Admission 101: What You Need to Know

It’s not your parents’ college search. Way back in the days of yore, high school students pored over college guidebooks the size of doorstops, actually used the Post Office to communicate with admission offices, and painstakingly filled in their applications using a typewriter.

Those guidebooks can still be a big help, but students today have many more ways to research and apply to colleges. The Internet has made gathering information easy. But it can be hard to tell whether all that information is reliable. And online applications can make envelopes and stamps seem positively archaic. But electronic applications can be just as tricky as their paper counterparts. What’s a high-tech student to do?

For some helpful hints on using the latest technology in your college search, read on for a quick course in Admission Tech 101.

Lesson One: Just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t make it true. Okay, so that seems really basic for a tech-savvy person like yourself. But it’s important to keep in mind for everyone that ever received an email about a nonexistent virus. (Quick! Forward this to 200 of your closest friends or the world will end!)

This lesson holds true for college-search sites, too. You probably won’t find listings for nonexistent colleges. But you could end up with out-of-date application deadlines or lists of majors. Also, most college search sites include only the colleges that paid the site to list them. That’s why you’ll get different college lists from different sites (even if you plug in the same preferences).

“Use comparative websites only for a general feel and opinions,” advises a representative from the University of Southern California. “Even the best can be only as good as the information they’re given.”

In other words, use the college-search sites as a starting point. Don’t depend on just one site—get lists from several of them. Then go to the websites of individual colleges to get the real scoop.

Lesson Two: Don’t judge a college by its website. You can learn a lot about a college from its Web site. Many colleges have extensive sites that include faculty and student Web pages, detailed information about majors and programs, and even virtual campus tours.

Other colleges have more basic websites: They may have good information, but they’re definitely not high on the “wow!” meter.

Don’t be fooled by the quality (or lack of quality) of a college website. A poor website tells you only that the college has not yet invested a lot in its web presence. It says next to nothing about the quality of the college itself.

“The college with the best Web site—just like the one with the best publication—is not always the best college for a particular student,” says a representative at Alfred University (NY).

The one exception to this principle may be students interested in a high-tech major. A well-done website may indicate a greater commitment to keeping up with the latest technology. That may not matter much to a history major, but a potential Web designer or software programmer may need a college on the cutting edge.

Lesson Three: Go undercover. Of course, you need to know a college’s majors, activities, and application requirements. But don’t stop with the admission office’s home page.

“First, look for the student newspaper online, and second, look for links to students’ Web pages,” says a director of admission at an Oregon institution. “You can find good ‘unofficial’ or ‘undercover’ information on the institution.” Plus, you can e-mail students and ask them questions about the school.

Undercover information can give you a more in-depth view of the college. It can tell you what the hot issues on campus are (fraternities? politics? bad cafeteria food?) and what students are interested in.

Other pages that can give you good information:

  • Faculty home pages—some post detailed syllabuses of their classes.
  • Department home pages—get information about majors from the people who teach them.
  • Student organizations—check out the schedule for clubs and teams or see what resolutions were passed by the Student Senate.
  • Alumni association pages—what are alumni of the college doing now? What is the college doing for its alumni?

Lesson Four: Sometimes old ways are best. One of the best resources in the college search and application process is still your guidance or college counselor. He or she has firsthand information on colleges, has helped hundreds of students through the process, and can get to know you face to face. Even the most technologically advanced website can’t top that!​

Reference: NACAC


Dealing with Early Decision Rejection

Posted by Randi Mazzella

As early decision, early action, and rolling admission results come in this month, it is a time of very mixed emotions. Students receiving acceptance letters will of course be happy, not to mention relieved. But for many more students who receive rejection letters, there will be sadness, disappointment, and doubt.

Lisa Sohmer, Director of College Counseling at the Garden School, says, “For many teens, this is the first time in their lives they have been judged and rejected publically. It can be a terrible disappointment and they need time to take a breath, cry, or be mad.”

How can parents help their teen deal with college rejection?

Give Them Time

Parents never want to see their children hurt and upset. But rejection does hurt and it is part of life. Teens need time to process their feelings and parents need to respect that and give their teen the space to heal. As involved and invested in a teen’s college process parents may be, they do need to remember that the rejection happened to the teen and not the parent. It is the teen’s disappointment and feelings that parents should focus on and not their own.

