The Final Decision


I like to refer to April as the 2nd Christmas. While anxiety of waiting for decisions precedes the month, more than anxiousness for Christmas, nevertheless, it is a month of gifts. The tables have suddenly turned and those schools that you wanted so much now want you! And just like those days of our youth on Christmas (or you pick the holiday that is more appropriate to you), you don’t want to focus on only one gift that you got; play with them all for sometime. You have a month to decide! You worked so hard to get to this point, now enjoy the limelight and return to the research that you did on each school. If you did your homework well earlier, you would have pick several good fit schools. Now is the time to focus on the BEST FIT.

Avoid this common pitfall:

Many students immediately assume that they should go to the college that was hardest to get into. Subconsciously, they always had in their minds some kind of hierarchy listing of the schools they applied to. I counsel my students to be sure to have a range of schools (commonly referred to as Dream, Target and Safe, though I personally always hated the name “safe” as it seems to denote that it was in someway a “lesser” school), but then to shuffle them up and think of all of them as 1st choices.  When I have my family meetings in this month, I will ask the student to really think whether they want to be in a school where the work load and student body might be a bit overwhelming. Challenge is good, but if you feel that you are a weaker student, you may either be unhappy or abandon your goals for an easier path. I would again recommend watching this Malcolm Gladwell speech that I posted in an earlier blog:

Return to you Research:

You would have done significant research for your “Why Us” essay for the application, but now is the time to go back and research again. Once you know that it is a possibility, you will look with totally new eyes! Plus, now you are looking at different things. You wanted to point out all of the resources that you would take advantage of and that linked to who you are when you were writing those essays. But now that you know that they want you, turn your focus deeper towards the areas that would make life richer on that campus. Look into dorms, social life, opportunities to continue in areas of your interest, how easy is it to get in and out of the university? Remember, you will be doing that at least four times a year! Join Facebook groups of admitted students and see if you can talk to students who are there now.

Beware of the Marketing!:

American universities are especially good at their marketing! The amount of glossy picture filled love letters you receive now is astonishing. They play on the fact that you wanted to be there so bad a few months ago, and now they will shower love on you. Enjoy it, but know that it is just marketing, and you need to do your work to determine your best fit. Another common mistake is to choose schools that have more name recognition. Please trust me that all of that will mean absolutely nothing once you join the college.

Decided? Change your mind!

If you are leaning to a particular school and feel pretty sure that is the one that you want then turn your back on it for a couple days and throw your love at other ones. Try to really talk yourself into one of the others as you scour their sites for reasons why they might be better. Pretend that you did not even get into the one that you are leaning towards, and that you have to choose one of the others. If you return to the first one and still feel it is the best choice, then you will have done your due diligence and be more sure of yourself.

Never Look Back!

When you finally do make the choice, embrace it entirely. Start connecting with the school and the students in your incoming class. See what is going on right now on campus. Start thinking about clubs and organizations that you would like to join. Check our to note professors you want, or don’t want. Pick your classes and communicate with your future roommate. All of this will make sure that you hit the ground running!

Final Word:

While all of this 2nd Christmas is terribly fun, don’t let the dreaded and contagious “senioritis” strike you. UK admissions are conditional and US admissions do expect you to show them the same level of excellence that they saw in your application. So keep the foot on the accelerator for the remaining months until your exams are over!

The Waiting Game: No one wants to play it, but you should know the rules.

What to do while you wait....

What to do while you wait....

The Waitlist-What it is and the Strategies to Successfully get chosen off of it:


First: you must be realistic, it may not happen. Psychologically, you may want to start thinking strongly about the second choice and really start planning to be there. Logistically, you NEED to make a final choice for ONE school by MAY 1st and pay the deposit and complete any “Intent to Register” formalities.


Regardless of whether you stay on the waitlist at one or more schools, YOU MUST DECIDE ON ONE COLLEGE BY MAY 1ST AND PAY DEPOSIT TO RESERVE YOUR SPOT SOMEWHERE. If you end up getting off of the wait list, then you can choose to go to the “wait list” school by informing the other school that you deposited at that you are not coming. You will only loose the deposit.

What is a waitlist? The waitlist is a device used by schools to hedge their admissions results. Every program starts the admissions cycle with two critical projected numbers: applications and enrollments. These two "start and finish" numbers inform all of the key pieces of data for that program: acceptance rate, yield rate, financial aid metrics, and so on.

Even when those key numbers become solid (when the enrollment management committee sets an enrollment number and the application pool is finalized), there are still moving parts, because the admissions committee must project what the yield rate (the number of admitted students who ultimately enroll) will look like in order to ascertain how many students to accept. If the yield projection is too low, the school will over-enroll in the fall. On the other hand, if the yield projection is too high, the admissions office will be scrambling to fill the class.

This is where the waitlist comes into play. Obviously, if a program needs to add students at the late stages of the admissions process, they need to have "hot" leads. So when the committee makes decisions on students, they are always sure to keep a number of students in the mix, just in case they need to go and recruit from that pool anew. Therefore, the waitlist is - in its simplest form - a hedge against a bad yield projection.

