California: USC, Caltech, and Lots of Hammer Prep

Back in California! Every year I join the team at Hammer Prep in San Diego as they host two week-long college application workshops (that operate a bit like a bootcamp). Between workshops, I took a few days “off” and headed to LA, where I swung by both USC and Caltech because clearly I just could not pull myself away from all-things-college for more than a few hours. I had seen USC before and minus the surrounding neighborhood, it was as beautiful as ever. Target and Trader Joe’s on campus are two new bonuses. Caltech, on the other hand, was all new to me and I was very impressed. The Cactus Center in Pasadena is a must see. I also got my fill of Big Bang Theory memories at Caltech, and at both schools, took a few snaps (shared above). Now it is time to get back into workshop mode!

UPenn’s Dean Furda and His Five I’s

Eric Furda, dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, often writes in his Page 217 blog and on his Twitter feed @DeanFurda about how college discovery needs to be a mindful process where students aren’t only thinking about getting in, but about what is important to them.

Furda has devised a simple self-assessment method to help you identify your values, interests, and dreams—the Five I’s. It makes no difference if you are applying to Penn or not—the Five I’s is a valuable tool for all applicants. As you work on your essays and think about who you are and the value you can add to the schools on your list this summer, keep the Five I’s in mind:

Identity. “How do you see yourself and how do others see you? Be reflective about how you see yourself and how you want others to see you, in a genuine or authentic way. In this area, you could start thinking about teacher recommendations. How will a teacher talk about me? How will two different teachers put together a picture of me because they see me in a different light or because of how strong I am in an academic subject?”

Intellect. “How do you think and approach the acquisition of knowledge? I’m not [referring to your IQ], or talking about testing. I’m talking about how you process information and how you approach different subjects and subject matter. And how you then communicate that information to your teachers and to your peers.”

Ideas. “What do you think and why? We all have opinions out there, and particularly our children. So, what really makes you frame your reference? Where are these ideas coming from? What is the context? What do you think? Why are you thinking that? Then, how do you share that again within your community?”

Interests. “What do you choose to do when you have the time and flexibility? I would like to use this as an opportunity to say that this is not filling out an extracurricular list. This isn’t trying to fill the lines on an application so you look a certain way. I really want a perspective on how students are genuinely interested in what they are involved in — in the classroom, co-curricularly and extra-curricularly.”

Inspiration. “What really motivates you? I don’t think we need to feel that we have to have these moments every day. We’re not inspired every single day, and I think high school students may feel that we’re looking for those types of stories. It really isn’t the case. But when your heart is beating a little faster, when you’re feeling that something really is resonating with you, how does that come out?”

To learn even more, check out this episode of The Process. The Process is a special quarterly program airing on Sirius XM Channel 111, Business Radio powered by The Wharton School, offering guidance and insight into the college admissions process. In this four-part podcast series that began airing in the summer of 2016, Eric J. Furda, the dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, invites guests and experts to explore all aspects of the admissions process, from discovery and decision-making to enrollment and transition. KWHS will be running these four podcasts throughout the summer in preparation for new segments of The Process that will begin airing this September. Give it listen!


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School’s Out for Summer

My favorite time of the year, one of my all-time favorite movies.

School’s out for summer in NYC, which means we’re turning it up a notch. We’ll be posting less as we work more with students on their final school lists, applications, essays, and prep for interviews. Now is the time to start finalizing your personal statement and base Common App data, which should leave you more than a few weeks for working on supplemental essays in August (in addition to enjoying the final weeks of summer, of course). We’ll be hitting the beach at least a few weekends if we’re lucky, and spending time at both the pool across the street and our rooftop in between.

Happy summer!

8 Tips for Summer College Visits

It’s ideal to tour colleges in the fall or spring, but it is often hard to get away with crazy sports and extracurricular schedules, standardized testing, etc. When school’s out for summer, many students and parents have much more time. If you are planning to visit campuses this summer, here are some tips and things to keep in mind.