It is natural for parents to want to console their teen. But rushing in with pat platitudes, such as, “There are lots of great schools” or “Tons of people get rejected” may make a teen feel worse. These sentiments, though true, can come across patronizing and insincere. Christine K. VanDeVelde, college speaker and coauthor of the book College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step, explains, “Teens that have been rejected already feel victimized. They don’t need their parents to further this feeling by treating them like they are 11 years old.”

A better approach may be better to join the teen in some constructive anger. A parent saying, “This really stinks!” or “It’s their loss!” can actually be more empowering for teens than having a parent feel sorry for them. A friend of mine encouraged her daughter and her friends that got rejected from a certain school to get together and destroy the swag they had purchased from the university that had rejected all of them. Cutting up the sweatshirts and pendants was very cathartic and doing it together made all the teens feel less alone.

Take the High Road

In addition to being upset, teens that have been rejected from their first choice school may also be embarrassed to face their classmates especially if some are celebrating their acceptances. Many colleges send out their decisions on Friday evenings to avoid the frenzy but even so, by Monday morning, social media has ensured everyone in the school community knows who got in where and who didn’t.

Try to encourage your teen to take the high road and congratulate their peers who have been accepted. Don’t allow your teen to bad mouth other students—especially not on social media where everyone can see the comments. Parents themselves need to resist the urge to negatively gossip about students that got into the school their teen wanted. Belittling another student’s accomplishments may be hard to resist, but this behavior is unhelpful for both teens and their parents.

VanDeVelde asserts, “Even though this may be the first time a teen has been rejected, it won’t be the last. How to handle disappointment is a life lesson and parents have an opportunity to model appropriate behavior. Parents need to remind themselves the goal is not to raise a child who is a winner in college but a winner in life.”

Review Their College List and Their Application

After a few days recovering, it is important that students make sure that the rest of their applications are completed and ready to be sent in.

Hopefully students have completed majority of their other applications and just have to add some finishing touches. VanDeVelde says, “College admissions offices close for the holidays as do high school guidance staff. Most regular decision applications are due on January 1 so students who need to speak to these offices must do so before the winter break.”

It may be wise for students to review their college list and application. Sohmer explains, “Early decisions are not fortune telling but they are an indicator. Students should look at their college lists to make sure they are not too ‘top heavy’ and that their list makes sense given their grades, test scores, and activities.”

If a student thinks it will be helpful, they can call the admissions office of a college they have been rejected from and ask why. Says VanDeVelde, “Most colleges will not give a specific reason but if the student really thinks it would be helpful to know, it may be worth it to inquire.”

There is a College for Everyone

It is understandable that after being rejected, a student’s confidence may be shaken. But remember this is just one college of over 2,200 four-year institutions.

Famous journalists Meredith Viera and Katie Couric were both rejected by their first choice schools and went on to have very successful careers. VanDeVelde says, “Students get sold a bill of goods that there is one perfect place for them. But the truth is there are many perfect places and they need to keep that in mind as they go through the college process.”

Many teens that get rejected from their first choice college find out that it is the best thing that could have happened to them. Rebecca Bergman, a current college sophomore says, “I applied ED to an Ivy League school just to try and reach a little higher. The school was located in a city, which was not my scene, but I ignored that fact because it was such a prestigious school. After getting rejected, I realized that I probably would not have enjoyed going to school in that environment. I absolutely love the location of the school I attend and could not be happier.”

Randi Mazzella-profile-picture

Written by Randi Mazzella
Randi Mazzella is a freelance writer and mother of three from New Jersey. She is a Contributing Editor for Raising Teens Magazine and writes monthly for the blog Barista Kids.




What is a Degree Audit?

DegreeAuditLogo_rgbDegree Audit

A degree audit is a computer-generated analysis that enables the student and his/her adviser to assess the student’s academic progress and unfulfilled baccalaureate, associate degree, or minor requirements. The audit is a valuable tool for academic planning and course selection, because it matches the courses that the student has taken with the requirements of his/her degree program or anticipated program.

Audits are available for anyone who has enrolled for credit as an undergraduate and has at least one graded semester record in most cases (situations differ based on institutions.) This includes undergraduate students in any classification (degree, degree-seeking provisional, or non-degree) and former students.