The waitlist can also be a "soft deny" (a way to let people down easy), a built-in part of the process (winnowing down hundreds of second tier candidates to determine which fifty really want to get in), or even just the fulfillment of the status quo (after all, everyone has a waitlist), but the purest use is as a mechanism for the admissions office to course correct. It's as simple as that.

What is the timing like? Once you know how a waitlist works, the next step is understanding when it will work. At some schools, there may be internal, telltale signs early in the process that they aren't going to hit their enrollment numbers and an aggressive waitlist admissions campaign might begin early. Other programs will think they are golden until the last minute, when the big wave of enrollments never comes. Those are the schools that have to really scramble. Either way, you want to get on the record early and often, expressing your continued interest in the program. If and when the school starts to reach out to waitlisted students, you want to be at the top of the queue.

How can you tell if a school will be going to its waitlist? Sometimes you don't know right way (at least not until waitlisted candidates start chattering on message boards), but there are other times when you can forecast a school going deep into its waitlist. For starters, you can look at recent trends and see how schools have done yielding a class. In particular, look to the previous year and then make an educated guess based on the inverse of that prior year. Schools are very reactionary, so if they yielded tremendously well for the incoming fall 2008 class, you can bet that they were aggressive in building their yield projection for this current cycle. Could be a good waitlist bet. On the contrary, a school that hit the waitlist hard last year is not very likely to admit a lot of students off the waitlist this year, because their reaction is the complete opposite - to get conservative and shrink the projected rate.

What is the one thing the school wants to know most about me as a waitlist candidate? Pure and simple, they want to know if you will enroll should they accept you. It sounds a bit crude, but the time for high-level matchmaking is largely over - at this stage, the admissions committee simply wants to figure out whether you will be a "one-for-one" conversion. A "one-for-one" refers to the idea that each admitted student off the waitlist will enroll in the program. This is extremely important for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the impact it has on the admissions numbers that the school must report at the end of the process. Each additional acceptance letter raises the ever-important acceptance rate and each admitted student that does not enroll further drops the yield rate. Once a program goes to the waitlist (especially if it is unplanned), they are already fully engaged in damage mitigation. Therefore, their primary concern is identifying qualified students (again, this is the value of the waitlist - you can stock a pool of candidates who are all qualified) who will enroll if given the chance.



As mentioned, the most important thing is that the College wants to pick students who will actually come. Many students stay on the wait-list because they are “keeping score” (just want to see where all they get in). Some because they do it as a “knee-jerk” reaction, but then get into a school that they prefer and never take the effort to inform the school they want to go off of the wait-list. And then there is YOU, the kid who actually wants to GET IN! So we want to communicate to the school that you are in this third bucket!

Steps to follow:

While this is a delicate process of walking the razors edge of showing persistence without annoying them, you do want to show them through your efforts and things that you send in that you are willing to work to get in. The kids in the first two buckets above will not bother to do this. So, below are steps that you can send lots of things that will not be gimmicky or annoying.

Send in the response that you want to stay on the waitlist as soon as possible.

Compose a longer letter to remind the school of your strengths and inform them of any recent accomplishments, awards, honors and work that you have done since you applied. If you will have any grades for Finals completed you can have your high school fax those to the school. Or if you have good grades from any Mock Exams, have those sent.

Let the admissions office know—again—why you make a great fit with this school in particular. It can’t hurt to visit the school if possible, call occasionally, or offer to interview.

Get another recommendation or reference letter if you can. This is especially helpful if the person writing the letter can provide reasons why you make a good candidate for this particular school. This is particularly effective now because it is connecting to just one school as opposed to all of your schools as it was initially

Ask the college what you can do to bolster your chances for acceptance. You may not get any useful information out of this, but it can’t hurt to ask. This approach works successfully for many applicants each year and is another reason to reach out to the college, hence showing them how much you want them.

I have had students in the past who have created short videos of why they should get in, compose songs or small video games. Anything creative will show how much you want it!

Send in something separate that again highlights the GREATEST achievement in your personal brand, just to remind them of this super KEY achievement.

Review the Common Data Sets for the colleges that you are waitlisted at. This will give you and idea of how possible it is for you to get in. You can google: particular college + common data set + waitlist and get it. For instance, here is the common data set for Stanford:

Not a very promising example in that Stanford accepted 0 people from Wait List, but helpful in that it shows that this would not likely be a college to hold your breath for:

Total first-time, first-year (freshman) men who applied: 20,464
Total first-time, first-year (freshman) women who applied: 18,364
Total first-time, first-year (freshman) men who were admitted: 1,147
Total first-time, first-year (freshman) women who were admitted: 1,061

Total full-time, first-time, first-year (freshman) men who enrolled: 904
Total part-time, first-time, first-year (freshman) men who enrolled:
Total full-time, first-time, first-year (freshman) women who enrolled: 773
Total part-time, first-time, first-year (freshman) women who enrolled:

C2. Freshman wait-listed students (students who met admission requirements but whose final admission was contingent on space availability)
Do you have a policy of placing students on a waiting list? Yes

Number of qualified applicants offered a place on waiting list: 814

Number of wait-listed students who accepted a place on the list: 576

Number of wait-listed students admitted: 0

Is your waiting list ranked? No


But most importantly, start thinking about your “birds in hand”, colleges that you got into. There is no point in holding out hopes for a Wait List school. Work hard to convince them and then move on with your life until that decision is available.