  1. Not all schools offer Saturday info sessions and tours. Try to visit when you can go on a tour and attend an info session. All of this information can be found online on schools respective admissions websites.
  2. Don’t forget to interview. Fewer people tour in the summer, which means fewer people are on campus interviewing. Use this to your advantage. Do not miss out on the opportunity to interview on campus if you have had time to adequately prepare. Everyone should prepare for admissions interviews!!! You only get one chance to make a first impression, and though interviews are not the most important component of your app, a killer one can certainly help.
  3. Check what classes are being offered during summer session. Some schools have very active summer sessions, while others do not. There may not be a formal class visit program offered through admissions during the summer months, but you can still reach out to a faculty member and ask if it is okay to sit in on their class. You can also call and check with your department of interest (for example, the Math Department if you intend to major in math) and see if they can hook you up with permission to sit in on a class.
  4. Connect with and possibly meet with someone from your department of interest. Colleges are open in the summer, even if they don’t look too busy. Call or email your department of interest a few weeks ahead of time. Someone from the department may help you out with sitting in on a class, as well as be willing to speak to you personally or steer you in the direction of any other departmental opportunities that might be available during your visit.
  5. Check the calendar of events. Some college campuses are dead in the summer, while others have a lot going on beyond summer session classes. If there is something going on that interests you, try to check it out. This information could make a nice addition to a why school essay.
  6. Take pictures, take notes, and get the names, emails, and numbers of everyone you meet. Send thank you emails, or a handwritten note to your interviewer. In many cases, you’ll need this info if you end up applying.
  7. Don’t forget to check out the surrounding city, town, or suburb. Keep in mind, in some areas, folks head out of town for the summer. If it feels dead, ask around to find out if this is the case or if it’s like that all of the time.
  8. Remember, campuses located in Florida are not always as hot as they are in the summer, and those in Minnesota are not always as hot as they are in the summer (it gets REALLY cold there!!!). Keep in mind the “normal” temp of the school and that how a campus feels in the summer might not always be how it feels when you will be there studying.

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Harvard Decision Emphasizes What We’ve Been Preaching All Along

Our educational consulting services include more than just helping you complete your applications. We see college and early career applicant’s digital footprint, and the presence of a digital portfolio, as vital components of their candidacy. The recent Harvard decision to rescind the acceptances of at least 10 students makes it wildly clear: your digital footprint matters. We believe this means not only engaging in appropriate behavior online, but also proactively creating a positive online image.

Some colleges don’t proactively ask for online resources yet, but with a rise in the use of platforms like ZeeMee in college admissions, it’s a no-brainer to create a digital portfolio (LinkedIn, SoundCloud, personal website, and/or blog). College students who are looking for internships and full-time jobs need their digital footprint and social media game to be on point to stand out from the crowd.

Fill out the contact form to learn more about how a digital portfolio can help you tell your story, get into college, and land your dream job or internship!


How to ease student stress

Students are stressed. I read about it all the time in the news, and hear about it all the time from my colleagues and parents of my students. It stinks, but it makes sense. Students today are high achievers, motivated to excel in school and sports, rise to leadership roles in clubs, and serve their communities. So many of them I know really do it all, and in some cases, do it all really well. Unfortunately, this comes at a cost. They sleep little, stress lots, and don’t always put their wellbeing before their achievements. What’s worse, is they often aren’t doing it all for a good reason. Instead of a true intrinsic motivation to explore what interests them, exercise and engage in healthy athletic competition, and do good for the sake of doing good, a lot of students are driven by a desire to reach a specific goal, namely, admission to an uber selective college or university.

One way to ease student stress (at least in many of the students I work with) is to get students to realize that attending an Ivy League school, even a top 20 or 30 school, is not the key to success in life. Leading a successful—and let’s not forget happy life—has nothing to do with where you go to college. The Ivy League and other uber selective institutions have a lot to offer, but they are not the only schools in the game. They own the rights to a powerful brand, but that doesn’t mean there’s some magic taught on these campuses instilling success and happiness in every single one of the students who attend—there is not! My advice to students and parents is to take a deep breath (literally, research says so) and look beyond the Ivies and other uber selective institutions. Create a list with some breadth and depth. Do some exploring and see all the wonderful options that are out there—you may be very pleasantly surprised.

