In-depth and unique extra-curricular involvement, excellent SAT/ACT scores, demonstrated leadership and awards for your talents may not be enough to secure a spot at a top-tier institution. These schools also look for passionate students who are already very accomplished in research, the arts, sports, academics, or philanthropic endeavors.

It’s almost always better to apply early. College admission offices want to put together their class as efficiently as possible. For some colleges, that means they’ll fill more than half of their freshman class with early action and early decision applicants.  Applying regular decision when there are fewer spots can mean your file is suddenly much less appealing, even if you are a competitive applicant to begin with. Colleges with rolling admission also tend to favor early applicants for the same reasons. While your high school guidance office may feel overwhelmed with requests to gather your information earlier in the school year, it’s almost always a good idea not to wait to apply.

You can still secure merit aid money even if you aren’t a perfect student. The trade-off is that it may be at a less-competitive institution. These colleges will want to raise their GPA and SAT/ACT profile with their entering class and your scores and GPA may help in that effort. You may also find it is easier to secure admission or scholarship at out-of-state institutions since they’ll be looking to increase geographic diversity a

You’re better off visiting a college when students are on campus. Though it’s convenient to visit a college during a holiday or summer break, those breaks may also coincide with the college’s not having students around. That may be fine for an initial visit, but if you want to attend the school, you should take time away from your high school classes to make visiting colleges while they’re in session a priority. There’s no substitute for seeing a college campus while students are there! It’s easier to get a feel for your “fit” on campus when you can see the surrounding neighborhood, the students walking around, and the overall energy of campus. You’ll also find it’s easier to visualize yourself on a college’s campus when other students are there.

The “right” amount of colleges that you should apply to can be anywhere from 4 – 10. Some students apply early decision and find out before any other applications are due, but they should have a list of other schools that interest them. As you move through your senior year, your preferences and the type of colleges that fit your needs may shift. Having an equally divided split of safety, stretch, and reasonable schools will give you plenty of options to consider as the acceptances and aid packages roll in.

Your GPA may be recalculated, and as a result, your 9th grade performance matters just as much as your performance in 11th grade.  It’s important to note that colleges often need a way to compare GPAs across different high schools. So, they create a level playing field by pulling out your core academic coursework from your transcript and recalculating your GPA. Take every year seriously; have a strong start and continue that trend throughout high school.


Your Senior Survey & Letter of Recommendation

Your high school counselor has a vested interest in assisting you during the college application process. One of the ways they support you is by writing a letter of recommendation about you to colleges. So how do they know what to write?

Apart from meeting with you, guidance counselors use your responses to the “ Senior Survey” to understand your goals and strengths, and will pass their insights on to the colleges that are considering your application. An Assistant Director of Admission at Chapman University says “High school counselors are our partners. They provide valuable information about our applicants and we trust them to be honest and forthright with us. Their letter is often the most important letter we read in a file.”

Just like your high school counselor provides accurate information to college admissions offices, you should be honest and thoughtful in your responses. Stay positive, even when asked about what you did not like, or what your weaknesses are. If you’ve faced challenges, talk about them! You can downplay issues to an extent, but not to the point that you’re glossing over something serious.

You should also know that your high school counselor is quite busy. It’s not uncommon for a counselor to use quotes from your answers to the survey verbatim when writing your recommendation letter. That is why it’s important to make this a priority and put forth the effort to provide excellent responses.

Your school may have different questions, but this gives you an outline for answers. Put effort and thought into answering them!

1. What are your plans for next year? Be specific! Name colleges you are interested in, potential majors, as well as possible graduate school and career ideas.

2. Which courses at our school have you enjoyed the most and why? 2 – 3 short strong sentences.

3. Which courses at this school have you enjoyed the least and why? 1 sentence and do not bash the teacher, nicely explain why.

4. Is your high school record an accurate measure of your ability and potential? If not, why not? This takes introspection and is worth thinking through and answering intelligently.

5. Have you participated in any summer programs, work or study opportunities that have been of significant importance to you? Please describe. 3 – 5 sentences.