The "Likely Letter"



This time of year, many applicants get something informally called the "likely letter" from some of the schools that they applied to. This is where the college sends a letter saying that they're very excited about the applicant, and will be getting back to the applicant in about a month, but that they are excited about the student joining their college. This is not an acceptance letter, this is purely a letter that says that the student may get in.  

As a counselor for over 10 years now, I am alarmed at this practice increasing. I have had students in the past who have received this letter and then not actually been admitted. I do not think that it is fair that universities send this kind of letter to Students. What good can it do? This is already a very anxious time for students waiting to hear from universities. Presumably, the university has already read the application, so why not just decide and send the letter of acceptance early. This practice also scares students who have not received the likely letter. They are all talking to each other on college confidential or some Facebook group. What doesn't mean you have not received this likely letter? Actually, it doesn't mean anything, but try to tell that to the student who is anxiously waiting to hear back from colleges and keep hearing about the other students are receiving these letters.

Don't make this process have even more anxiety than it already has.

Meghna Ravishankar shares some of her advice....

Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Applied to College

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Completing college applications is an extremely stressful task and causes anxiety in many students, teachers, Internet service providers, the whole lot. Everyone knows that they are obviously a test of endurance, stamina and intelligence, and should therefore be respected from a distance, and feared up close. (You thought high school was hard, LOL). The aim of this article is to hopefully make you a little more confident about your college applications or just a little less stressed out (Success not guaranteed). I am going to relive my application process, and if we both make it out alive, maybe you’ll learn something.


Narrow your Choices

Narrowing your list of prospective colleges can be difficult but it’s not impossible. Remember that the rankings of colleges are often based on their grad schools. Consider this while applying and when deciding on a college later on. Many small liberal arts schools are not featured in these rankings but they are by no means less brilliant than the huge, highly ranked research universities (don’t be too quick to brush them aside, most are pretty great). College prowler will be your best friend throughout this process.


Finish Tests Early

Get your standardized testing out of the way as soon as possible because it’s just a pain if you try to juggle your applications, standardized tests and schoolwork all at once. Avoid doing the November/December, unless it’s really necessary, because it’s usually around the same time as the midterms in 11th, AND in 12th you’re writing college essays and midterms. I did that and my scores didn’t really improve so: waste of money, waste of time. But you’re not me so do whatever, YOLO.


The dreaded SAT: It’s a huge pain and it’s not exactly cheap, around $100 to write a test for over 3 hours; $51 for the test, $40 for being Asian and some random taxes of course because life is incomplete without them. GET IT OUT OF THE WAY.


Make sure you check if the colleges on your list have any specific testing requirements (SAT, TOEFL, IELTS, SAT II) and see if you can have them waived. There’s nothing more annoying than having to spend a ton of money on random tests that you could’ve avoided. Some of the smaller liberal arts colleges don’t even require the SAT anymore (YAY liberal arts!).


Organize your Thoughts

Writing essays is a time consuming process so start early. Make sure you stick to your deadlines because it’s going to affect YOU in the end, no one else. If you’re sending your essays to a college counsellor don’t be late and expect them to work miracles because they’re people too and believe it or not, they need to sleep at night as well. Ask your teachers and peers to read your essays and give you feedback. That being said, don’t feel the need to take every single person’s opinion into account. It’s very easy to lose your thought process and your voice in an essay when you take everyone’s feedback into consideration. You are trying to convince colleges to choose you for YOU so be true to yourself as much as possible. College admissions committees are not as mean as you think they are. They are more afraid of you than you are of them (once they admit you, you have an insane amount of leverage.) Find out if colleges are need-blind or not. A common belief is that you are less likely to be accepted if you apply for financial aid but this is not always true. If you know people in some of the colleges you want to apply to, talk to them and get a sense of the academic intensity and the expectations that professors might have. This is also helpful when you are choosing where you want to go after the decisions have come out.


Enjoy Life

Fast forward. Applications are sent, a huge burden taken off your shoulders. Take a breather because you deserve it for making it this far. Now start stressing about whether colleges actually love you. It’s normal to be stressed while waiting for your decisions but remember, there’s nothing you can change about your applications now. So just have fun while you can. Getting accepted is always fun, getting rejected or deferred, not so much (Feels something like this


Finally you have to pick where you want to go: the perfect place for an amazing experience and a new adventure. Think carefully even if you think you already know where you want to go because the entire application process might change things for you. Trust me on this one. I had to choose between UBC and Grinnell. Before I applied, I had my heart set on UBC and it was a no-brainer when anyone asked me where I was going.


When it finally came down to it, however, UBC wasn’t the one for me, even though it was my first love. At the time, I thought I was making a huge mistake by choosing Grinnell but now I can easily say it was the best decision I have ever made (Grinnell is amazing. You should apply! Colleges are like clothes. Imagine that you find a really nice pair of jeans and they look great but they don’t fit you. You squeeze into them anyway but they look terrible on you. Don’t choose a college that doesn’t fit you.