When reviewing an audit, the student should consult with an adviser for several reasons. If the audit identifies unfulfilled requirements, there are often several alternatives for satisfying these requirements. The student and adviser should discuss which courses to schedule based on the student’s abilities, interests, and plans. Advising may also be helpful in determining the best combinations of courses to schedule each semester in order to meet requirements. In addition, advising is necessary because changes to the student’s audit may be appropriate. (For example, when a course transfers from another institution and does not have an equivalent Penn State course, it is listed on the audit as an elective. When reviewed, it may be found to meet a degree requirement.)

The degree audit is not the student’s official University academic record. The transcript is the official record of completed work.


Seven Questions To Ask Before You Hire That SAT or ACT Tutor

Teenage Boy Studying With Home TutorPosted by Robert Kohen

With summer fast approaching, this is the time many parents begin to look for an SAT or ACT tutor. If you’re one of those parents, chances are you may have already heard from a friend or teacher about a tutor in your area. Before you sign your child up for tutoring, however, you’ll want to make sure the tutor is worth the investment.

Here are seven critical questions that you should ask any SAT or ACT tutor before making the hire:

1. Do you use real test questions?

Some tutors and tutoring companies produce all of their teaching materials in-house. No matter how great the questions they write may be, they will never match the authenticity of official questions written by the test makers themselves. While it’s great to supplement official questions with additional materials like math and grammar guides, it’s critical that real test questions play a substantial role in the tutoring process.

2. What kind of results do your clients see?

Great tutors produce great results. On the SAT or ACT, that means substantive score gains over time. Be wary, however, of tutors who claim to raise scores significantly within very short periods of time. For the vast majority of students, truly significant score increases require hard work spread out over a number of months.

3. What makes you a great teacher?

Many SAT and ACT tutors boast impressive credentials like high scores and Ivy League degrees but lack teaching expertise. Find out how much teaching experience the tutor has and if they work well with high school students.

4. What makes you an SAT or ACT expert?

While some tutors know the exams they teach inside and out, others may have only a superficial knowledge of them. Leading tutors have typically sat for the exam themselves, often as adults, and scored highly. They should be able to explain to you what is unique about a particular test as well as the most effective methods for preparing for it.

5. Are your lessons personalized?

A great tutor doesn’t teach the same material or use the same methods with every student, but instead adapts to your teen’s needs. See if the tutor will diagnose your teen’s weaknesses and adjust his or her lessons accordingly. To get a sense of how personalized the lessons are, ask the tutor to share stories about how he or she adapted lessons to the specific needs of former students.

6. Do you assign homework?

Substantial score improvements on the SAT or ACT are nearly impossible without hard work on the part of the student. Good tutors will provide weekly assignments, such as timed practice tests, that they will then review with students. If a tutor promises to raise your child’s score without assigning homework, that’s cause for suspicion.

7. Can you provide references?

A successful tutor will be able to provide you with references from families that he or she has worked with. This might be less important, of course, if you’ve already received the tutor’s name from a trusted source who can vouch for the tutor.

DSC_0006Written by Robert Kohen.
Robert Kohen is the director of Kohen Educational Services, a test prep firm offering personalized SAT and ACT prep in person and online. In addition to helping students master the SAT and ACT through one-on-one tutoring, Robert publishes free testing advice, lessons and strategies through his website’s Test Prep Tips Blog. Robert holds a Ph.D. from Harvard, where he formerly taught.


3 Reasons Your Junior Should Take the PSAT

The PSAT/NMSQT test is offered by high schools around the country in October.  It is an important test for college-bound high school juniors.  If your junior is not already signed up, understand why this test is beneficial and get them signed up soon.