6. What do you believe are your greatest strengths and your greatest weaknesses? Explain. Please list one small minor weakness and do not go into a lot detail. If you can show how you are addressing it, even better.

7. List 5 adjectives that describe you and explain. You can use the personality profile that we did to find these adjectives.

8. What do you plan to study in college and why? (If you haven’t decided on a particular major or concentration, what academic area(s) interest you?)

9. What is your favorite thing to do that you don’t think I know about?

10. What has been your most memorable positive experience at this school? Or what accomplishment are you most proud of and why? Please describe.

11. List all extracurricular activities, including sports, clubs and community organizations. Include years of participation. Please give them a copy of the activities sheet or resume if you have it done.

12. Is there anything else you think is important for us to know as we develop your letter of recommendation? Here you can thank them for their support, or tell them how you have matured this year.

Feel free to send me this document to me, or show it to your parents for a quality assurance before you submit it to your high school guidance counselor.

How to Fill out the Parent Brag Sheet

The parent’s brag sheet is one item guidance counselors use to write college recommendations for your student. The time and effort that you put into this document reaps important benefits in the college process. Nobody knows your student like you do, and now you have the opportunity to highlight their best qualities.

At many public high schools, the student to counselor ratio can be extremely high (in excess of 500:1). Though you may find some of the questions on the Brag Sheet to be elementary, counselors often don’t have the time, resources or opportunity to get to know your student at a more personal level. Further, college admission counselors know that sometimes the most valuable insights into a student’s life come straight from the student’s high school counselor. That’s why filling out this survey accurately and with detailed information is so important!

The Brag Sheet is a document your student’s counselor will use to provide details about their life inside and outside of the classroom. They need and want useful anecdotes about your student. They are trying to paint a picture for an admission counselor; provide them with a vibrant color palette!  Be truthful, but also stay on the positive side. Remember, your counselor is looking for direct quotes to insert into a recommendation letter. Give them some dynamic options!

What are some common Brag Sheet questions?

How has your student grown and matured over the last four years? Is your student on an “upward trend” in their grades while adding more rigor to their schedule? Are they doing an internship over the summer? Do they have a leadership position in a club which has taught them important life lessons? Can your student now advocate for themselves in the classroom when he/she had trouble with it before? Is he/she taking advantage of extra academic opportunities? These are all great ways to demonstrate commitment to academics and maturing throughout high school. Think outside the classroom as well. Is your student taking on more responsibility at home? Is he/she taking care of grandparents or younger siblings? Maturity can also be focused on personal growth. Is your student overcoming social or emotional challenges? Are they “breaking out of their shell?” A compelling “shift” in a student is definitely something to mention and explain.

What are your student’s greatest accomplishments over his/her years of high school?  Think about defining moments for your student. Was there any particular achievement inside or outside of the classroom you’d want to highlight? Provide some detail and background. It isn’t just that your student was “elected to a position in student government”, it’s that they “ran a positive and progressive campaign during a busy junior year.” Remember, don’t limit yourself to in-school activities. Maybe your student took care of sick family members or had to deal with a tough situation outside of school? Accomplishments don’t have to be academic or focus on awards, it can be overcoming “real life” challenges as well.

What words best describe your child? Time to break out your thesaurus, or look back at the personality profile that I did! Seriously, put some effort into this question. Your student is dynamic, so choose words that are as well. When counselors fill out Common App forms and other documentation for students, they are usually asked to describe your student in a few words to the admission committee. Give them great options! “Smart” can be “intelligent”, “funny” can be “witty” or “humorous”, and “outgoing” can be “courageous.” You may also be asked to demonstrate why you’re describing your student in this way. Make sure to have some specific examples ready!

