June Monthly Action Plan – By Grade


Congrats on your graduation! Enjoy a summer free of college applications.


Time to get to kick it into high gear!

  • It might seem like a silly piece of advice, but many students are not aware that each school has a set of application instructions that are not located on the application. I suggest you read them on each schools admissions website prior to tackling the application process.
  • Many colleges don’t proactively ask for online resources yet, but you may have an interest in creating a digital portfolio (LinkedIn, SoundCloud, personal website, and/or blog). Now is a great time to work on these extras, as well as your formal resume.
  • As you begin your essay work, consider opening a Common App account. Unlike in past years, if you open up an account now, it will not be deleted before August 1, 2018. You can read more about account rollover here.


  • Continue working on your resume.
  • Thinking about how to explore your academic interests this summer? There are tons of options, and you should be doing something “academic” this summer if possible. Please note: something “academic” is not limited to a class or formal academic program. Have questions? Contact us to discuss.
  • Interested in understanding what exactly the Common Application is and how it works? Unlike in past years, if you open up an account now, it will not be deleted at the end of this application season. You can read more about account rollover here.
  • Summer before junior year is a great time to begin test prep! Here are a few resources to get you started:










  • Continue working on your resume. Consider exploring your academic interests — reading is a simple and easy way to do so!
  • Interested in understanding what exactly the Common Application is and how it works? Unlike in past years, if you open up an account now, it will not be deleted at the end of this application season. You can read more about account rollover here.
  • Looking for community engagement or volunteer opportunities? Something meaningful to get involved in that you might want to continue throughout high school, someplace where you might make a real difference? Ask upperclassmen how they spend their summers or check out https://www.idealist.org for opportunities near you.
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Small fish, big pond

I just love Amy Chan’s article on anonymity, success, and the feeling of being “less than” that I believe is not uncommon at schools like Penn. Check it out in the Daily Pennsylvanian, or read it here:

A week ago, I was in my kitchen, scooping out fist-sized balls of Haagen-Dazs green tea ice cream, ready to gorge myself as a reward for all the night’s hard work (two essays on French colonialism and the French Revolution — whew!), when I overheard my roommate say something which piqued my interest.

She was talking to an interviewer, presumably over a Skype call, answering some question I couldn’t hear clearly because the interviewer’s voice was too deep. And then she said this: “Well, when I came here, it was the same old story, you know — a small fish in a big pond.”

She carried on a little longer explaining, and I snorted and whispered to myself, “Story of my life.”

At the time, I felt a brief pang of empathy and then continued right on with my gluttony. But those words reverberated in my head for the rest of the week: “a small fish in a big pond.”

Oddly enough, being a small fish in a big pond was something I was excited about before entering college. I was the big fish in my hometown, the koi in those westernized Japanese gardens in bourgeois intellectual homes. Not only was I bigger and faster than the other fish, I made it look easy, too. Everyone knew my name, partly because I was one of the only Asian kids in a class of 50, and partly because I always swept the awards at the year’s end.

I thought that being a small fish, being anonymous, would be freeing. For once, I could be whoever I wanted to be.

But I never realized how worthless being mediocre can make us feel. I’m sure that everyone at Penn has experienced at some point the sensation of being “less than,” of trying one’s best and still falling short.

Suddenly, we think that we need to be successful. Much of our identity and self-respect was founded on this aspect. To my shame, when I started being merely mediocre in my English classes here, I realized that a lot of my love for languages and writing was based on my skill in them.

The revelation came for me in reading a poem for class by Marianne Moore, with the killer first line: “really, it is not the business of the gods to bake clay pots.” The poem makes an analogy between bragging about one’s achievements and baking a clay pot. We try to make something materialize by speaking positive words about ourselves, but in the end, all we create is more mundanity. The gods are those who are superior by their very being, who have no need of grabbing achievements nor of saying something about them to be divine.

Moore’s humility was such a striking contrast to the rest of our class’s Modernist poets — who either considered themselves the greatest or wanted to be. For Moore, the simple act of writing was enough, and even then, she never considered her writing extraordinary. In reading Moore, I was transported back to my high school days, when I stuck Emily Dickinson’s “I’m Nobody!” to my computer: “How dreary — to be — Somebody! … To tell one’s name — the livelong June — / To an admiring Bog!”