Why Your Junior Should Take the PSAT

  1. Test Prep – The PSAT format is the same as the SAT test.  If your student is planning to take the SAT, the PSAT will serve as an initial practice test.  With the scores, your student will receive feedback on how to prepare for the SAT.  Even if your student is planning to take the ACT instead of the SAT, the experience will be helpful to prepare for a multi-hour test.  It will also help in determining which test your student is better suited for.  Since the ACT and SAT currently are set up differently, to test somewhat different skill sets, some students will do better on one test vs. the other.  As the Princeton Review indicates, it’s all about getting a high score, so a student should stick with the test that gives them the potential to achieve the highest score.  Most colleges will accept both tests.  For students looking to get into very competitive schools that take either test, I recommend having a high school junior take the PSAT in October, followed by the ACT in either October or December (if your student hasn’t taken it previously).  Then analyze the results from both tests to see which one makes more sense to focus on going forward.
  2. Scholarships – The NMSQT component of the PSAT is the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.  The test is used to select candidates for the National Merit Scholarship Program.  It is a very competitive program and is based on the highest PSAT scores state by state.  That means each state has its own cutoff score for eligibility.  You can read more about the National Merit Scholarship Program here: National Merit Scholarship Program.  There is also the National Achievement Scholarship Program to recognize outstanding African American students and the National Hispanic Recognition Program.  Through the National Merit Scholarship Program, students may be eligible for scholarships directly from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, scholarships sponsored by colleges and universities, and scholarships sponsored by corporations.  The student guide for the National Merit Scholarship Program lists out all corporations and colleges currently offering scholarships through the program.  However, it does not indicate scholarship amounts for each.  My Full Scholarship List includes schools that offer full-tuition and full-ride scholarships for finalists and semi-finalists in the national merit programs.
  3. Information – Taking the PSAT will open up several avenues of information for your student.  With the test results, your student will receive feedback on strengths and weaknesses and ways to prepare for college.  Your student will also receive feedback on suitable majors and careers and a list of colleges to consider.  Taking the test puts your student into a data bank that will make them accessible to schools around the country – meaning your student will get information from lots of colleges!  This used to mean stacks of college brochures in the mail, but has now turned into tons of emails in your students inbox.

To find out all the details on the PSAT test, visit the College Board’s official PSAT site.  Even if your student’s school is not offering the test, the site will help you find a nearby school that is.  The test is typically offered both during the school day and on a Saturday, so you should be able to find one that is doable.  And finally, the test costs only $14 so it is definitely worth the price for all of the benefits.


Don’t Break the Budget on ACT and SAT Prep Resources

ACT and SAT prep resources can help your student be better prepared to take the tests and achieve higher scores.  Some of these resources run into the hundreds and thousands of dollars.  Does spending that much really result in a score increase that justifies the cost?  I have not seen any data that supports this.  I would argue that with enough time and discipline, your student can benefit just as much from low-cost ACT and SAT prep resources.

I have listed some great low-cost and free test prep resources below that I would encourage you to check out.  You can also see the full range of ACT resources out there in my spreadsheet, ACT Prep Resources.

Low-Cost ACT Prep Resources

  1. Books – There are some great guides available through Amazon or your local bookstore including The Real ACT Prep Guide, Barron’s ACT 36 and Cracking the ACT.
  2. Official ACT Online Prep Program – $24.95 for a year of access
  3. YouTube – Type “ACT Test Prep” in the search box and you can choose from many different videos on ACT topics
  4. Free Online ACT Practice Tests – Available through sites like PowerScore
  5. Free Online ACT Prep Course through

Low-Cost SAT Prep Resources

  1. Books – Some of the best ones include The Official SAT Study Guide, Cracking the SAT, and Kaplan SAT.
  2. YouTube – Type “SAT Test Prep” in the search box and you can choose from many different videos on SAT topics
  3. Free Online SAT Practice Tests – Available through sites like PowerScore
  4. Free Online SAT Prep Course through

Are there others you have found?  If so, please leave a comment with the details so that other parents can benefit from these great low-cost ACT and SAT prep resources!


Taking the First ACT/SAT

My high school junior daughter takes the ACT for the first time in December.  She hasn’t done any test prep and hasn’t taken any practice tests.  This is not the way I would prefer to go about it, but given that we are two weeks out and she hasn’t wanted to prepare, I don’t think it’s going to happen!