Did you child face any challenges or are there circumstances that may have affected their educational journey? Life takes all kinds of twists and turns. If you have special circumstances that you wish your student’s counselor – and in turn colleges – to be aware of, this is the place to discuss them. Anything from serious family crisis (the loss of a loved one, job or home) to educational challenges (IEPs, disabilities, accommodations) would fall into this category. Even “smaller” experiences like the move to a new school or city can be addressed here. Contextualize these experiences for your student’s counselor and show how they have affected your student’s life. However, there is no need to overstate something for the sake of answering a question. If your student hasn’t faced any serious challenges, don’t answer this question.

Anything else you’d like to share?  Use this space as an opportunity to share the side of your child that others might glance past. How they might be an asset to a college through their volunteerism or team participation. Maybe there’s something special about your child that others don’t regularly see. Devotion to family, patience with others, being humble about accomplishments – these are all sub-surface aspects of your student that are definitely worth mentioning.

Ultimately, you have important insights into who your child really is and what makes them wonderful. Make sure that your student’s counselor, and potential admission counselors, have an intriguing picture.

Action Items By May 1

Congratulations on all of your success!!

Make sure you take the next steps on or before May 1:

  1. Put down a deposit at the college or university that you will be attending, and if they need a second deposit for housing, send that in as soon as possible.
  2. Sign up for, and go to the college’s orientation. It is a wonderful opportunity to make new friends, get comfortable with the campus, and learn how to navigate your new environment.
  3. Some colleges offer special trips or on-campus activities, in addition to orientation, as bonding experiences. Take advantage of those if you can.
  4. Fill out your roommate forms honestly. If you do not, people won’t know your preferences, and the school cannot effectively pair you. It is okay to like to go to bed early, or dislike rap music. Advocate for yourself so you are happy with your roommate, it will make a big difference in your freshman year.
  5. Let your guidance office know which college you have chosen, and make sure they send your ending transcript to them.
  6. Notify the schools that you will not attend right away, so that they can offer places to students on their waiting list.
  7. Do not let senioritis affect your acceptances. If your grades drop significantly colleges can rescind their offers. Enjoy the last month, but stay focused. Summer is almost here.
  8. Check your e-mail regularly as college may continue to send you information. Submit information before the deadlines.

Best Wishes!!!

6 Important Facts about the College Process

What do Colleges Want to See?

The rigor of your schedule and your grades are the most important factors during the review. Colleges take into account what was available to you, how much you challenged yourself by taking challenging courses like AP, honors and IB coursework, and your performance in your curriculum. Colleges want to see the best grades in the hardest classes you can manage. For the other factors please see http://annapoliscollegeconsulting.com/5-important-elements-colleges-look-for/.

Is an A Grade in a regular class better than a B in an Honors/AP/IB class?

Colleges want confirmation that you’ve challenged yourself. They don’t reward unmotivated or lazy students. Take the harder class and do your best, even if your best is a B. But make use of the resources around you. Stay after school for extra help, find a tutor, use free online study guides, form study groups, talk with your college counseling office – whatever you can do to go for the A! See http://annapoliscollegeconsulting.com/how-many-aps-to-take-next-year/ .

Do Colleges want Well-Rounded Students?

Most colleges (especially highly selective ones) are not looking for well-rounded students anymore, they’re looking for well-angled ones. Colleges are looking for a well-rounded class, full of unique, especially talented people. Show admissions counselors what you enjoy, have tried, and the impact you have made. Prove that you have depth and consistency in your activities. Don’t join a new group senior year just to pad your resume and “look good” for college. http://annapoliscollegeconsulting.com/summer-activities-that-give-you-an-edge/ and http://annapoliscollegeconsulting.com/summer-activities-that-give-you-an-edge-2/

Which Standardized Test do Colleges Prefer, the SAT or the ACT?

Colleges don’t care whether you take the SAT or the ACT. Even Ivy League schools don’t have a preference. As of 2012, the ACT was more popular than the SAT for the first time in history. I will help you find the standardized test that suits you best, then take practice tests and study for it. Don’t waste precious time wavering between the SAT and ACT tests. If you take a standardized test multiple times over multiple sittings, be aware that many schools will super-score the SAT, fewer super-score the ACT. See http://annapoliscollegeconsulting.com/preparation-for-standardized-tests/ and  http://annapoliscollegeconsulting.com/overcoming-test-anxiety/.