With the exception of the best, we will all be nobody in some parts of this world, so we might as well learn to accept it. Being a small fish can be better than being a big one, because when we’re small, we have more room to wiggle, to move around, to see the little beauties the big fish miss because of their enormity.

The world nowadays pressures us to make our names known, but there is something wonderful about a life lived with intention, intimacy, for one’s self. To truly know who we are apart from our accomplishments, to keep the secret of ourselves to ourselves, can often be a more difficult task than blurting out who we think we are to those who don’t care and aren’t listening. And as we Penn students know, the more difficult task, when it is achieved, tends to be the more meaningful one.



By 10th and 11th-grade college talk should be consistent—especially if you are, or have a student who is—aiming to attend a selective college or university. That said, we start the majority of our work with students, which includes applying to summer programs, narrative development (your “story” for college), developing your college list, and completing the personal statement and resume, in 11th grade. There is no better time to start the process than right now!

Juniors should consider the following:

  • It is test prep time! If you have not started yet, start now.
  • Meet with your school counselor. S/he will write one of your letters of recommendation for college, and the letter will be much more personal if you know each other! Talk about your plans for this year and next year; let them know about your preliminary college list, any visits you have scheduled, and your testing plan.
  • Now is the time to build your story for college! Have you gotten more involved with any of your extracurricular activities, especially those that relate to your academic interests? Look for leadership opportunities in school and consider activities outside of school as well. Think about ideas for new and different activities, or for how to get more involved in your favorite activity (academic and non-academic).
  • Visit the websites of the schools you are interested in. Explore the admissions and academics pages. Start to think about your major of interest and how the activities you are involved in support this interest; you should be exploring your interests outside of the classroom/school!
  • Visit colleges in person! Spring is a great time to visit colleges. Talk to students, faculty, and staff, and take notes about classes, clubs, etc. you might want to include in your essays.

Email us or fill out the contact form to schedule a consult and find out how we can support you in your college planning and application process!


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Repost: Taming the Admissions Anxiety

Timely post by Bari Walsh on Harvard GSE’s Usable Knowledge page. Give it a read below!

You’re at a holiday gathering in your neighborhood, and the parents, once again, are talking college — exchanging the vitals on where their kids are applying, or where they’ve already gotten in. When one father beams about the highly selective schools his daughter is targeting, you don’t immediately beam back. Your son is applying to some state schools and a few private colleges, but after a tough fall term, he’s also thinking about working for a year and taking classes at the community college.

You look around and notice that the kids are standing nearby, soaking up the very different moods each parent is conveying.

The Weight of College Pressure

In a highly competitive world, the college process feels fraught with pressure — for students and parents alike. For the vast majority of families in America, that pressure centers not on personal achievement or the bragging rights of a selective college but on affordability, access, and equal opportunity. Only about 4 percent of U.S. students go to colleges that accept less than 25 percent of their applicants, and most American kids either don’t attend or don’t graduate from four-year colleges, says developmental psychologist Richard Weissbourd, who studies the social and emotional lives of teens. The barriers confronting that majority need to be front and center in public conversations about college, he adds.

But a different and also serious problem is affecting students in middle- and upper-income communities, where debilitating academic and social pressure is fueling a public health crisis of anxiety in high-achieving schools and districts. Some research has shown that rates of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse are higher among affluent teens than any other group of young people, and achievement pressure is a significant contributor. “But you can see this even without reading the research,” says Weissbourd. “You just need to spend some time in a high school where this is going on, and you can see how wound up kids are about college and where they’re going to get in.”

College admissions is an important rite of passage in America — a time for parents to engage their kids in deep conversations about their hopes and dreams, their values, and what kind of adults they imagine they’ll be.

All of which is too bad, he says, because the college admissions process is an important rite of passage for many in America. “It’s a wonderful time for parents to really listen to their kids — to hear about their hopes, their values, their expectations for college, and to learn what kind of adults they imagine they’ll be,” Weissbourd says.