Speaking of deep breaths, another way to ease student stress is to practice some of the techniques espoused by positive psychology. A recent NY Times article highlighted a few stress relieving techniques via Dr. Seligman at UPenn that I want to share. (I know…I just said look beyond the Ivy League and the article I linked above cites research from Stanford…but I will still cite some of the outstanding research that comes out of Penn and other top research institutions that fall into the uber selective category on this blog).

To cultivate the components of well-being, which include engagement, good relationships, accomplishment, and purpose, Dr. Seligman suggests four exercises based on research at the Penn Positive Psychology Center, which he directs, and at other universities. These exercises are not specifically geared toward high school students, but I see no reason why they would not apply. Enjoy!

Identify Signature Strengths

Write down a story about a time when you were at your best. It doesn’t need to be a life-changing event but should have a clear beginning, middle and end. Reread it every day for a week, and each time ask yourself: “What personal strengths did I display when I was at my best?” Did you show a lot of creativity? Good judgment? Were you kind to other people? Loyal? Brave? Passionate? Forgiving? Honest?

Writing down your answers “puts you in touch with what you’re good at,” Dr. Seligman explained. The next step is to contemplate how to use these strengths to your advantage, intentionally organizing and structuring your life around them.

In a study by Dr. Seligman and colleagues published in American Psychologist, participants looked for an opportunity to deploy one of their signature strengths “in a new and different way” every day for one week.

“A week later, a month later, six months later, people had on average lower rates of depression and higher life satisfaction,” Dr. Seligman said. “Possible mechanisms could be more positive emotions. People like you more, relationships go better, life goes better.”

Find the Good

Set aside 10 minutes before you go to bed each night to write down three things that went really well that day. Next to each event answer the question, “Why did this good thing happen?”

Instead of focusing on life’s lows, which can increase the likelihood of depression, the exercise “turns your attention to the good things in life, so it changes what you attend to,” Dr. Seligman said. “Consciousness is like your tongue: It swirls around in the mouth looking for a cavity, and when it finds it, you focus on it. Imagine if your tongue went looking for a beautiful, healthy tooth.” Polish it.

Make a Gratitude Visit

Think of someone who has been especially kind to you but you have not properly thanked. Write a letter describing what he or she did and how it affected your life, and how you often remember the effort. Then arrange a meeting and read the letter aloud, in person.

“It’s common that when people do the gratitude visit both people weep out of joy,” Dr. Seligman said. Why is the experience so powerful? “It puts you in better touch with other people, with your place in the world.”

Respond Constructively

This exercise was inspired by the work of Shelly Gable, a social psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who has extensively studied marriages and other close relationships. The next time someone you care about shares good news, give what Dr. Gable calls an “active constructive response.”

That is, instead of saying something passive like, “Oh, that’s nice” or being dismissive, express genuine excitement. Prolong the discussion by, say, encouraging them to tell others or suggest a celebratory activity.

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Summer Reading to Gear Up for Applying to College

Who doesn’t love summer reading?! Check out these articles as you work on college applications this summer—or if you’re a 9th or 10th-grade student or parent—as you think ahead!

College Application Essays

Top College Officials Share Notes on Great Application Essays

Crafting Standout College Application Essays

4 Standout College Application Essays on Work, Money and Class

College Choice/Strategy

Why Choosing Wisely Early is Critical to a Successful Admissions Process

Tips and Tricks

Common Application Video Tutorials by Brittany Maschal Consulting

10 Social Media Tips for Students to Improve Their College Admission Chances

8 Things to Know When You Visit Colleges During the Summer


Who Cares Where Your Kid Goes to College (Part I)

Who Cares Where Your Kid Goes to College (Part II)

Don’t Romanticize College



Video number five just posted on filling out the Activities section of the Common Application. If you have specific questions as you watch it/fill out your Common App, feel free to shoot me an email or reach out via the link at the end of the video.

