Freshman Success Strategies

College is a major life transition. While it’s nice not to have anyone reminding you when to go to bed, eat, or study, the tradeoff is that you are totally responsible for yourself. You will need to handle problems with roommates, administration, and professors. The good news is that you will gain confidence and expertise in your ability to advocate for yourself and manage your life.

Be confident in your abilities! You will meet a lot of smart, accomplished students and you may feel intimidated. Remember that admissions officers don’t admit students who can’t do the work. In fact, they have turned down thousands of well-qualified students so, if you’ve been admitted, you have what it takes. 

Give yourself a fun class in the first semester by signing up for at least one course that sounds interesting and pleasurable. If you aren’t sure about a major, take courses in a variety of subjects and try to choose classes based on the professor’s reputation (use A great teacher makes any subject fascinating. If a class you really want is full, talk to the professor. Faculty love enthusiastic students and you may very well convince them to let you in. 

 Give yourself time to adjust to college life. Enjoy making new friends as there will be many opportunities. In freshmen residence halls, the first few weeks are non-stop socializing. Students leave their doors open so go in and introduce yourself. Resident advisors will host parties to help for you socialize with your hallmates.

 You may not be best friends with your roommate, but chances are you’ll get along. Discuss what is important to each of you and see in you can set some ground rules. If something upsets you talk to your roommate so that issues don’t escalate. The next step is to talk to your RA and to see if they can help you work out your differences. If you can’t resolve the problems with your roommate ask the housing office to make a change.

Everyone goes through a period of frustration, so minimize the stress. Trivial things such as keeping your room clean, can impact your mood. Eat healthy food, get enough sleep, and exercise to help you stay mentally as well as physically healthy. Working out will get those endorphins going and relieve stress.

Creating a schedule that maps out time to study, have fun, and sleep is another way of taking care of yourself. You’ll probably have no more than 15 – 18 hours of class in a week. That leaves plenty of time and, if you treat college like a 9-5 job, you can get your studying done during the day and have evenings for fun activities.

It is very important to go to class. Sit up front and you’re less likely to doze off. After each class, read your notes and clarify anything you didn’t understand. Good notes are very helpful at exam time. If you’re struggling in a class, ask for help, that’s what professors and teaching assistants are there for. Professors have office hours, and most of them are delighted when students show an interest in their subject. Even if you don’t have a question about the class, stop by and introduce yourself. Knowing and being known by your professors will help you feel part of the community. Also use college resources as most schools have tutors and writing centers which are set up to help students transition to college work. When it comes to getting good grades, it’s much easier to keep up than to catch up. 

Studies show that students who participate in campus life are more successful and happier in college. Whether you love film, environmental issues, vegetarian cooking, hiking or improvisational comedy, you’ll find people who share your passion. Most colleges have activity fairs at the start of the school year at which you can learn about all the clubs on campus. Joining a club is a wonderful way to create a feeling of community, especially at a big university.

Most students get homesick at some point. With the stress of midterms and sleep deprivation it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. The counseling center can be a great resource. They see many students who are having trouble adjusting to college and talking to someone can be very helpful.

College is a fresh start. Nobody knows if you were the most popular student in your high school or the class nerd. This is your chance to become the person you want to be. Sure, it can be scary, but the payoff is life changing!

How to Get a Great Letter of Recommendation

Based on a College Board Article

Colleges often ask for two or three recommendation letters from people who know you well. These letters should be written by someone who can describe your skills, accomplishments and personality.

Colleges value recommendations because they:

  • Reveal things about you that grades and test scores can’t
  • Provide personal opinions of your character
  • Show who is willing to speak on your behalf

Letters of recommendation work for you when they present you in the best possible light, showcasing your skills and abilities.

When to Ask for Recommendations

Make sure to give your references at least one month before your earliest deadline to complete and send your letters. The earlier you ask, the better. Many teachers like to write recommendations during the summer. If you apply under early decision or early action plans, you’ll definitely need to ask for recommendations by the start of your senior year or before.