Lastly, while choosing the college you want to commit to, have a set of criteria to compare them and make a rational decision. I can’t give you a list of criteria because it depends on what is important to you. One thing I’ll tell you, however, is that WEATHER IS IMPORTANT. It shouldn’t be a determining factor (unless you are very picky about the weather) but I think it’s pretty important. I go to college in Iowa where winters are -20°C on average. Not fun. I’m sure I would’ve transferred by now if I didn’t love my college as much as I do.


I know this was long but we both made it through. I hope it helped. These are things that I learned late into my application process so maybe it will help you get a jump on your work. Hang in there! College is such a blast, so I hope you find your perfect fit.


Choosing Best Fit!

Many students will have already heard from some of the schools they have applied to, and most of the others will be replying in March. You will need to decide on a final choice and send in an “intent to register” and a deposit by May 1st.  It is always surprising to me how much more you will learn about a school once you know that you are actually accepted at that school. I guess that it is difficult to really look into all that a school has to offer until it is ACTUALLY a reality. The trick now is to really learn about the school and to imagine what it will be like for you for four years. Now more than ever, you need to forget what everyone else thinks of a school, including various Ranking Organizations, and remember that the goal for you is to find the Best Fit school.
You would have made a list of schools to shoot for that was based on selectivity and chances to get in, but that list should never be considered a hierarchy of schools on preference, only on selectivity. It is now your task to understand which of these schools is now the BEST fit for YOU. With the students that I work with professionally, I work with them on creating a “Right Fit – Matrix”, basically, a spread sheet where you list various things that are important to you along the top row, and the list of schools that you got into on the first column, and then research and rate for yourself how each school reflects these things that are important to you. As opposed to being any formula, the Right Fit Matrix is there to help organize your research. Hopefully, through the process of your research, you will determine the best fit for you.
Remember, college is like a buffet. Huge buffets are not necessarily better, as we can only eat so much. Notable buffets are often over-rated and too expensive. And most of all, a buffet’s benefit is that you can choose what you want. Make sure that the buffet that you are choosing offers you exactly what you are looking for. The next step will be to prepare to actively devour that buffet next fall. Many of your peers will be so excited by the sheer volume of things on offer that they will passively await being served. I am hoping that you will not be shy to grab that plate and begin piling it on right away!!
Some elements to think about when considering your choices.
1. Name Recognition
Large universities tend to have greater name recognition than small colleges. For example, once you leave the US, you'll find more people who have heard of Stanford University than Pomona College. Both are extremely competitive top-notch schools, but Stanford will always win the name game.
There are several reasons why universities tend to have greater name recognition than small colleges:
•    Larger schools have more alumni in India because they went to Graduate School there. Remember that those are very different things. Make sure that the school that you choose values undergraduate education.
•    Larger schools are more likely to have NCAA Division I athletic teams.  Flip side of this is that many students are only attracted to the school because of the athletic teams.
•    At research-centered universities, the faculty often publish more and appear in the news more. Flip side of this is that they do not have as much interest in teaching undergraduate students.

2. Professional Programs
You're more likely to find robust undergraduate professional programs in areas like business and engineering at a large university. Smaller schools consider these to be more suitable for Graduate Study and therefore do not have as much of a focus or funding related to those fields. Notable exceptions would be schools like Babson or Bentley for business or Harvey Mudd, Rose Hulman or Franklin W. Olin for Engineering.

3. Class Size
At a liberal arts college, you're more likely to have small classes, even if the student / faculty ratio is higher than at a large research university. You’ll find far fewer giant freshmen lecture classes at a small college than a large university. In general, small colleges have a much more student-centered approach to education than large universities. NOTE: Student-Teacher Ratio is sometimes a scam in that some schools will count EVERY professor who is in anyway attached to the university when calculating that ratio ~ Class size is always a better metric to look at.

4. Classroom Discussion
This is connected to class size -- at a small college you'll usually find lots of opportunities to speak out, ask questions, and engage the professors and students in debate.
5. Access to the Faculty
At a liberal arts colleges and other smaller schools, teaching undergraduates is usually the top priority of the faculty. Tenure and promotion both depend upon quality teaching. At a large research university, research may rank higher than teaching. Also, at a school with master's and PhD programs, the faculty will have to devote a lot of time to graduate students and consequently have less time for undergraduates.

6. Graduate Instructors
Small liberal arts colleges usually don't have graduate programs, so you won't be taught by graduate students. At the same time, having a graduate student as an instructor isn't always a bad thing. Some graduate students are excellent teachers, and some tenured “research” professors are actually lousy.

7. Athletics
If you want huge tailgate parties and packed stadiums, you'll want to be at a large university with Division I teams. The Division III games of a small school are often fun social outings, but the experience is entirely different. If you're interested in playing on a team but don't want to make a career of it, a small school may provide more low-stress opportunities.