How Many Colleges Should I Apply To?

During our educational consulting sessions we will build a solid college list. Research and visit as many campuses as you can. Every school on your list should be one that you want to attend: fitting your academic, financial, professional and social needs. Most of my students apply to an average of six to eight schools. Your list should include a range of selectivity: 2 – 3 solid schools to which you will most likely be offered admission, 2 – 3 schools that are target schools, and 2 – 3 schools that are a reach for you. Do yourself and your family a favor; don’t get hung up on prestige or a name. Focus on fit and finding the place that will allow for college success. See http://annapoliscollegeconsulting.com/finding-a-college-that-you-love/.

Will colleges check my social media accounts?

More and more colleges are looking for you online and checking Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Clean up your social media accounts – especially pictures! No profanity, evidence of drugs or alcohol, cyber-bullying, or unsavory links. Make sure that there isn’t anything on your social networks that is embarrassing. Check all of your accounts! See http://annapoliscollegeconsulting.com/colleges-watch-your-social-media/ .

girl blogging on computer

Colleges Check Your Social Media

What does that mean to you?

Carolynn Crabtree, President of Cornerstone Reputation shares these statistics:

  • 67% of admissions officers surveyed searched for applicants on Facebook during the 2014­ – 2015 admissions season
  • 40% found content about the applicant that left a negative impression
  • 53% found content about the applicant left a positive impression
  • 81% of schools surveyed have no formal policy on searching for applicants on social media
  • 22% of admissions officers believe that an applicant could gain an advantage in the admissions process by building a positive online presence

Be careful what you post and check if your social media accounts are open to the public.

Are you tagged on friends’ posts?

Are you drinking? You are underage.

What are you posting and reposting on Twitter?

Are you “following” a college’s social media accounts? If so, your account is open and easy for colleges to access.

Aggressive language and unpleasant comments reflect badly on you. Avoid posting with this tone.

Use social media to your advantage during the college application process.

Admission officers are impressed when they see your talents on social media. You could showcase an article, performance, or award, or show your involvement through community service or as part of a team.  Some colleges allow you to send links with your work directly to them. Whether you blog, are a photographer, play an instrument or sing, make sure the content is high quality. See the article on Music and Art Supplements for more information.

These days many colleges assess your interest in them before deciding whether to admit you. See my article Demonstrate Interest for details.

Athletes are checked most often to discern their character and lifestyle.

Most coaches are already online looking at profiles and accounts that you’ve sent to them.

Coaches want to know about your personality and if you will be a good addition to their team socially, as well as athletically.

You can make your social media accounts work to your advantage. Think before you post or tweet! Promote yourself. Show your best characteristics. Connect with colleges that you like on social media to show your interest.



How to Make the Best Decision about Which College to Attend

Plan a visit, if you can’t decide which college to go to after being accepted. Tour your student’s top options before May 1, when acceptance deposits are due. Have them sit in on a class, see if they can stay with students in a dorm, sample the dining hall cuisine, and schedule a meeting with the office of admissions and financial aid. Your student will hopefully be spending the next four years of his or her life at that school. Take the time to really assess which is the best fit for them.

Tell your kids the truth about your finances. Decide how much money you can afford to spend for college. Be honest if it will be difficult to allow your kid to attend the most expensive college, because your long term financial stability is important. Weigh the schools, how much you’ll contribute, how much in loans your kid should take out (though I am against loans), what the schools’ graduation rates are, if they are offering work-study money, etc. Once you have all the offers, evaluate your family’s circumstances, do you have another child that will be in college soon? Are there any major expenses that you have not factored in? Does your student want to go to graduate school, and therefore a cheaper undergraduate degree would be fine?

Do the colleges accept your students’ AP and IB courses for college credit? Save tuition by choosing a school that accepts your kid’s college credits. Many of my students get a year’s worth of college credit at the outset. This can obviously save you a year of college tuition and get them out into the working world earlier.

Look at your awards carefully. When you have received your scholarship and financial award letters from your colleges, take the time to look at the school’s net price to you. That is Cost of Attendance: tuition, room, board, fees, books, etc. — minus grants, loans, work-study, and scholarships. Separate any loans that the family would have to pay back and add that into your total cost.

Some colleges say: “renewable.” Some financial and merit aid is meant as a one-time enticement for entering freshman, while other aid is for all four years — but it might be contingent upon your kid’s GPA. Make sure you read the letter very carefully and know the conditions to properly evaluate your choices. If you have any questions call the school’s financial aid office to get the answers. Is it based on your student’s GPA? If your kid earns those grades, is it certain the money will be there each year? If your student is on an athletic scholarship what are the rules for keeping it?

If you accept student loans use the Federal Loans firstFederal loans generally have lower interest rates than private loans, no hidden fees, and better repayment terms. Stafford Loans — direct loans from the government — have the best current interest rate. They are limited to $5,500 for freshmen, $6,500 for sophomores and $7,500 for juniors and seniors.

Never use your retirement savings. If you do, you will be taxed on that money and it will reduce your child’s financial aid eligibility the next year. You need to keep your money in your retirement accounts and even add to them yearly to help reduce your total income.

You can negotiate your offer. As long as you have a good reason, you can ask the college’s financial aid department to give you more money. Sometimes you can mention a better offer from a competing college, or a family circumstance which changes your ability to pay. Definitely call if there is a divorce or a lost job. Have all your financial information ready when you make the call. Be polite and clear, not whiny or pushy. Some financial aid officer make $40,000 a year, so be careful in how you describe your circumstances.

Honors Programs Have Real Benefits

Many colleges and universities throughout the U.S have Honors Colleges or Honors Programs that are worth investigating. Such programs offer advantages to students that are in the top tier of the college’s applicants. Honors programs may have the best professors, smaller classes, early registration, better housing, more school events, and unique classes, and a cohort of like-minded students, all at the same cost of the school’s normal tuition. Actually numerous colleges give significant merit aid to attract these accomplished students to the school and program.

Being one of the top students at a college can be very beneficial not only financially, but also academically and personally, as more opportunities are available to them for field trips, internships, study abroad, research with professors, and mentorships. In many cases it is worth investigating what is offered, and what the criteria is for admission into these selective programs.

In order to be eligible for these advantages, one needs strong grades and test scores. Some schools require a separate and early application to qualify, but many do not. Since these programs are limited in size it is advantageous to apply early.

For instance University of Maryland has an honors college and offers multiple honors programs such as Honors Humanities, Entrepreneurship & Innovation, Living-Learning Programs, University Honors, Gemstone, ACES – Cybersecurity, Design Cultures & Creativity, Integrated Life Sciences, and Departmental & College Honors Programs.   (Learn more from the below links). Beyond the academic perks, being a part of a more specialized program makes this very large university feel a bit smaller. Be aware that it does require an early application for consideration.

George Washington University has an Honors Program, but has other alternatives also. They offered one of my students $80,000 in merit scholarship aid as well as the opportunity to participate in a Women’s Leadership Program in which students attend symposiums, special classes, and participate in events during which they meet prominent women in different careers.

As you tour, ask colleges if these programs are available, and about the benefits and criteria for their students. Some schools also schedule Honors College information sessions that students can attend during a campus visit.

You can find valuable information about Public Honors Colleges at public university honors, but also look at private college programs through Google.



Salisbury University

Towson University

University of Maryland Baltimore College

University of Maryland


Washington, D.C.

American University

Catholic University

Georgetown University

George Washington University



Christopher Newport University

College of William and Mary

George Mason University

James Madison University

University of Virginia

Virginia Commonwealth University

Virginia Tech



Tune in for My Webinar on Merit Aid

You can now listen to the webinar in the video section of this website.

How to Maximize Your Chances for Merit Aid

Presented by Applerouth Tutoring Services and Annapolis College Consulting

Merit aid can often create game-changing outcomes for students applying to college; yet many families are unsure of how to build merit scholarships into their overall college planning process. Applerouth Tutoring Services invites you to join Cori Dykman, of Annapolis College Consulting, for a free expert webinar that will help families understand the often overlooked and sometimes overwhelming process of applying for merit scholarships. Based on Cori’s first-hand experience helping students afford the colleges of their dreams, this presentation will cover:

  • The basics: what is merit aid, where is it offered and in what amounts?
  • The strategy: a discussion of steps students can take to stand out in the               admissions process and enhance their merit aid potential.
  • The big picture: an understanding of the process and how to approach it.

The optimal merit aid search starts early. High school families in all grades are welcome, especially 9th through 11th grade families.

Wednesday, November 11th at 7:00pm

About the Speaker: Cori Dykman

Cori Dykman is an educational consultant who relates exceptionally well to teens and understands adolescent and parental issues. Her warm, tailored approach seems to consistently make the difference for the students that she partners with. During last year’s admissions cycle, her students received one million dollars in merit aid. Cori is a professional member of IECA (Independent Educational Consultants Association) where she stays updated on the constantly changing and nuanced college process.

www.annapoliscollegeconsulting.com  annapoliscollegeconsulting@gmail.com                                                                                          www.applerouth.com


How Many AP’s to Take Next Year?

In today’s competitive college atmosphere many families struggle with how many AP classes are right for their students. Everyone is different, and it is worth assessing who the student is before you decide. Below is an article by a colleague which discusses the issues well.

Consider balance and interests when selecting APs in high school

Published by the Los Altos Town Crier

Written by Hollis Bischoff

…When planning which AP classes to take during the high school years, take the following into consideration.

  • Where do your interests lie? Taking AP classes in relevant areas is one way of showing college readiness and demonstrated interest in your potential major. For example, if interests lie in nursing or engineering, taking AP classes in Physics and Calculus are table stakes for admission. If the intended major is in history or politics, then AP classes in European World History, U.S. History or Government are germane. If business and finance are in the mix, then AP Economics and Calculus make sense.
  • What is offered at the high school? Colleges want to know students have taken advantage of everything a high school offers both academically and socially, hence the focus on APs and extracurriculars. So if a high school offers only three AP classes, then taking one or two is full advantage. However, in our local high schools, where the AP offerings number more than 20, students taking only one or two would not be considered as competitive.
  • What is the college looking for? Each college or university can determine what it is looking for in engaged, academically challenged students. Even less competitive colleges would like to see one to three AP courses as a way of demonstrating college readiness. The more competitive universities are looking for significant engagement in AP classes. UCLA, for example, cites that nearly 60 percent of its admitted students have 10-plus AP and Honors courses, with five or more being AP.

Elite schools like Pomona, Northwestern and Boston College, among others, have been very specific in their AP requirements. (These are not documented anywhere, but they were discovered during meetings with college admissions directors.) They are looking for, at minimum, AP Calculus and 1 AP lab science (either Chemistry, Physics and/or Biology). For these colleges, AP Environmental Science and AP Statistics are not considered academically challenging enough. So the more elite the school, the more challenging and the higher number of AP classes.

  • What about student academic/life balance? Northwestern orientation for admitted students often opens with the administration apologizing for ruining its students’ high school experience with the high expectations for AP classes and extraordinary extracurriculars, leaving little time to enjoy high school.

But high school is not one long college admissions application. It is also a time to discover about oneself academically, socially, physically and spiritually. Not all students can handle three or four AP classes at one time, while others thrive at being challenged. It is not just about the number of AP classes taken, it is also about the quality of the learning and grade-point average earned.

There is the age-old question – Is it better to take the AP and get a B or take the prep class and get an A? Stanford University admissions reps will tell you the AP with the A, and that is at least partially true. For the elite schools, A’s in AP classes are de rigueur; for the selective schools, B’s in APs are better than no AP classes. Everyone agrees, however, that C’s in AP classes are not in the best interest of the student. So each student must determine his or her own work/life balance…