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…

Successful College Outcomes with Grants

The escalating costs of colleges and the complex application process continue to frustrate and intimidate many high school students and their families.  College costs continue to rise much faster than inflation and many families are concerned about the cost of having their child attend college.

I am often surprised by how much merit or grant money I am able to help my students qualify for. The key to getting a significant price break lies in understanding that schools are looking for students who will enhance their campus in some meaningful way.  For many colleges it is moving up in their US News & World Report rankings. For others it is having truly engaged students on campus.

Throw as wide a net as possible when looking for merit, grant or financial aid money. This is too important a decision to not spend the necessary resources and time on.  Don’t narrow down your options too quickly.  There are many schools out there that offer intimate learning environments, were they focus on teaching students not obtaining more research grants.  Find schools that are a good fit for your student. In general, I recommend my students apply to 2 reach schools, 3 likely schools, and 2 safety schools.

Currently 33% of students nationally transfer out of the college they started at within the first year.  This is due to families not taking the time and resources to find a good fit as well as not preparing students to know what they need to do to be successful.

So, what is your actual price going to be?  You can start by using the Net Price Calculator which is free and required to be on every college’s website.  You will need your latest tax return numbers before you start.  This is a helpful tool but not always accurate.  My success lies in knowing how to market each individual student so they receive merit or grants, and  financial aid where applicable.

There is no agreed-upon magic number that will universally qualify your family for financial or merit aid.  Each school takes many different factors into account and there is no universal standard of evaluation when they decide who to give grants to.  The College Board offers a general guideline for financial aid but they do not take into account various factors such as retirement assets and home equity amounts.  For families with a high need for financial aid guidance the College Board calculator is extremely helpful.  Having more than one child in school at once makes an impact on how much aid you will qualify for.  It is helpful to know your family’s EFC (Estimated Financial Contribution).  This gives a guideline as to what you should reasonably expect to pay out-of-pocket.  This will help you determine if the college fairly awarded aid to your family.

Never be afraid to ask for more merit or financial aid money, but it is important to know whom to ask, when to ask, and the financial range you should request.  There are many students and families I have coached who have received $20,000 or more than they were originally offered.

Standardized testing is one of the criteria many colleges consider when they offer money.  Not all students do well in this testing situation and more and more colleges are offering a test-optional application.  Forty percent of the top 100 liberal arts colleges allow this variance. provides a list of all colleges that do not require testing or offer the test-optional application. 

Save, save, save!  And don’t worry-your financial aid reward will hardly be affected.  For instance $10,000 saved will only reduce your aid by $564, at most.  Federal direct loans are your best choice if they are available to you.  The interest rate is currently 4.29% and they offer a safety net if you graduate and are not employed.  The “elite” colleges tend to offer the greatest financial aid packages for those who have a significant need.

There are few decisions as important and life-impacting as choosing the right college for your son and daughter.  I have years of experience of applying my knowledge and strategy to get the best outcome academically, financially, and socially for your son or daughter.

Overcoming Test Anxiety

Test anxiety can be a debilitating and stressful experience. As a student, you may be feeling frustrated by your inability to calm yourself down and put your test preparation to good use. As a parent, you might be feeling at a loss in your abilities to provide helpful advice. Never fear! Test anxiety is something that you can learn to control.

There are two main goals in overcoming test anxiety: Understanding it, and overcoming it.

What is text anxiety?

Anxiety itself is an abnormal sense of fear, nervousness, or apprehension about performing poorly. The difference is that test anxiety occurs only in a testing situation. It may result in difficulty tapping into skills like concentration, attention, and memory.

Anxiety is not grounded in reality; it’s in the head of the test-taker. At its core, anxiety is all about neuroscience. When you experience fear, cortisol knocks out your working memory, making all of that test preparation difficult to access. Your body is ready to spring into action, not to think. This isn’t really helpful if you aren’t trying to fight crime during the SATs or ACTs.

Author Carol Dweck notes an important step in overcoming anxiety as “learning to fulfill your potential.” If you realize that you can learn from the test, you will actually get smarter from taking it. So not only can you beat the test, you can take that information with you!