8. Leadership Opportunities
At a small college, you'll have a lot less competition getting leadership positions in student government and student organizations. You'll also find it easier to make a difference on campus. Individual students with a lot of initiative can really stand out at a small school in a way they won't at a huge university.

9. Advising and Guidance
At many large universities, advising is handled through a central advising office, and you may end up attending large group advising sessions. At small colleges, the advising is frequently handled by the professors. With small college advising, your advisor is more likely to know you well and provide meaningful, personalized guidance.

10. Anonymity
Do you like being hidden in the crowd? Do you like being a silent observer in the classroom? It's much more easy to be anonymous at a large university.


Many schools fall within a gray area on the small/large spectrum. I have also dealt mostly with size in this write up as I find it a very key area to consider and feel that it overlaps with many of the other features that make college meaningful. But please make other criteria for your own Right Fit Matrix to determine what is important to you. I am, ironically, coaching two transfer students this year that I did not work with the first time around. One is in a remote place and finds it too “dead”. The other is in New York City and finds it too much of a distraction and reports that most of the students are not at all active on campus. She wants a more involved student body in a smaller and less urban environment. Look also at certain special features of the colleges that you are considering. Dartmouth College, the smallest of the Ivies, provides a nice balance of college and university features and has an innovative Quarter System called the D-Plan. The University of Georgia has an Honors program of 2,500 students that provides small, student-centered classes within a large state university. Some schools may have consortiums of several schools that offer opportunities for larger offerings. Some schools have COOP opportunities that allow one to work in one’s field of interest for a year during study. Keep an eye out for some of these offerings as you explore.
A Final Word
Many schools fall within a gray area on the small/large spectrum. I have also dealt mostly with size in this write up as I find it a very key area to consider and feel that it overlaps with many of the other features that make college meaningful. But please make other criteria for your own Right Fit Matrix to determine what is important to you. I am, ironically, coaching two transfer students this year that I did not work with the first time around. One is in a remote place and finds it too “dead”. The other is in New York City and finds it too much of a distraction and reports that most of the students are not at all active on campus. She wants a more involved student body in a smaller and less urban environment. Look also at certain special features of the colleges that you are considering. Dartmouth College, the smallest of the Ivies, provides a nice balance of college and university features and has an innovative Quarter System called the D-Plan. The University of Georgia has an Honors program of 2,500 students that provides small, student-centered classes within a large state university. Some schools may have consortiums of several schools that offer opportunities for larger offerings. Some schools have COOP opportunities that allow one to work in one’s field of interest for a year during study. Keep an eye out for some of these offerings as you explore.

The Final Choice

With letters of acceptance rolling in over next month, it is time to return to the beginning and find the Best Fit.

With letters of acceptance rolling in over next month, it is time to return to the beginning and find the Best Fit.

From a student: Why she LOVES the Liberal Arts and Amherst

They say that the liberal arts teach you to think, but I think a good liberal arts college teaches you how to live. However, your follow up question as to what kind of student would benefit from such an education is a pertinent one - I agree this is not for everyone. In fact, there are many here who go through this place not having seen any evidence of what I speak of, and living as they used to before they came here, armed with a major in hand, but not changed by their learning. But if there is any evidence that someone is a lover of thinking and the thoughts of others, and is curious and introspective and passionate about what they do, perhaps they will find themselves happy in a place like this. It is difficult for me to separate the people and the place, and I think it is the former that have caused this experience rather than an institutional structure of any kind. Perhaps I have simply been lucky in the people I know - I am so much happier in the spring than I was in the fall having met the most wonderful people after returning from break - I cannot guarantee that this will be the experience of everyone who goes to a liberal arts school, but I do believe that it is in a school such as this where the kind of person I described above is found in the highest proportion.


I love all of the ZeFrank stuff on YouTube, but this one seemed particularly good to share with some of the students (and parents) that I work with. Enjoy, and then go watch more of his stuff! You can subscribe or watch other ZeFrank stuff here

Choosing the schools you will apply to...

Choosing Your College List!!

So this is the time of year that 12th Graders should really have chosen all of their schools they will be applying to in the Fall.  Many students have a hard time deciding on their final choices.  I want to address this in this edition of the CollegeSource Blog.

I think that one of the biggest problems is that students like to do this backwards.  That is, they question whether they will get into a college, based on it’s popularity, it’s average SAT scores, it’s Aura!!  I think that the best place to start is with your own preferences.

As we remind our students at CollegeSource over and over, this is a great opportunity for self exploration.  You will feel so much more empowered if you “own” this process and choose your schools based on what you want.  Some of the larger categories to think about in terms of preferences would be:

Academic Life:  What are your academic interests? Not necessarily your “Major”, that may change and is one of the great things about the flexibility of the US Undergrad program, just think about what areas are you interested in.  What is your academic ability? We often think that getting into the most selective college, whether we are academically capable of dealing with it or not, is the best thing.  But just ask an overwhelmed student mid way through the semester what he thinks of this logic.  Sometimes it might be better to be the BIG fish in a Smaller pond.

Size. If you thrive at a small school where there is a lot of individual attention, you may not be happy at a large university. Larger schools may be very exciting, have amazing sports and a huge choice of great majors and professors, but if you prefer smaller classes and getting to know your faculty, a smaller college might be a better fit.