With colleagues at his Making Caring Common project, Weissbourd produced a report last year called Turning the Tide, seeking to tame the excesses of the college admissions process and reframe it to prioritize ethical and intellectual engagement, not just long brag sheets of accomplishments. More than 175 admissions deans have signed on to the report’s recommendations. Some of those guidelines, and other advice Weissbourd offers, are summarized below.

Doing the Admissions Process Right

  • Listen to your child. Find out what she hopes for and expects from college.
  • Be a guide and a facilitator, connecting your child to information and to big-picture thinking about the purpose of college.
  • Put the focus on finding the right college for your child, not on applying to or getting into the “best” college.
  • Unclutter your own anxieties; make sure you’re hearing your child’s wishes and considering her best interests, not filtering them through your own hopes, your peer-driven status worries, or your own unmet college expectations.
  • Prioritize quality, not quantity, when it comes to extracurricular activities. Prioritize service opportunities that your child finds meaningful.
  • Make sure your kids are eating and sleeping well.
  • Encourage your child to be authentic, truthful, and reflective in the application process.
  • Make the process meaningful for you and your child: use these conversation starters to talk to your teen.

Confronting Status Concerns

Magazine rankings and other ratings systems fuel the idea that “one college is in some objective sense better than another college, or that there are 25 ‘best’ colleges in the country,” Weissbourd says. It’s a harmful idea, because “what you really want kids to be thinking about is not what’s the best college, but what’s the best college for them.” There are many hundreds of good colleges out there, and any one of them might be the right one for your child. Weissbourd encourages parents in high-achieving districts to visit some schools that aren’t highly selective, expanding everyone’s understanding of what a “good school” is.

Rates of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse are higher among affluent teens than any other group of young people, and achievement pressure is a big contributor.

But status pressure is real, and kids experience it every day. “We have to have better conversations with kids about what status means and what it doesn’t mean, about the advantage of going to a high-status place and the disadvantages. We have to confront it more squarely,” he says. Students who go to a highly selective school may reap a reputational benefit or gain access to a strong alumni network, for example — but it’s also possible that the student body will be less diverse, or the campus culture more competitive and less nurturing. “As long as parents or students have this perception that there are 20 or 30 great colleges in this country, we’re going to have really stressed-out kids who are anxious about getting in. And many will end up feeling ashamed because they don’t,” Weissbourd says.

Turn the Pressure Down . . .

What’s the “right” amount of pressure for parents to apply? It depends on the child, the family, and the community.

Some kids aren’t thinking about college at all, and in those cases, parents should start talking generally about the importance of college-going in about ninth grade, helping kids develop a college identity and a pathway for work and career.

Other kids start worrying about college way too early, starting with test-prep tutors in middle school. In high-pressure communities, “the conversation about the application process really shouldn’t begin until 11th grade,” Weissbourd says. For parents in these communities, he offers a quick list of “don’ts”:

  • Don’t spend every dinner talking about college.
  • Don’t arrange every family vacation in high school around a college visit.
  • Don’t pop vocabulary cards at the dinner table to prepare for the SAT.
  • When it comes to applications and test prep, don’t over-coach your child. Think twice before hiring outside tutors.
  • Pause and reflect if you find yourself spending too much time worrying or thinking about your child’s achievements.
  • Discourage your child from overloading on AP and honors courses.

. . . And Get Real about the Source of the Pressure

“Our data show that when you ask parents what’s most important to them in child rearing, they prioritize raising a caring child over a high-achieving child,” Weissbourd says. But when you ask them what they think other parents in their community prioritize, they say other parents prioritize achievement.

“So you have a large majority of parents thinking that the problem is a large majority of other parents, and that doesn’t square,” he says. “We need parents to realize that when it comes to achievement pressure, the problem isn’t ‘them,’ it’s ‘us.’”