Remember that some teachers will be writing whole stacks of letters, which takes time. Your teachers will do a better job on your letter if they don’t have to rush.

Whom to Ask

It’s your job to find two teachers and possibly another person who can write meaningful letters of recommendation for you, such as an employer, a coach or an adviser from an activity outside of school. Follow these steps to start the process:

  • Schools ask for letters of recommendation from an academic teacher — sometimes in a specific subject — and a school counselor. Pick two from your core classes, a STEM discipline and one from English or History.
  • Ask a me, teachers, and your family who they think would make good references.
  • Choose both of your teachers from junior year, or a current teacher who has known you for a while. Colleges want a current perspective on you, so a teacher from several years ago isn’t the best choice.
  • Consider asking a teacher who teaches a core subject and also knows you outside the classroom. For example, a teacher who directed you in a play or advised your debate club can make a great reference.
  • Consider other adults — such as an employer, a coach or an adviser from an activity outside of school — who have a good understanding of you and your strengths.
  • Perhaps most important, pick someone who writes well and will be enthusiastic about writing the letter for you.
  • If you’re unsure about asking someone in particular, politely ask if he or she feels comfortable recommending you. That’s a good way to avoid weak letters.

Your teachers will do a better job on your letter if they don’t have to rush.

How to Get the Best College Recommendations

Some teachers write many recommendation letters each year. Even if they know you well, it’s a good idea to give them supplemental information, which we will prepare, and you will send them this summer. We will make it easy for them to give positive, detailed information about your achievements and your potential by refreshing their memory.

This summer you will need to send them an e-mail:

  • Reminding them about your class participation.
  • Mentioning specific work or projects you’re proud of.
  • Telling them what you learned in class.
  • Mentioning any challenges you overcame.
  • Giving them the information they need to provide specific examples of your work.

I will also have you meet with your guidance counselor over the summer if possible. Later in the summer you will need to:

  • Make an appointment ahead of time.
  • Talk about your accomplishments, hobbies and plans for college and the future.
  • If you need to discuss part of your transcript — low grades during your sophomore year, for example — do so. Explain why you had difficulty and discuss how you’ve changed and improved since then.

We will also send teachers, and another reference, your resume that briefly outlines your activities, both in and outside the classroom, and your goals.

Final Tips for College Recommendations

The following advice is easy to follow and can really pay off:

  • Waive your right to view recommendation letters on your application forms. Admission officers will trust them more if you haven’t seen them.
  • If your school does not use Naviance, give your references addressed and stamped envelopes for each college that requested a recommendation. If they do then it will all be done electronically.
  • Make sure your references know the deadlines for the early colleges that you apply to so they make the deadlines.
  • Follow up with your references a week or so before recommendations are due to make sure your letters have been entered into Naviance or sent.
  • Once you’ve decided which college to attend, write thank-you notes. Tell your references where you’re going and let them know how much you appreciate their support.


Why Getting Into Top Colleges Is So Difficult

Many parents have the opinion that attending a top-tier university establishes you for life, and they have started an intense competition of making sure their child gains admission to elite institutions. In some cases, this means keeping their students so busy the students accumulate five pages of extra-curricular activities, and the parents end up spending significant money and time on SAT and/or ACT tutoring. Further, the student’s essays must be stellar, thoughtful and personal – a challenge for teens. Teacher and counselor recommendations also need to highlight the student’s intellect and uniqueness, without making the student look elitist. It is a difficult balancing act and not many 17 year olds can meet these standards of excellence and maturity. So, parents are understandably shocked when their child has met many or all these qualifications and is still not accepted at a top-tier college.

Here is why we are seeing many highly talented students rejected from top tier universities:

10 – 25% of accepted students at elite institutions are minority (African American and Hispanic) students according to this Forbes article. This increases diversity of thought, experiences, and backgrounds. Many are also from low income backgrounds, which helps lift families out of poverty. It is a shift from past years when colleges did not actively recruit this group.