I also suggest joining our new Facebook group, Conquer the Common Application!!! We hope this group becomes a place where students, parents, and counselors can ask questions, share advice, and ultimately, get filling out the Common App right. Not everyone’s Activities section will look the same because not everyone takes the same tests or reports test scores at all, but it can be nice to see a sample. If you join the group, you can also access a PDF of a completed Activities section.

Please share this post with students or that helps students fill out the Common Application. Enjoy!

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Guest Post: Avoiding End of Year Burnout

Guest post and needed reminder from the team at Hammer Prep in sunny San Diego. Check them out for all your tutoring needs. They work with students online, so you do not need to be located in SD to take advantage of all they have to offer!

Avoiding End of Year Burnout

The end of the year is always a hectic time, especially for juniors. Don’t freak out! Here are some tips to help you get through all of the tests and tribulations that await you from April until June:

1. Set up your testing schedule.

You should make sure you have a clear calendar with everything scheduled in:

  • SAT or ACT test dates and fallback test dates
  • SAT subject tests if you need them (here is a list of schools that require SAT Subject Tests)
  • Final exams
  • AP exams

2. Don’t stress over APs.

Notice the last item on the list above was AP exams. AP scores actually don’t matter in college admissions, no matter what your teachers tell you. The only thing that DOES affect college admissions is your grades in the AP class. So do well on your final, but don’t stress over the AP tests themselves.

3. Organize a To-Do list for summer. 

A lot of students fall into procrastination over the summer because they’ve had such a hard end of the year. Make sure you know what you have to do and when, or you risk having your senior year turn out just as hectic.

Do you want help with your college applications and essays?

Hammer Prep is running a college application workshop for the Common Application this summer. If you’re interested in getting ahead, give them a call!  The workshop’s expert guides (Brittany Maschal, Dan Elconin, and Emma Winsor Wood) can help you get everything set up so that your senior year goes smoothly with college applications.

Money Has Ruined Youth Sports

I love sports, but youth sports are wild. I recently read an insightful article by Douglas Brunt that is worth a read by all parents—especially those with young children. He notes:

The problem is that the wealth and fame of sports is a lure for the wrong-headed parenting that specializes kids who are too young to decide for themselves, all for an outcome with lottery odds of success.

The road to professional contracts in all sports is littered with the teenage bodies that made the same sacrifices but fell short and are now largely unprepared for an adult life apart from sports. Our society is about to experience its first full generation of these teenagers entering the workforce, or not.

The answer to this problem lies in the home and in the schools. Some possible remedies are limits on organized off-season sports practice in high school, minimum age requirements in professional leagues, heightened parental awareness of the importance of balanced education and experience for kids.

Brunt also notes that awareness seems to be building, and I agree. I often speak with parents who struggle to get their children/teens to do anything other than sports, even though they know they won’t play in college or professionally. But I also know plenty of parents who think sports is their kid’s ticket to a selective college or university—not hard work and focus academically. All these kids do outside of school and homework is their sport because “they don’t have time” for anything else. Beyond the life imbalance this creates, these families face a major challenge when it comes time to apply to college if their child is not recruited: what concrete value do they have to add beyond their sport? Students are not admitted to schools based on the value they will add to a club or intramural sports team. If you are not a recruited athlete, athletics matter very little. So when that is all you’ve done, you’ll have a much harder time highlighting how you will uniquely contribute to a college or university campus. You simply won’t be a very attractive candidate.

I am all about sports because they help many kids and teens build confidence, learn how to work with others, and simply get them out of the house and moving, but I think it is time to get real about the harm that laser-sharp focus on a single sport can have on the life experience of youth. The same can be said for other fields and areas of focus. As it applies to college admission, you do want to have a specialty, but you don’t need to be—and shouldn’t want to be—a one-trick pony.

To read more about this topic, make sure to check out Brunt’s third book, Trophy Son, available for pre-order now on Amazon:

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