Location and Setting. This includes geographical area as well as setting: rural, suburban, urban.  Try to imagine what it will be like in those environments and weather.  Remember, you will be there for 4 years!!  if you like to be near theater, museums, and nightlife, you may want to reconsider a rural college that has little access to the cultural offerings of a city-based school.

Social Life/Extracurricular Activities. Making friends and meeting new people is a vital part of college life, so you will want to consider whether a school is coeducational or single sex; the ratio of males to females; or the general student-body atmosphere. If sports and clubs are important to you, be sure that that school has a variety of extracurricular activities.

After you have made a list of things that constitute your “preferences”, you may want to look into your constraints:

Admission Standards. After you've completed your personal evaluation-taking into consideration your course-work, test scores, class ranking, general academic strengths, as well as your outside interests-you must honestly decide whether you are eligible for admission to a particular school.  Again, I would urge you to really question schools that are a major stretch for you academically.  If you do get in, will it be worth it to have to work like a dog just to be in the bottom third of class?

Cost. For International students, financial aid is limited.  If cost is an issue, definitely understand the institutional aid offered at the school.  You may also want to look into public schools in the mid-west region of the US, they tend to be less expensive.  I would like to de-mystify one myth I have heard in India many time, “it is easy to get into the Top schools if you can pay for it”.  This is not true, they have plenty of applications in the “no-need” category.  However, it is true that it may be more difficult in many schools to get admission if you cannot pay for it.  The reason is that they may not have enough money to offer you and would then think that you would not be able to come.  Therefore, they would rather say no to you than you say no to them.

So, where do you find all of this information?

Many students get frustrated when looking at the college websites and throw up their arms stating, “They all look the GREAT!”  Well, yeah!  They spend loads of money trying to impress you.

Here are some sites that have Student Reviews of schools:

Here you can see many College Videos:

Here is a great survey form based on the preferences described above:

To understand more about average SAT scores and grades of the students getting into various schools, I like to look at US News or The College Board’s site.

US News:


When you see SAT scores listed as 25-75 percentile.  One can generally estimate that if you are in the middle 50%, you have a decent shot.  If you are above the 75th percentile, well, that is pretty likely admit.  Below the 25th percentile, you better have some other amazing hook if you want to get in, and you should consider how it will be to go to school there, given 75% of the students are likely stronger than you academically.

Here is another exploration site that I like:

OMG, I haven’t done an internship yet!!

It’s almost March and more than the rising heat of the impending summer, I know the month by the inevitable questions that come in from concerned 11th grade students: “Is it important that I do an internship this summer?” I will patiently remind them that, as with all things in this process, it is only important that they “do” what they are truly interested in doing. “The Internship”, like community service, has long been thought of as one of those critical areas that students have relegated to the checklist that they think of as a requirement in a good application. As with all things that students do with the intention of just being a bullet point on their resume, getting a letter of recommendation for an internship becomes one of those goals for many students. Lets face it, we are all in love with pieces of paper (and parents keep piles of these certificates from their kids achievements over the years organized neatly in shoe boxes under beds). I always remind students that I can go down to the local notary here in Bangalore and get a certificate that says that I am the Prime Minister for Rs. 100. A piece of paper means nothing, and in fact, most admissions people don’t want extra letters of recommendation or certificates clogging up your already big application file. They want to hear from you! They want to know WHY this internship was important to you.

But everyone in my class is doing an internship!!

So is the internship really that important? Well, it depends. You need to ask yourself a few questions before deciding if and what you want to do. If you don’t, you are likely to find yourself in an Facebook Internship. That is not as good as it sounds. I call the Facebook Internship one in which you are actually going to some office for a week or two, but all that you do is update your status. But if you can find a meaningful internship, yes, it is a great experience to have. Also, since in the UK you do not have that much flexibility to change your major, they are very interested in seeing that you have explored the “real-world” application of what you want to study.

Before rushing into this, ask yourself these questions:

  • What do I want to get out of this internship? Have some specific goals or expectations for the internship. You may end up being wrong about these, but if you have some goals, you will be more focused on actually doing something, and it will provide a better conversation with your supervisor for the internship.

  • Why am I doing this? Maybe you want to get a sense of a particular career path that relates to an area of study that you are considering? Or maybe there are resources at a company that help you explore an area of research that relates to something that you are interested in.
    • What potential “product” or “outcome” could come out of this internship? Having something tangible that you can share with others is far better than a letter of recommendation. See if there is some kind of report that you can produce, or even a small contribution that you can call your own at the end of it.

    Your Supervisor is likely to be very nice, and very clueless!