20% are athletes, N.Y. Times, Legacy and Athletes at Top Schools. Athletics seems to be a big draw for students and alumni donors, so recruiting these kids is a priority for many universities.

10 – 20% are international students, which helps broaden the horizons of our students, and creates a culture of diversity, US News, International Student populations. International students also typically pay full price to attend as they do not qualify for federal aid. It can help the school’s bottom line to admit international students.

Additionally, colleges have varying acceptance rates for legacies, children of big donors, students who possess a special talent or status, geographic diversity inside the U.S., first-generation applicants, females in STEM programs, etc.

That brings the total to 40-50% of spaces not being given to extremely strong but over-represented U.S. students. There is some overlap in the above categories, so the numbers are hard to quantify.

Additionally, many of these colleges are taking about 50% of their incoming class as Early Decision candidates. This makes the admissions process much easier for the college, but significantly more competitive for any student who is applying Regular Decision to these institutions. In some cases, it means that colleges are only accepting only 2 – 7% of the Regular Decision candidates. This has raised the stakes needed to qualify for the elite group of schools. High-performing groups such as Asian Americans, Indians, Caucasians, and females, are at a disadvantage due to overrepresentation. Therefore, even kids with almost perfect statistics may not gain admittance to Ivy League schools.  Many admissions counselors take only 3 to 5 minutes to read a whole application so it is difficult to stand out. It has also turned many children’s lives into ones where they do not have down time or the opportunity to relax and meaningrul self reflection.

The good news is that the qualities of the student determine their future, not the name of the university they attend.  Their ability to move past disappointment, find opportunities to match their interests, connect with professors, and find internships that are meaningful, will affect their success more than a college name.

According to a paper by Stacy Dale, a mathematician at Mathematica Policy Research, and Alan Krueger, an economist at Princeton University, “who you are” as an 18 year old is more important than “where you go.” After correcting for a student’s pre-existing talent, ambition, and habits, it’s hard to show that highly selective colleges add much earning power, even with their vaunted professors, professional networks, and signaling.” The Atlantic, What is an Elite College Really Worth. This paper tracked participants in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s to see their earning differentials, and found none for whites.

Additionally, Malcolm Gladwell shows statistics that students in the STEM field are much more successful going to a college where they are in the top 25th percentile of their class. Students in the bottom 1/3 of their classes generally drop out of STEM fields and choose less-well-paying careers. Read his book David & Goliath.

Students can and do achieve success at institutions which fit their preferences, and where they are one of the top students. In that environment, they can find the best research opportunities, excel in classes, find great leadership positions, and enjoy the activities on campus. Success is about how we evolve in the environment in which we are put.

College Acceptances for Class of 2017

Every year getting into the most elite and well-known colleges becomes more challenging. Many colleges to which admission used to be a near guarantee are now very selective. To receive acceptances to recognized colleges and universities students need to focus on their grades, work toward high standardized-test scores, show dedication and uniqueness in their extracurricular activities, and receive meaningful teacher and counselor recommendations.  This year my students were accepted to these institutions:

Duke, Georgetown, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill – Honors Program, University of Virginia, Northeastern, American University – Honors Program, Georgia Tech, Boston University, Boston College, Davidson, Colgate, Hamilton, Penn State, Babson, Scripps, University of Marland – Honors Program, Purdue, Virginia Tech, University of Delaware, Clemson – Honors Program, Emerson, Gettysburg, Rhodes, Case Western Reserve, Villanova, University of Maryland, N.C. State, University of Georgia, University Pittsburgh, University of South Carolina, Florida State, Colorado State, Temple University, James Madison University, University of Vermont, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, George Mason University, Goucher, Ohio University, Auburn University, High Point University, Providence College, Roger Williams University, Xavier University, St. Josephs, Bellarmine, University Alabama, University of Kentucky, Louisiana State University, Tennessee University, UMBC, Towson, York College, Frostburg, and Salisbury.

