More Questions to Ask on Your College Visit

The more you know about each college, the better your ultimate decision will be. Ask questions and weigh your options.

General Academics

How much time do students typically spend on homework?

How much writing and reading are expected?

What is the average class size of introductory classes?

How widely used are teaching assistants on your campus?

What is the average class size of upper-division courses?


Academic Perks (These are programs that you want available)

Is the a first year experience program?

Are some of the classes interactive or project based?

Where can one study abroad?

Do you offer service learning?

What opportunities are there for undergraduate research?

How many students participate in undergraduate research?

Is there a culminating senior year experience?

Do you have an honors college?


Graduation Rates

What is your four-year graduation rate?

What is your five-year graduation rate?

What does it take to graduate in four years?

What percentage of freshmen return for sophomore year?


Academic Support

What type of tutoring program do you have? Is it free?

How do you provide academic advice to students?

Do you have a writing center and how do I access it?

What kind of learning disability resources do you have?


Other Opportunities

How many students at the college get internships? When do they start?

What percentage of students study abroad? Where can they go?

What type of career services do you offer? Can one start in Freshman year?


Student Life

What kind of dorm choices are there for Freshman, Sophomores, etc.?

What percentage of student live on campus?

How long are housing accommodations guaranteed for students?

Do most students go home on the weekend?

What percentage of the study body belongs to a sorority or fraternity?

What activities are offered to students which differentiate your college?

What clubs are popular on campus?


Questions for the Financial Aid Department

What is your average financial aid package?

What is the typical breakdown of loans versus grants?

What percentage of financial need does the school typically meet?

What is the average merit award?

What percentage of students receive college grants?

What is the average college debt that students leave with?

What work-study opportunities are there?

College Search and Graduation Websites

College Search

Go See Campus provides a free college trip planner, college reviews, student advice, and more.

College Navigator is a free consumer information tool designed to help students, parents, high school counselors, and others get information about over 7,000 postsecondary institutions in the United States – such as programs offered, retention and graduation rates, prices, aid available, degrees awarded, campus safety, and accreditation.

The University & College Accountability Network is designed to offer prospective students and their families concise, Web-based consumer-friendly information about the nation’s private, nonprofit colleges and universities in a common format.

You University – Video of colleges that you can view to get a feel for each college to see what it offers and if it interests you. Very helpful before you plan a trip to a college far away.

Rate My Professors: Having a great teacher makes a big difference to many students, not just during the class, but afterwards as well. This is a way to view what students are saying about their professors. As with any site which offers only personal opinions realize that there will be some students looking to vent about an issue or person.

College Niche is totally student written and provides their opinions to the questions many prospective students want to know, such as the quality of the dining hall food, whether a school has a good night life, and many other non-academic interests. Don’t believe everything you read, but it is another data point to consider.

Unigo provides reviews, videos, and photos that have been created by students at colleges across the country.

CollegeData allows you to search for colleges that match your personal preferences or by college name, then provides profiles for each of your search results.

College Scorecard designed by our government to provide better insight on how well colleges are serving their students when it comes to access, affordability and outcomes post graduation.  The cost of college however is based on students receiving financial aid and is therefore misleading. With nearly 2,000 data points for 7,000+ schools in the underlying database, there’s a lot of information covered.

Colleges that Change Lives is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to educating prospective college students and their families about making college choices that are a good fit for the individual needs of the student.


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.


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.


Extracurricular Activities, Why Get Involved

What are you passionate about?

If you interview with an admissions counselor or attend an information session, this question will inevitably come up. But what do colleges really mean when they ask this question? How can you showcase your passions on your application?

The bottom line is that colleges care deeply about your involvement.  Dedication in the pursuit of your interests and your depth and consistency within them equates to “passion.”  If you are passionate about your involvement, colleges can reasonably assume that you will be passionate about your education as well. Ultimately, the desire you bring to your involvement translates directly to the excitement you bring to your (and others’) campus experience.

Let’s break involvement and passion down further…

Involvement Outside of Class

It may be difficult to categorize your commitments outside of class time. After all, you’re spending most of your time during the week attending class, tackling tough assignments, and dealing with the joys of homework. Commitments you can showcase outside of class could be anything from involvement in the arts, sports or volunteer work to significant family commitments or a part-time job. If you dedicate time to something outside of class, consider talking about it in your college application – especially if you are excited about it.

It’s About Balance

Colleges know that you will likely burn out if you try to get involved in everything. Instead, they look for the activities to which you are committed to and in which you demonstrate depth.  Admissions offices are not counting the number of things you do. It’s about depth in activities, not necessarily breadth. They are looking for overall commitment that shows consistency.

Colleges Will Notice

Colleges expect you to be committed to academics when you are on their campus, but they also know a large part of your campus experience will include potential involvement in clubs, Greek life, working on campus and other social opportunities. At the high school level, they will take note of…

  • Where do your interests lie outside of academics?
  • What are your time-management skills and do you use them appropriately?
  • How do you bring diversity (and more than just ethnic diversity) to campus?
  • Have you demonstrated you know how to commit to something long-term?
  • What meaningful contributions have you made within your activities?

Where to Invest Yourself…

Sometimes it’s hard to know all of the opportunities that are available to you. Your high school may offer a variety of clubs, but you may also find opportunities to commit to work experience or to community activism. I love helping students look for opportunities and start something new.  In many instances we are able to find a new passion they had not thought about.

Let’s explore…

School Clubs and Activities

It’s not enough to just be in a club. See how much you responsibility you can comfortably commit to. Take advantage of opportunities to step up and take on leadership opportunities. But, that doesn’t mean you need to be President or Captain of every activity. Put forth your best effort whether it’s in a “top” position or not. But remember, the same effort needs to continue to be applied to your school work.

Community Service

Not only can service work bring valuable contributions to your surrounding community, it can also lead to some great introspective moments and, potentially, academic credit. Are there ways for you to contribute to local hospitals or community based organizations? Can you be a mentor to younger students? Community service should not be a one-time commitment to fulfill a school requirement. It can be an important and integral part of your personal development.

Work Experience

Internships, summer jobs, part-time work or volunteering in a work environment can all lead to a better understanding of your career goals and aspirations. Not only that, these opportunities can help you identify potential majors in college and maybe even earn you some money for college along the way. Think about how you can invest yourself in the “real world.”

In Summary

So, what are you passionate about? You can see at this point that your answer isn’t just important to colleges, it should also be important to you. Having a strong idea of what you’re excited about allows you to know yourself better and gives you the ability to communicate the value you can add to a college’s freshman class.

Remember, you don’t need to commit to everything and you don’t need to be the best at what you do. Put forth your best effort and keep your academics a priority, and the colleges that are considering your application will take an interest in you and your passions.



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

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 .

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. and

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 and

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

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 .

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