    Well, he/she is clueless about what to do with you at least. It is the unpleasant side-effect of anti-child labor laws that most organizations will have very little idea of what you are capable of and they typically don’t have people come work in their company for such short periods of time. I think that the most important consideration to think about when approaching an internship is to determine your purpose and potential outcome. Think about the work that the company does, and about your own skills and goals that you defined in the above questions. In the first meeting with the supervisor, or in emails prior to meeting, you could share these thoughts and they may help him/her get a better idea of what you could do. If nothing else, it will show the supervisor that you are there to work. And this will help you avoid the second deadly, yet common internship ~ The Shadow Internship. That is when they put you onto the CEO or some other important person in the organization and say that you will “shadow”, or follow them around for a week. This could be interesting, but it is highly unlikely that you will contribute anything in that kind of internship. I also always suggest when you are looking at internships that you see whether you may be able to break it into two or three times during different vacations in your 11th and 12th grade. It is more likely that over time, you will get a better idea of where you can add value and in the second or third time may really be able to contribute something. I think that this also looks great to admissions, as it shows commitment in consistency of focus over time.

    Brainstorm on the possibilities!

    Right! So, your 16 or 17-years-old and have maybe one month to dedicate to an internship. I hate to break it to you, but most people are not beating the pavement looking for your exact demographic for work. The first place to look is with your own family and family friends. If you have done the discovery process above, it will be easier for others to hone in on opportunities. When you do connect to a possibility, suggest an introduction, but then take it on yourself. Use the introduction as an opportunity to “sell” yourself based on what you are looking for, your goals and expectations. I guarantee that it will impress that “family friend” and lead to a more meaningful role. There are also organizations that help students find internships, one such group that I had a girl attend really helped her explore her interest in Law.1 I had another student who built homes in South Africa and learned intensive second language courses.2 But these programs are not inexpensive. I would also suggest that you check with your seniors in school and counselor to see what previous students have done, as the companies that they have worked with may be more comfortable with hosting high school students. Also, don’t forego your own family business, if that is a possibility. It is easier to believe that your mom or dad allowed you greater access than it is to imagine Ernst and Young really let you get that involved!

    Finally, lets not forget that just the act of some good hard work is a commendable thing. In fact, for most students in the US and UK, internships are not that accessible either. Instead, delivering the newspaper, baby-sitting and mowing lawns will be on their resumes. Nothing wrong with understanding the value of money through the sweat of the brow! I had two brothers that I worked with in the past, their father owned the largest car dealerships in town. They were interested in studying business. He gave them jobs washing cars for the summer. Ask them now and they will tell you that it was a great experience. Ask them then and they moaned.

    Amit Goswami on Joe Rogan's Podcast

    Tough to sell this one, but thoroughly enjoyed this episode of The Joe Rogan Experience. This is almost 2 hours of the stoner, previous host of Fear Factor, Joe Rogan talking to a Quantum Physicist with a thick Indian accent who explains how Quantum Physics explains the spiritual nature of the world and technology of yoga and meditation. Like I said, tough sell, but honestly a fascinating couple hours of listening!!

    Here is the YouTube video:

    And Here is the podcast link:

    Aristotle: Your Personal Essay Coach

    Letting Aristotle Help You Write Your Admissions Essay

    I have been helping students discover their own personal voices since 2002. Before that, I worked in several start-up companies, where I list “Helping others communicate more effectively” most prominently on my resume. This is because I have recognized that most problems in any organization have their roots in poor communication. I start working with my high school students on their essays in March before their 12th grade year. This may seem very early, but there is a very good reason for that. I have found that writing an essay at that time carries less apprehensiveness, and therefore, allows the student’s authentic voice to emerge. When faced with these same admission essay prompts later, the tendency is to write from a place of foreboding that often brings a product that I call the “Mr/Miss World” essay. You know the one, where the writers tell us about how just seeing the smiles on the little orphan’s faces made them recognize how they have taken their own lives for granted and that these little underprivileged children gave them so much more than the hours of service the writers devoted. You probably just threw up in your mouth a little as well. So, lets travel back in time and ask Aristotle for some help through his identification of Ethos, Pathos and Logos in persuasive writing.


    Ethos is essentially your credibility, or trustworthiness. An appeal to the reader through ethos is to establish that people should believe what you are saying because you know a good deal about this topic. For instance, in my introduction I established how long I have been reading personal essays, as well as extensive experience in the business world with effective communication. While you may not have the years of experience, or the degrees and titles to flaunt your credibility, you are “experts” in some areas, and one particular area that an admissions person is most interested in ~ YOU! Aristotle actually made great pains to point out that ethos is not the outer appearances, as much as it is in the language that the writer uses to show credibility. Consider for instance how one might list being in a leadership role in an essay. Simply telling the reader that you had this position does not help much. The reader does not know how that role is picked, whether by popularity or some partiality. But if the writer were to indicate a particular “learning” in that role, then the reader could recognize the quality as authentic. For instance: “Remembering the conflict that I caused by not allowing all of my team members their opinions from the last football match, I calmed the student counsel down and suggested that we pass my gavel around and let everyone have one minute to share their perspectives uninterrupted.”


    Pathos is making an emotional connection, but not in the way our Mr/Miss World speech has attempted above. I think that the more effective way of doing this requires the writer to get in touch with his/her own feelings and motivations first. If you look at the things that you wish to communicate (brag) about in the application, try to identify your emotional connection and motivation for doing those things. You will initially just respond that “you enjoy” the activity, or “you are good” at it. But if you search more, you will likely find some more intrinsic rewards that you receive from these. Those feelings and motivations will be what you want to share with the reader. The effect of this is that the reader can empathize with you in a broader sense and even imagine how you would excel in similar activities on their campus.