All of my students who applied Early Decision were accepted into their ED college or university.

Make decisions that allow you to enjoy most classes and be excited about your activities. This will help you reach your goals and lead you to academic excellence.  You do not need to have perfect grades, but know that your grades and the rigor of your curriculum are the most important elements in the evaluation process.

The grades juniors are earning right now are extremely important in the college admission process. Be aware that a student’s high school transcripts will only show six semesters of his or her grades through junior year. A student’s first-semester grades aren’t available to colleges until February of senior year, which is after Early Action and Early Decision notification dates. A student’s second-semester grades aren’t sent to the college until July, which is after the admissions deposit deadline of May 1.

Even a sophomore’s college transcript is two-thirds completed in June. Please get the best grades that you can, focus on the work and communicate with your teachers to see if extra credit is available.

This is from my article, 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. Read More…

Annapolis College Consulting Receives 2017 Best of Arnold Award

ARNOLD March 15, 2017 — Annapolis College Consulting has been selected for the 2017 Best of Arnold Award in the College Counseling category by the Arnold Award Program.

Each year, the Arnold Award Program identifies companies that we believe have achieved exceptional marketing success in their local community and business category. These are local companies that enhance the positive image of small business through service to their customers and our community. These exceptional companies help make the Arnold area a great place to live, work and play.

Various sources of information were gathered and analyzed to choose the winners in each category. The 2017 Arnold Award Program focuses on quality, not quantity. Winners are determined based on the information gathered both internally by the Arnold Award Program and data provided by third parties.

About Arnold Award Program

The Arnold Award Program is an annual awards program honoring the achievements and accomplishments of local businesses throughout the Arnold area. Recognition is given to those companies that have shown the ability to use their best practices and implemented programs to generate competitive advantages and long-term value.

Your Body Language Shapes You

A number of years ago I heard this Ted Talk, and have now read Amy Cuddy’s book Presence, and I want to share this extremely useful and powerful information. The book outlines the many people whose lives this video has changed, and the research behind it. This can improve your test taking, presentations, interviews, athletics, answering questions in school, and stressful interactions.

If you read the book you will see the many and extremely diverse ways that people throughout the world have transformed themselves based on this video. The book also discusses other research and simple movements that you can adopt to change your life. Please take the time to watch this talk, and use it to your benefit.


How to help kids succeed on the SAT

Published by The Chesapeake Family Magazine
By Katie Riley

Last year more than 1.6 million high school students took the SAT, and many hope tutoring will boost their score. But the question is, what type of tutoring is best and is it affordable?

“I’ve had mixed results with SAT prep courses because it really depends on the motivation of the student and which type of tutoring program they choose,” says Cori Dykman, owner of Annapolis College Counseling, a service that helps prepare and guide students through the college process.

Traditional classes like Princeton Review and Kaplan offer several multi-week courses at dozens of area locations, but the class doesn’t come cheap. Course fees start at around $500.

In an effort to make test preparation available to everyone, the College Board recently partnered with Khan Academy to provide free, targeted test prep for students online. The Khan Academy program provides detailed assessments and dozens of sample tests and exercises. It also directs students to an extensive library of video tutorials based on a student’s test results and weaknesses.

“Khan Academy is excellent,” Dykman says. “It’s free and offers great resources. I always tell my students to start there and then maybe consider a private tutoring option after that.”

Private online tutoring is an option that is gaining popularity due to its convenience and personalized service. Companies like Applerouth match students with one-on-one online tutors based on interviews, academic strengths and weaknesses, and test results.

Julia Drooff, a senior at Broadneck High School, began using Applerouth during her junior year after a disappointing score on her SAT subject test.