Illustration: Wilhelmina Peragine

What to do if you’ve been deferred

Some colleges and universities just can’t admit all of the students they would like to via early decision or early action (“ED” or “EA”), so they defer a few and evaluate them again during regular decision (“RD”). These candidates have a shot (albeit small) at getting admitted RD. However, some schools just defer everyone or almost everyone—the dreaded courtesy deferral. Most students that fall into this category should move on. But before doing anything to “work” a deferral:

1. Stay positive for RD, or preferably, early decision II (“ED II”), and keep moving forward!

2. Consider ED II. Not all schools have ED II; check your Common App to see if ED II is offered at any schools on your list.

3. Understand the RD numbers. The RD round is tough; it is smart to get familiar with the RD numbers and understand why ED II can present a significant advantage over RD. Read this chart. Pay particular attention to the percentage of the class filled by early plans.

Other Tips:

Get your guidance counselor’s support. Have your guidance counselor call the admissions office and advocate for you, as well as provide any additional information they may have that will support your candidacy. Ask them to back up what they say on the phone in an email. If they are willing, have them send an additional note to the top 1-2 schools on your list.

-Make sure updated grades/transcript are sent promptly. Your grades should have remained the same or improved, not dipped.

Get an extra letter of recommendation*. This letter could be written by a teacher, coach, or someone else close to you who can speak to your background, performance, and potential.

*Side note on alumni letters and letters from well-known or famous people. Many students ask if these are helpful to send, and the answer is no unless the person really knows you or they have a solid connection to admissions.

Make contacts locally and talk to students and alumni. Reach out to local alumni chapters and ask if there is anyone willing to meet with you for an informal informational interview. Use this meeting as an opportunity to learn more about the school, and demonstrate your interest in attending. Information learned in these meetings are beneficial to include in your deferral letter.

 -Write a deferral letter. This letter should contain information updating the school on what you’ve been up to, both inside and outside of the classroom since the time you applied.

Secondary Efforts:

-Visit the school and swing by admissions to reiterate interest. Sit in on a class and take advantage of any admissions events and/or programming you may not have the first time around. Keep in mind that if you already visited and the school is more than a drive or train ride away, this might seem extravagant.

-Use social media to your advantage. Don’t be afraid to follow your top choice schools on Facebook, Instagram, Snap or other social channels. Most schools also have LinkedIn pages you can follow. These touch points likely won’t help significantly, but can’t hurt as a way to demonstrate interest.


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Class of 2022 Early Notification Dates

It’s time to start hearing back from early action and early decision schools—exciting! Some schools have already released early decision or early action results—Tulane, Northeastern, Georgia, and of course, schools that release on a rolling basis like Penn State and Temple.

College Kickstart is updating their list of decision release dates daily. Check it out here to find out when you might be hearing from the ED and EA schools on your list!


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College Interviews and Interview Prep

Not all colleges require interviews. In fact, many don’t offer them. At schools that do, they are not always evaluative or even considered in the admissions process. That being said, I still suggest you interview if you can. Why? It is a way to demonstrate interest, learn more about the school, and help the school learn more about you. Sounds worth it to me! If you can’t, don’t worry about it.

College Kickstart compiled some helpful interview data regarding colleges that require or strongly recommend interviews, and how that interview is used (or not used) in the admissions process. Head over to their website to check it out!

Below, you will find some common interview questions. Practice with a parent or friend. Never go to an interview (even those that are not evaluative) unprepared!

High School Experience

  • Tell me a little bit about your high school.

  • Tell me about the courses you are taking currently.

  • Tell me about your favorite class(s) you have taken. Why was it your favorite?

  • Which class has been your least favorite? Why?

  • Which classes have been the most difficult (or most challenging)?

  • What subjects do you plan on studying at [school]?

  • What activities and/or classes have you taken related to that field?

  • What is your dream job?

Extracurricular Activities

  • What extra-curricular activities are you involved with? What do you like to do for fun (outside of the classroom)?

  • When you’re not in class, studying, or doing homework, what do you do with your time (organized activities or things for fun)?

  • How did you get involved/started with ____ activity?

  • What activity is the most meaningful to you, and what is just the most fun?

  • What extra-curricular activities do you hope to be involved with in college?

College Expectations

  • What type of environment are you looking for in a college/university?

  • To what other colleges/universities are you applying?

  • How is the admissions process going for you?