You have the power to overcome test anxiety!

There are many methods so choose one or multiple methods. Here are some of the most successful techniques:

  • Write It Out: The University of Chicago found that a 10-minute exercise before the exam helped to reduce internal anxieties, and thus, helped students perform better. The students would write about their personal worries, allowing them to “unload” before the actual test.
  • Visualization: Visualize positive and relaxing images and experiences. Envision yourself doing well on the test. Tell yourself daily over the next week that you will be relaxed during the test and that you will get the highest score that you have ever gotten. Practice in your mind, keep calm, and believe in yourself.
  • Get in the Zone: Take some time before your exam to pump yourself up. Maybe you have a song that puts you in a focused mindset. Listen to that song a couple of times before your exam; it will help you gain control of your adrenaline.
  • Treat it like a Game: Test or math anxiety is often immediate and strong. So strong in fact, that some students reported feeling physical pain. The thought of being evaluated and assessed in that way can be challenging to work past, but try treating it more like a game than a test! Pretend you’re trying to solve a puzzle better than a sibling or peer (that’s some good incentive to get it right).
  • Practice Self-Regulation: Spend some time learning how to soothe yourself and keep yourself calm. Begin practicing weeks before the test so you’ll have plenty of time to try out methods of anxiety reduction. Deep breathing can be very effective. Does it help to think of a happy place? To take a sip of water and a breath every time you begin to feel anxious?
  • Simulate the Testing Environment: Some students dislike being surrounded by others in the real test room, so they found it helpful to practice around others. Try taking practice tests in a public space like a library. 
  • Meditation Techniques: Take a few long deep breaths and borrow serenity. Slow breathing actually helps limbic release, so take a few slow breaths, paying attention to your heart rate and filling your lungs entirely with air before an exhale. Take an object such as a rock, a touchstone, which is not powerful until you yourself make it so. Though you might feel silly, using your breath and using your body’s feedback is a helpful way to gain control over your mind.

How parents can help

As a parent, you can be a positive guiding force in your child’s challenges with test anxiety. In addition to the above suggestions, parents can take steps to be coaches in the process. Students can pull others into their anxiety, which can be harmful to everyone. Coach your student to focus on him or herself rather than engaging with others that are anxious.

If all else fails, there are still options to help you or your child succeed. Consider another option of applying to some test optional schools. This helps reduce the anxiety that your score is all important.

You aren’t alone!

We are living in the age of anxiety, in which everyone is worrying about things like the future, with 31% of Americans suffering from some form of anxiety. In fact, test anxiety is actually fairly common. 61% of high school students reported test anxiety, as it tends to surface in high school years. Test anxiety is increasing in both the US and internationally. Interestingly, girls tend to have more anxiety than boys, leading to the discovery of a significant relation to the gender score gap. This form of anxiety is most prevalent in high-stakes tests and gifted students.

The best and final advice: you have more control over your mind and body than you might think, and you have the power to make positive, helpful choices. Let me know if you try any of these methods, and if they work for you.


How to Find Great Scholarships

With the financial burden of college tuition weighing upon students and parents alike, the need for scholarships has become more important. While it seems simple enough to find scholarships, the process of finding good matches can seem like a daunting task. What are some of your choices?

There’s a new app in our midst that can help you find scholarships and even give you tips on your essays. It was featured on Shark tank and is being used by over 100,000 students now. Scholly, developed by Drexel student Christopher Gray, aims to make the process of finding relevant scholarships quick and easy. Who wouldn’t want a little less stress in the college process?

Scholly uses basic information like GPA, state, and race, to find scholarships that are tailored specifically to you. This eliminates much of the time and energy exerted in finding potential scholarships, so you can spend that much-needed effort on the applications themselves. Another cool feature is that the app allows you to see successful application essays and will alert you to approaching deadlines, an extra helpful feature when you’re trying to keep track of different dates during application season. Scholly is priced at a low 99 cents, and can be purchased on Google Play or through the iTunes store.