“I knew that if the SATs were anything like [the subject test], then I would not do well,” Drooff says. Her older sister had already used Applerouth and experienced considerable improvements.

“They matched me up with an amazing tutor who helped me get to the root of my testing anxiety,” Drooff says. She worked with the tutor monthly for a year and half, taking practice tests and attending online tutoring sessions.

“I developed a personal relationship with my tutor, and we would text regularly. Her encouragement did wonders for my confidence,” Drooff says, noting that she saw a significant increase in her scores and was recently accepted by her first choice college.

Whether students choose Khan Academy, traditional courses or private tutoring, experts agree that the best way to prepare is simply through practice.

“The most helpful method out there is to take practice tests,” Dykman says. “Sitting and focusing for three to four hours is exhausting for any student, and practice tests can help with timing, directions and knowing what questions to expect. I tell students to never go into an exam blind. The practice is invaluable.”

AP Facts Worth Knowing About College Credit

AP Test are Important

Once you have taken an AP test and have your score, what should you do with it? While you may have taken an AP class to challenge yourself and demonstrate to colleges that you can handle a rigorous curriculum, colleges also care about the score you received on an AP test.

Once you send a score to a college

When a college receives an AP score, the score will go through articulation. This means the college may use that score to grant you college credit. Scoring a 3 on an AP test may mean that you passed, but it may not necessarily count for credit at a particular college. Most colleges have an AP articulation page on their website that shows score conversions for credit. It’s worth noting that all UC and CSU campuses grant credit for a 3 score. Many other colleges require at least a 4 to grant credit.

Approximately 4,000 colleges accept AP scores, but there are around 51,000 separate policies awarding credit for each subject, so look at each college’s rules.

What AP Credit Does…and doesn’t do

Depending on the academic program you are considering in college, you may have to retake courses even if you have a 4 or 5 on an AP exam. For example, in many STEM programs, a college may require a student to take Physics and Calculus at the collegiate level even if she scored a 5 on these AP exams. You can see how this can be frustrating! However, it is still worth taking these courses (and the corresponding test) as many admissions offices are looking for academically prepared students, and your scores may allow you to receive credit for non-major entry-level courses.

If you are considering a graduate-level program like medical school, this issue deserves further consideration. These students often have to decide between protecting their GPA by retaking these courses (which also reinforces knowledge), and jumping into more advanced coursework. It is recommended to work with the college’s academic advising office early and often to determine an appropriate path, and to see which credits to apply to college courses.

AP Credit and Class Standing

Your class standing in college is determined by the number of credits you have. And, surprise, colleges handle this differently from one another. Class standing is calculated by:

  • Incoming credits before matriculation to the college (AP credit, community college, dual-enrollment) may be added and a student can enter with sophomore standing given he has enough accumulated credit.


  • Incoming credits do not count toward your college standing, only those earned at the college do. In essence, first-year students will always be considered freshmen regardless of the number of units with which they enter.

Why is this important? Well, class standing in college can dictate a lot. From housing assignments, to class registration, to graduation timeline, a student’s class standing can determine his/her priority in these processes.

Entering with a higher class standing can also save students significant time and money. Simply put, finishing in under four years can cost students less. Entering with even four classes worth of AP credit can be significant. Conversely, coming in without credit can delay graduation past four years and end up costing a student more.  

Since the most common way to determine class standing is via AP credits earned, the impact of having access to AP coursework and earning AP credit cannot be overstated.

Bottom Line

Your matriculation to a college is unlikely to be determined solely by how AP credit is applied. If you plan on taking AP courses, your decision should be guided by your interest in the material, your capacity to do well in the course, and how that course will prepare you for college admission and beyond. Do not worry about how AP credit will be applied until it makes sense to do so, but do be aware of how it can be used.

How to Receive More Aid from a College

Congratulations, the hard part is over. Your child has run the gauntlet of high school, filled out college applications, and has been offered admission to a college. Can you afford their top choice colleges?