Taking the first ACT/SAT is an important step for most college bound students.  Here are some of the reasons why:

  1. Baseline – Use the first ACT/SAT scores as a baseline.  Are the scores “good enough” for what your student wants to achieve?  Given that there is usually room for improvement, this baseline will help you work with your student to set a goal of what he or she would like to achieve on the next test.
  2. Test Pacing – Taking the first real test will help your student determine pacing.  Maybe he or she spent too long on a section and had to rush through others.  Help him/her think about what to do different the next time.
  3. Test Prep – Are there specific areas of the test where scores need to be improved or is overall improvement needed?  Think about the amount of test prep needed before the next test and plan accordingly.  For those taking the ACT, I have a spreadsheet of different ACT test prep options that will help when you are considering what kind of prep you are willing to consider.
  4. College Search List – Having the first ACT/SAT scores will help your student narrow down schools by admissions standards.  This is where you can really start refining the college search list.  Look for schools that would be matches or reaches based on those first ACT/SAT scores.  It is reasonable to improve your scores by 10-15%, but probably not by more than 25%.  This is especially important if you are counting on significant merit aid to afford college.
  5. Merit-Based Aid – The best merit-based aid opportunities are usually found at schools where your student’s GPA and ACT/SAT scores would put him or her in the top 25% of applicants.  Use the first ACT/SAT scores to determine where this will be possible.  Also, if a school includes merit-based aid on their Net Price Calculator, you can plug in the ACT/SAT scores to estimate what the school might offer.

I am looking forward to my daughter getting this first ACT test out of the way.  I am hoping it will give us the opportunity to encourage her to study and set a goal for the next time around.


The Anti-Karma of College Admission


By College Admission Blog, Posted on Tue, 03/31/2015

dice1Thank you to Teen Life for featuring advice from Christine VanDeVelde in Evaluating College Choices:

If your teen has been accepted to several different colleges, first off, Congratulations! They should be very proud of this accomplishment. But now they need to determine which school they will ultimately attend.

How can teens evaluate their college options and determine which school is right for them?

Factors to Consider

Once your teen knows where they have been accepted, they need to compare each school and what it has to offer. A simple pros and cons list of each school can be very helpful.

Christine K. VanDeVelde, journalist and coauthor of the book College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step, says, “It has been several months since the teen submitted their application to the school. They need to determine whether each school still lines up with their original goals and whether in these past few months, any of their goals have changed.”

Financial aid packages are an important consideration. Think about all the costs involved – housing, travel, books, etc.

Learn More About the Colleges Being Considered

If you can, have your teen visit or re-visit the colleges they are considering.

VanDeVelde says, “If your teen has never visited the school, they must do so before committing. Many schools have programs to cover the cost of a visit if the student cannot afford the travel expenses.”

Lisa Sohmer, Director of College Counseling at the Garden School says, “Many colleges have Accepted Students Day where teens can meet other students considering the school. They can also meet professors and talk to students already attending the college.” Spend time in the student center and dining halls. Read the postings on the walls and bulletin boards – see if there are events going on that would interest you if you attended the school.

After acceptance letters go out, many schools start Facebook groups for prospective students. This can be another good way for your teen to get a feel for whether they will feel comfortable with the incoming students.

Teens Should Decide

While many parents today do play a strong role in the college application process, deciding where to go to school should ultimately be the teen’s decision.

If teens ask for an opinion, be honest but try not to influence their decision (unless it is a financial necessity, it which case, speak up). Ultimately it is the teen that needs to attend the school, so they need to own the choices. Says VanDeVelde, “There comes a point where the teen needs to be the judge. I advise teens not to talk to too many people. It’s not your parent’s decision or your boyfriend’s or counselor’s – it is your decision.”

Teens should try not to be influenced by peers. Students may let the decisions of fellow high school classmates factor into their own. Some teens may want to go to a college with many teens from their town while others may not want to go somewhere no one knows them. Sohmer says, “The reality is, even if many kids from your high school go to the college, you may never see them and the experience will be different.”

Making the Most of the College Experience

For many teens, the deciding factor comes down to a gut reaction. Sohmer says, “Students will be the most successful at a school they feel they can make a home for themselves.”

Regardless of how much time and energy teens put into their decision, there are many factors beyond their control (dorm assignments, classes, roommates, etc.) that can influence their college experience. It is up to the teen to remember why they chose the school and to seek out the things that interested them socially and academically. Says VanDeVelde, “College is filled with such great opportunities and friendships – it is up to teens to make the most of whatever college they choose to attend. Best advice? It’s not where you go, but what you do when you get there.”