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.

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.

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.

    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:

    A student's journal of her college visits

    Wow, this was so fun to read and such a great job of documenting college visits by this student that I wanted to share on my blog. Even the pictures are great!!  Enjoy!

     Colleges Visited:

    Duke University
    Meredith College
    Swarthmore College
    Brown University
    Amherst College
    Smith College
    Williams College
    Wellesley College
    Northwestern University
    Claremont McKenna
    Scripps College
    Pomona College

    Download the Full Descriptive PDF here


    My Time (Management)

    Download this Template and follow along in the screencast video to take control of your time!

    Download Template Here

     After you have download, watch Part 1 of the My Time (Management) Screen Cast:

    Here is Part 2 of the My Time (Management) Screen Cast: 11th Grade Students


    And Here is Part 2 of the My Time (Management) Screen Cast: 12th Grade Students


    Advice- SAT Retake? Researcing College List?

    This is a letter to a student considering retaking her SAT and also talks about how to go about researching her target list of schools:


    Nice improvement! Would still like to see writing higher, but CR and Math more important anyways. Yes, for all schools except the University of California, they take your highest scores from multiple sittings and furthermore could care less about any lower scores. So you can count on your "super score" with the higher math from January!

    Whether to take again or not entirely depends on you and whether you think that you would score significantly higher in any of the sections. Looking back on your latest practice tests, these scores seem to be pretty indicative of your practice tests, and therefore, I would say that with the sufficient preparation that you have done (more than 10 practice tests and hours of individual practice!), you hit your expected target range. While further extensive practice may bring the score a bit higher, it is unlikely that it will go that much higher and therefore not really make much of a difference in admissions.

    Given your current list though, it does make the upper categories a bit of a stretch, but then they are a bit of a stretch for anyone, regardless of the SAT scores. Remember that the sun does not rise and set on the SAT's alone. It may be time to put this to rest and focus on other elements that strengthen your profile.

    Regarding researching universities: it is tough, no doubt about it. The goal is to try to find as many specific things that will align you, your interests and your achievements with the goals of the school. The more unique and uniquely personal, the better. College Prowler is good, but keep in mind that it is using bigger categories, so not likely to have enough particulars. I like College Confidential a lot (Oh, the hours that pass with Prab reading endless threads on College Confidential), but also keep in mind that it is user generated, so often has more negative (since people are more likely to take effort to post for negative than positive reasons) but that can balance the positive that is ubiquitous on the colleges own websites. These resources are good to generally narrow your list, but for research to convince the school, i.e., to address the "Why this school essay", you will need to dig deeper into the school. I find admissions people's blogs useful, department sites, research that interests you, clubs and organizations, school newspapers, all to be good hunting grounds.

    I will be sending some resources for thinking about your overall message (Personal Brand) and for the Common App Main Essay very soon. The goal will be to work on some of these essays that we know will be there next year and not change during June and July. For now, I would stay focussed on narrowing the list to 10-12 schools.

    Regarding the Journal, I can see your notes if I go and look, but Journal is generally there as your own reservoir of notes to help you when you begin researching for your "why" essays, and also to be a good log of your process of researching schools. I recommend talking to everyone who will listen to you and practice explaining your reasons for liking various schools. This kind of practice in articulating your reasons will really help you hone in on the things that most genuinely reflect your personal reasons for liking the school and will also help you recognize those things that do not resonate as authentic or seem too general or common among schools. That latter bit is not bad, in fact, it is good that there is a common thread that connects your various schools (shows that you have chosen all schools that are a good "fit") but if you are going to tell the school why you love them, you need to dig into their specific qualities that make them unique for you. For instance, you would not describe the reasons that you like your best friend as general things like, s/he has hair on her/his head! You will point out the qualities that you really care about that make him or her unique for you.

    Love the questions, keep them flowing and can't wait to also see some of your own generated answers!!

    Best, Prab