Many schools – especially private ones – can offer substantial financial and merit aid packages, and may be able to make adjustments after the fact if families simply ask.

It’s worth your time to reach out to admissions and financial aid offices. You may be surprised at just how many colleges will try to incentivize a student to enroll with a few extra thousand dollars if that’s the only barrier to entry for that family.

Schools may award additional aid when families present new information (like updated test scores or current high school grades) or may make adjustments to need-based aid when a family’s income or employment situation changes.

Here are some tips to consider when asking for additional aid.

  1.  Don’t deposit right away. Once you make an enrollment deposit, that school assumes your student is coming for the fall and doesn’t have a lot of motivation to continue to try and “yield” them. The national deposit deadline is May 1, and some schools even have an internal grace period after that date. There’s usually no need to deposit before May 1 and when a college is “short” on deposits, the closer they get to May 1 the more pressure they feel to “make their class.” Use depositing as leverage!
  2.  Get in touch with the right office! Financial aid may have nothing to do with scholarship and only work on need-based aid packages. Similarly, the admissions may have nothing to do with departmental aid and only deal with scholarship. Try to understand that the college is like a hand and the various administrative offices are like fingers – they can move independently of one another or in unison. Get the lay of the land and find out which office you need to contact to discuss the various pieces of your student’s aid package. Admissions may be able to guarantee an additional several thousand dollars per year in scholarship, and if there were circumstances that were not considered when filling out need-based aid paperwork, the financial aid office may be able to offer additional grant funds. It pays to call around.
  3.  You’re not buying a house, you’re investing in an education for your student. Don’t treat it like a negotiation! Ask for a “reassessment” or “reconsideration” of the student’s aid package, but only AFTER acknowledging and appreciating any aid that was previously awarded. Again, be prepared to submit additional information, usually from a third party. Did you have a change in your family’s expenses? Job loss? Medical bills? Pay cut? That may inform the route you take and which office can help.
  4.  Be realistic. If your student didn’t qualify for scholarship or need-based aid at all, the admissions office may not be able to offer any after the fact. Similarly, if they qualified for a lower-tier award, they may not be able to package them at a top-tier scholarship level. Asking for additional aid in the $1,000 – $5,000 range will likely yield better results than asking for an additional $20,000. Most colleges package students with aid expecting families to be able to contribute, even if it’s just a little bit. Asking for a “full ride” when your student hasn’t earned it likely isn’t going to happen.
  5.  Show them another offer. It’s OK to tell colleges that your student has options. Colleges may be able to match the award offer from another institution, but the key here is to present offers from similar institutions. A college likely isn’t going to “match down” to another institution – meaning, a top-tier school probably has no motivation to match an offer from a less-competitive institution. Your student might be a stellar admit at a school with a high admit rate and weak rankings, but middle of the road at a premier institution. They’re different institutions. That’s why they award different aid amounts in the first place.

Ultimately, it’s up to you and your student to reach out and ask for additional aid if you need it. Be prepared and make a strong case when asking for help!

Financial Information and Scholarship Websites

Financial Information

FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid portal, provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

FAFSA4caster is a college cost forecasting tool that estimates your eligibility for federal student aid. has resources for learning about federal student aid, how to apply using the FAFSA, and get information on repaying student loans.

A video that talks about what to expect when your federal student loan enters repayment.

FinAid! – The SmartStudent Guide to Financial Aid is a free resource for information, advice and tools about student financial aid, college scholarships and education loans.

CSS Profile – the financial aid application service of the College Board (required by some colleges in order to apply for financial aid).

The College Board’s Net Price Calculator allows you to estimate your net price to attend a specific college.



SchoolSoup scholarship database

FastWEB scholarship database.

Chegg scholarship database.

CollegeXpress offers college search tools, a scholarship database, lists and rankings, and online articles.

Scholly –  an easy way to find scholarships for high school seniors, current undergraduates, and graduate students.