Other options to consider are some very good, free websites that will narrow down your options in a similar manner. Some notable sites are Cappex, Fastweb, Schoolsoup, Zinch, and your school’s Naviance. Many will even send you email updates when a new, relevant scholarship opportunity is posted. You might feel more comfortable with these options if you are already familiar with how to navigate them.

As is the case with every feature of the college process, you’re never out of options! Even while you’re searching online, you can search for other scholarship opportunities in your community. Find out if a parent’s company offers scholarships, ask leaders in your religious organization, or read up on scholarships for a particular volunteer activity in which you participate (ex. Eagle Scouts/Girl Scouts, Habitat for Humanity, etc.). Even recreational activities might give you an edge on some more specific scholarships. Have you been writing for your town newspaper? You might qualify for a journalism scholarship! Did you invent a cool, new robot that can make sandwiches? There might be an essay that asks you to talk about your creation.

The opportunities are abundant; don’t be afraid to use all of your resources. Which resources have worked well for you?

Preparation for Standardized Tests

  1. Study Beforehand

See where your weaknesses are and learn what you don’t know. Get comfortable with the format of the test so you can be ready for the type of questions that they ask. There is an enormous range of test prep choices available, from personalized tutoring to free resources, available online or at the local library.

  1. Take Practice Tests

The more you practice, the better you will get at taking those long tests. Sitting for three plus hours is hard, so the weekend before the exam, make yourself go through a whole test. Please, however, remember to take breaks. Staying focused for hours at a time is like athletics, if you don’t practice, you won’t perform well.

  1. Know the ACT / SAT Test Location

If you are unfamiliar with the test location, take a trip there before the test. You don’t want to get lost on the way to the test and arrive late. This will help reduce any extra stress having to find your way on the day of the test.

  1. Prepare Required Items the Night Before

Prepare all of the items on the SAT or ACT test day checklist the night before so you’re not searching for them the morning of the test.

This means you’ll need to have your ID, admissions ticket, No. 2 pencils, eraser, calculator (if allowed), extra batteries, healthy snacks, and a water bottle ready to take to the test in the morning. Put everything together the night before. Minimal stress before the test will help boost your confidence and let you focus on what really matters.

  1. Go to Bed Early for Two Nights before the Test

Many times we are exhausted the day after we have stayed up too late. Make sure to get enough sleep for both nights as this will help your concentration and attention span.

  1. Get up Early on Test Day

Do not press the snooze button. Give yourself plenty of time to get ready. Grab all your stuff and breathe deeply if you start feeling anxious.

  1. Eat Protein for Breakfast

You will need to keep your stomach full and energy up for this long test. Consider having something healthy and filling with protein.

  1. Control Your Thoughts and Stay Focused

When you don’t know answers to questions it is easy to start accumulating negative thoughts. Stay positive and focused on the task at hand. You are not supposed to know all the answers, just do the best hat you can. It helps a lot of people to take deep breaths as it brings more oxygen into your body which helps keep you calm and focused.

Writing Meaningful and Memorable College Essays

What makes a college essay/story interesting and compelling?

Taking the reader into the scene, describing the moment, details, specificity, showing your knowledge of something that they do not know about.

Before you become stifled by the prompts begin by using this exercise and see which experiences allow you to show your insights, your uniqueness.

Start by writing three to seven sentences, each about a different experience that is meaningful to you; subjects that show your uniqueness, details about one of your activities or experiences, or a topic which shows your view of the world. It will take time to think of these different scenarios which might be a great essay, so don’t be afraid to spend a little time each day to consider and draft your options. Remember to grab the reader’s attention with the sentence so that they want to read more. The key is to take the reader into the scene, the moments, and the ambiance. Show your audience something about your character and how, using these attributes, you will contribute to the college’s campus when you are there. Ponder it daily until your list is finished.

Here are some possible subjects, but don’t feel limited by them:

What achievement are you most proud of?

What makes your family or you different from other families?

Is there something you are passionate about?

Do you do anything better than almost anyone else?

What is the most exciting thing that you have ever done?

What have you contemplated that might be interesting?

What do you think you will be doing ten years from now?

If you could do over one thing in your life what would it be?

If a college had to choose between you and another students why should they pick you?


To write a really good college essay takes time, vision and revision, thought and introspection.

Before you start watch these videos, and read the below essays, and tips, to get a little more guidance.

Tufts Admissions Common Application Essay

Also look at Johns Hopkins Essays That Worked to get an idea of the detail to go into.

In case you want more tips:

Best Essays Hint at Who You Are

Once you have written your seven sentences rank them in terms of which you think will transform into the most interesting essay. Make an appointment with me and we can go over your visions to decide on a topic. If you feel comfortable without a meeting, just send me the beginning sentence and an outline of your thoughts before you move forward. This will help to make sure you are picking a strong topic and approaching it correctly. It should save you time in the long run.

Here are some examples of sentences that past students wrote to start their essay:

“Thousands of languages are spoken on Earth, yet they all have one thing in common: they explain the richness of human life. Different cultures use their languages in a multitude of ways to provide their views of the world, yet certain words and phrases of these languages cannot be found in other languages. The usage of languages in diverse cultures can vary from the need to concisely and practically communicate, to lyrically and elegantly expressing the human experience and what it means to be human.”

“My parents named me Imani, which is Swahili for Faith. They’ve instilled in me that through faith, I can triumph over any barrier that comes in my way. I have embraced that philosophy, and have always vowed to strive, and desired to accomplish goals and obstacles that I am faced with.”

“Some people are fortunate to find something that they are inexplicably passionate about, and for me, that’s Pushing Daisies. It was a black swan event, something so random yet so impactful I can’t help but believe I must have somehow seen it coming. Pushing Daisies is a quirky, colorful television show about a man who has the power to bring the dead back to life with a touch.”

“One of my favorite classes in high school is AP Comparative Government and Politics. This is a classic, Political Science 101 type of class where we sit down and talk about the nitty-gritty of political science. I’m learning about rule of law, regime legitimacy, and how different forms of government work. Like a good American student, I have been raised on the noble ideas of the Founding Fathers and taught about the political brilliance they possessed, but I understand the American political system better when I compare it to other governments.”

When you are done, let’s meet and brainstorm so that your essay enhances your application.

Advice to My College Freshman

You have fabulous opportunities ahead of you, and there are many choices that you will have.

  1. Remember to focus on what is best for you in the long run, instead of what feels easy, or right at the moment. Have fun, but more importantly learn and grow so your future is brighter and fuller.
  2. Do not procrastinate; organize for your classes. Get your work done and then you can enjoy your time off without concern.
  3. Start college projects and assignments early so that if you need help you can seek out a professor or a smart friend. It will reduce your stress and keep you grounded.
  4. Choose good friends. Seek out the nice ones, the responsible ones that will be there when you need them. Also find some really smart ones for study groups.
  5. Get involved in multiple college activities. That is how you find friends and experience new things, both of which add to the richness of life. See college shows, learn a new skill, and explore your world.
  6. Communicate with people when you are unhappy with them. Don’t keep your frustration inside because it doesn’t help you and they won’t change unless they realize how their behavior has affected you.
  7. When something does go wrong, or there is a problem, never be afraid to discuss it with your resident advisor, a parent, or another adult. Small problems can grow bigger and be harder to solve.
  8. Get enough sleep, eat healthy food, and exercise multiple times a week. It keeps your body and your mind working efficiently.
  9. Spend your money wisely and remember to be careful where you leave your money and other valuables, not everyone is as kind and as good as you are.
  10.  Stay safe, be aware or your surroundings especially at night. Don’t walk alone in areas that are unpopulated on or off campus.
  11.  College is different from high school, you are responsible for everything you do, to get it done on time, and to manage your life.

Best of Luck!!!


The Congressional Awards Program

Congressional Awards Program is a very unique and brilliant program where you lay out your goals and with the help of an advisor and validators you accomplish those objectives.

“The Congressional Award, a public-private partnership, established by Congress in 1979 under Public Law 96-114, is a non-competitive program open to young people ages 14-23, regardless of mental or physical challenges, or socioeconomic status. The Congressional Award Foundation teaches participants to set and achieve personally challenging goals that build character, and foster community service, personal development, and citizenship.” (from Congressional Award: Congress’ Award for Youth)

Each level involves setting goals in four program areas; Volunteer Public Service, Personal Development, Physical Fitness, and Expedition/Exploration. Earning the Award is a fun and interesting way to get more involved in something you already enjoy or something you’d like to try for the first time. You move at your own pace – on your own or with your friends. This is not an award for past accomplishments. Instead, you are honored for achieving your own challenging goals.

Colleges look at how you spend your time outside of class, and this is a way to quantify what you are doing, as well as stretch your abilities in other areas. It is an excellent method for students to assess themselves, and make decisions about where they might improve. It allows students to challenge themselves and have a way to measure their development. The Congressional Awards program offers the opportunity for distinction to students by giving them the ability to earn a bronze, silver and gold medal award.

Participation in this program involves you setting and achieving goals that are personally challenging, achievable, worthwhile, measurable, and fulfilling in the areas of:

  • Community Service
  • Personal Growth
  • Physical Fitness
  • Expedition/Exploration

You will need to find an advisor who can be encouraging and engaged and helpful in finding validators. It should be someone who you admire, and has the time to help you to find worthwhile goals and check in on your progress.

Please look at the website and see if it interests you,

Visiting Colleges


Plan your college visit ahead of time and see a number of suitable colleges in the same geographic area. You can use the website, and click on Trip Planner which can show you routing from one university to another, as well as nearby hotels. Also, when you input each college on the list it usually gives you links to the colleges’ websites so that you can sign up to attend the information session and the tour. Then it will tell you the distance between the schools, and the roads that you can take. Google Maps also works well for trip planning. Do not plan to visit more than two colleges in a day, as it becomes very stressful and hard to remember the details of each college.

Do You Need to Visit

The general rule of thumb that college admissions counselors use is that if you are within four hours of the school, you should take the time to visit the college to show that you are truly interested in them. Further than four hours the school does not require it, but you will need to show interest, see this article Demonstrate Interest. Most big universities do not track your interest level at all, as it is mostly a numbers game for them. If you have chosen the right classes, you have a GPA the college looks for, and test scores in the college’s range, you should get admitted. Touring colleges will hep you determine what is important to you and broaden you understanding of choices, Options for Visiting a College.

Being Engaged

This college visit is an important opportunity for you to really understand what the college can offer you, and if it is a good fit. Do not let your cell phone or a conversation with a friend distract you from this task. Decide which of these questions you want to ask the tour guide, Questions to ask on a College Visit. Silence your cell phone and be engaged so that you have accurate memories.

Eat at the College

I generally recommend that people go to the cafeteria and eat, so that you have an idea of the quality of food and the atmosphere. Additionally you can either observe students or sit down and talk to some and get a more candid picture of the college. You can learn a lot from students who are on campus and they should answer your questions honestly. Just remember that there are many opinions, but the more information that you have the better your decision will be.


I always recommend visiting schools when they are in session so that you can get a better feel for their students and the atmosphere. This can be done during any holidays or spring breaks, as well as quick visits on Saturdays. Most colleges give two tours on Saturdays and some also do Sunday tours. Going in the fall can be a very busy time for colleges, so you may need to plan quite a bit ahead to make sure you can be part of the group. If it is a college that recommends that you interview with an admissions representative on campus, make sure that I have time to prepare you for the interview.

Use My Checklist

Use a checklist to write down your thoughts, so you won’t confuse information from one college campus with another. While you are on the tour ask questions that you have to the tour guide or the person running the information session. Just realize that these people are not always candid, and most are being paid by admissions to represent the college.

After the visit take the time to record what you really liked, as well as the aspects that you did not. Think about whether that school could be your home for the next four years. Put an approximate rank on the school and feel free to change that as you go. These notes will help you when you need to make a decision at the end.