University Specific

  • How did you become interested in [school]?

  • What do you find appealing about [school]?

  • Why do you think you [school] might be the right fit for you?

  • Do you know any students at [school]? Have you reached out to them to learn more about [school]?

  • If you had an opportunity to tell the Admissions Committee anything about yourself, what would it be? What would you want the Admissions Committee to know about you that may not come across on your application?

  • What have you learned about [school] that seems unusual or surprising?


  • Is there anything we haven’t talked about that you wanted to discuss?

  • Apart from looking at colleges, how have you spent your high school summers?

  • How would your best friend describe you?

  • How would your teachers describe you?

  • If you had a year to do anything you want, what would it be and why?


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After you’ve submitted early apps…

If you’re applying Regular Decision (RD) to colleges, you should continue to make progress on your essays and applications in case your early applications are denied or deferred in December/January. It is very difficult to write your essays and complete your applications from December 15 through January 1 or 15, and…

It’s always a good idea to submit apps two to four weeks ahead of RD deadlines as some schools have early RD deadlines for scholarship or interview consideration (for example, USC should be submitted by 12/1 for scholarship consideration, and Duke should be submitted by 12/20 for interview consideration).

I also suggest meeting with your school counselor and triple checking that all early app materials were sent. Share your RD list and make sure they know to send docs accordingly and far in advance of deadlines.

Don’t forget to prepare for interviews! If you have alumni or on-campus interviews, prepare now, don’t wait until the interview is scheduled.


Track your application status. Once your applications have been submitted, be sure to track their status online to ensure they received all of your application materials. Follow up with your school counselor ASAP if a school is missing your transcript or a letter of recommendation. Check your JUNK/SPAM email folder regularly (every day) so you do not miss correspondence from schools.


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Don’t Miss the Opportunity to Interview

Not all colleges require interviews. In fact, many do not even offer them. At schools that do, they are not always evaluative or even considered in the admissions process. That being said, I still suggest you interview. Why? It is a way to demonstrate interest, learn more about the school, and help the school learn more about you. Sounds worth it to me!

College Kickstart compiled some helpful interview data regarding colleges that require or strongly recommend interviews, and how that interview is used (or not used) in the admissions process. Head on over to their website to check it out!


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Guest Post: Bad Wisdom

Guest post by YouSchool’s Scott Schimmel

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak to about one hundred accounting students at the University of San Diego and lead them through interactive exercises to explore their inner lives to find clarity about their future. For an hour we talked about getting clear about what they believe in, finding a mission to pursue with their lives, and getting a vision for they kind of person they want to become. The main message for them was that now is a crucial time for them to get clear about who they are and where they’re going in life.

A professor in his mid-fifties sat in during the workshop and walked with me for a few minutes as we wrapped up. He joked that while I was speaking, he turned to a student and said, “Hey, don’t feel pressure to have everything figured out at your age; I’m still figuring life out, too!”

He was letting me know in a passive-aggressive way that he disagrees with the YouSchool’s primary premise: that young people can get clear about important things in their lives. Just because most older people are still figuring their lives out (or given up trying) doesn’t mean that young people should follow their example!

Here’s the point: young people can find clarity for a lot of important aspects of their lives.

They can get clear about who they want to grow up to be, they can get clear about what matters most to them, they can get clear about the kinds of relationships they want to build, they can get clear about what their strengths and interests are, and they can get clear about the life trajectory they are on. They can get clear about foundational things in their lives, which will lead to much more informed decision making.

Getting clear matters, because our lives matter. The choices young people are forced to make impact their future work, family, character, and the mark they leave on the world.

Let’s all collectively stop encouraging young people to figure life out later, and give them appropriate anxiety about the importance of getting clear now. Good wisdom will lead young people to take responsibility for the direction of their lives and guide them down a path to get to clarity.

There is a process to getting clear. It involves finding the time and space to commit to guided self-reflection, interactive conversations with peers and life advisors, and a trusted guide for the entire process.

The first step is to decide that you want to get clear. 

To learn more about the YouSchool check them online, or contact Cheif Guide Scott Schimmel directly!