    This is where the writer makes and appeal to the readers reason, hence the derivative of the word-Logic. There are ways to do this in your personal essay, but I think that Logos most comes into play when you are telling the college “why” you want to go to their school. Many of these essays tend to be blatant flirtations, with adjective filled sentences telling the admissions people several things that they already know about their school. Instead, focus on you first. List the areas that you feel proud of having achieved some expertise (from your Ethos areas), then think of some aspects of your personality as they relate to your environment that are important to you (this may have been some of the things that you communicated in your Pathos area), now think of some of the areas that you “aspire” to do, but for whatever reason you have not had resources (time, money, facilities). Only then should you research the school that you have targeted and try to make connections between one of those three areas of you, and how those areas are represented or available at that school. This can be an effective way to make a strong logical (Logos) connection between you and that school.

    A focus on any one of these areas would make for a more effective and persuasive essay, but I point them out here more to direct the writer to the process before you even sit down to write. These can be effective ways to learn more about yourself and what makes you who you are. Once you have a good understanding of who you are, you will be more effective in communicating that to others.

    Note: I have based this article on another interesting article on Harvard Business Review by Scott Edinger: Three Elements of Great Communication. You can read that article here:

    New Essay Prompts on the Common Application!

    Class of 2017 has the historic honor of being the first class to have new Essay prompts on the Common Application main essay in over eight years! There are several other changes, like the word limit is now 650 words (before 500) and will be strictly enforced. The system is also going completely online this year (read: inevitable problems looming).

    I for one am very happy with these changes as I found the old topics quite stale and invoking equally stale responses. I have always appreciated the Topic of Your Choice option over the cheesy "Miss World" like response from the old Diversity prompt or the Issue of National importance (sorry, almost fell asleep again writing that!). Oh, another change, the Topic of you Choice no longer an option!

    Without further adeiu, here are the new Prompts:

    • "Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story."
    • "Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?"
    • "Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?"
    • "Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?"
    • "Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family."

    For the full Announcement Download This

    On Liberal Arts Education

    Just read a nice blog entry written by a mother of a girl studying at Tufts about the benefits of a Liberal Arts Education. Was nice to hear the parent perspective and made me want to go back and re-read the essay that Gurcharan Das ( wrote years ago that I have kept handy for families in India that are unfamiliar with Liberal Arts Colleges. It is not as difficult these days to open a family's mind up to these opportunities as it was 6-7 years ago. Many of the colleges are traveling to India now, and many of the students who went to these smaller schools are now very successful and are spreading the news back home. Back in the day, I had to really break through a bunch of barriers to get a family to consider the schools. I think that this is for a couple reasons, not the least of which is that with the variety of concerns that a parent has about sending their 18 year old all the way to the US, and paying the enormous amount of money that it requires to do so, the words "Liberal" and "Arts" are probably the last thing that they want to hear in making this decision! Furthermore, while I had different problems all those years ago sitting in an all boy's boarding school in Mussoorie, India trying to decide where I would go to college, they are not that different that what families now have. My major problem was a lack of information (pre-internet and no one was traveling to India to recruit students, much less to the foothills of the Himalayas!), but parents and students these days have an over-abundance of information. And all of those websites look amazing! The front page that looks like a Bennington add, adorned with every possible nationality staring back at you like it is a multicultural paradise! Lack of info or too much info, we go to the familiar. However, since historically Indians only went to the US for graduate school, the familiar would rarely include Liberal Arts Colleges, given most of them are entirely undergraduate, or primarily undergraduates. So the familiar refrain from my students, "But no one back home will have heard of the school." I always tell them that they can always answer back to people that say that with the quip reply, "Yeah, they've never heard of you either." But seriously, I do understand that concern, and if you were planning your terminal degree to be an undergraduate degree, then by all means, this could be an issue if you were to try to get a job back in India. However, not many of my students plan to stop after undergraduate studies, and therein lies one of the greatest strengths of LACs. The other two articles I referred to talk about many great things about LACs and I have posted the links below and you should definitely read these!! But, I would also point out that one huge factor for choosing a Liberal Arts undergraduate education is that if you are going on to Grad school, this will be your best preparation. For those parents out there that went to the US for Grad school, just think back on your own experiences with professors in your school. How concerned were they about the undergrads? More likely than not, you handled many of the undergrads for them. Fact is, professors from large research universities are focussed more on their research. Grads and PhD students help them with this. Undergraduate teaching is not always the most important area for them. On the other hand in a smaller LAC, it is likely that the classes are less than 20 in a classroom, which not only means that you are going to be known by the professor, but also that there is a built in expectation that you are involved and prepared for the class. 

    I am certainly not saying that LACs are for everyone, but I would certainly think about the investment in terms of the priority towards the undergrad, time and attention that you will get, and not about rankings and number of Nobel laureates that the school might have.

    Here are the links to the other great articles on LAC's:

    Romancing the Arts:

    Parent from ParentEdge: