Tag Archive | College Planning

Package Yourself Well

I talk with students regularly looking for a “magic-plan”. This plan will somehow transform mediocre work into something amazing and these “C” students will somehow be admitted into Yale. The reality is far from that. Do you know who gets into Yale? Smart people. This is most often reflected in their grades and test scores; that is why they get into Yale. But with an acceptance rate (according to College Board) of 8%, being smart isn’t good enough- you also have to be wise. Wisdom is a word that isn’t used much in America today, but it really is needed in order to get really bright students where they ought to be. This short article is about “packaging yourself” for the college admissions process.

The truth about the Ivy’s is that they are great universities, but equal in truth is the reality that there are hundreds of great universities around the country and you need to open yourself- it’s just about getting into the best school, it’s about getting into the right school. It is about getting into the school that will help you to fulfill your dreams and hopes and aspirations.

These days getting into any school has become a challenge and with budget cuts, increases in class sizes and reduction in counseling departments, finding good help can be difficult, and even pricey! College Life Planning hopes to bring some light into the college guidance world, give you some solid information you can run with, and save you money.

Back to packaging yourself. When it comes time to apply to college, you are a senior and you have been busting your behind to get everything in the right order. You have taken the right classes, you’ve been dedicated to the homeless ministry at your church, you studied for the SAT and got a great score, you even have a recommendation from a federal judge- you are ready! But the reality is that there are literally 40,000 other students who look exactly the same on paper. Great grades, good test scores, and involved. So how do you stand out?

There is a phrase that goes something like this, “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” This is very true, especially when it comes to your admissions applications! You have got to let your application come alive, this is not just a piece of paper that determines your future- it is your story.

Here is a silly video you may enjoy:

It is a bit long, so I’m not offended if you just jumped right back into where I was going with all this (I know you’re riveted by my writing and style)…

Here are the top four things you must include in your admissions application:

  1. All the normal stuff: This is your transcripts with the most rigorous courses your school offered (or the most rigorous you could stand) with the grades to show your dedication and commitment. Your SAT or ACT scores would be sent to the colleges directly from College Board and these are critical. Study for this test, and take it at least two times. etc etc. You get the point; you apply to the schools that are within a range of your abilities with some obvious shoe-ins (for you) on one hand and on the other, some reach schools that would be difficult for you to get into.
  2. The recommendations: These are often very important int he admissions process. Who recommends you and what they say about you is vital! So with this in mind, choose people you know and more importantly, who know you (well). In addition, be sure to get recommendations from people whoa re in a field of study that you hope to continue into college. If you want to pursue biology, but your recommendations are from your AutoShop class and Spanish… there might be a disconnect there- and colleges can see it. One other point, ask your recommender to review their recommendation of you. They may say “no”, and that settles it, but they will probably be willing to show you what they wrote, and then you can ask for clarification and even give some coaching.
  3. Your extracurricular activities: These will NOT get you into college. But they sure help! When you are working with a pool of potential college applicants as big as Lake Michigan you need to go above the pack. Mike Moyer over at http://www.collegepeas.com says one way to set yourself apart is with an NTA, or a non-teenager activity. He defines this as, “quite simply, any activity that other teenagers don’t typically do. By choosing an NTA you will differentiate yourself in a way that will have a very positive impact on your chances of getting into college.” Need some ideas? Contact us.
  4. Your personal Statement: This is a key component because it is your chance to tell your story. The truth is that the entire application for admission is telling your story, but the personal statement/essays might be a way to share the more personal side. This is a chance to demonstrate that it’s not just a number on an application, this is YOUR life. And you are living and breathing and your life matters. And with this life you have you are going to make a difference no matter the odds, no matter the circumstances, good or bad; you will be a difference maker, in your own way. You are saying to the admissions officer, “you already have my grades, activities, clubs, jobs, passions; you know all the facts about my life; no let me introduce myself to you.”

At the end of the day you are “selling” yourself. Don’t get me wrong, the colleges need you too! That is an entirely different post. But you are showcasing your achievements, your passions, your values, and you are pleading your case on why you not only deserve to go the school you are applying to, they would be remiss if they didn’t accept you, leaving a gaping hole in their university. So choose which school you are going to attend, and then package yourself well.


What are Top Colleges Looking for in Applications?

What are Top Colleges Looking for in Applications?

For this kind of college admissions information and a ton more, plan on taking our college admissions course starting March 12: See all the information at www.collegelifeplanning.com/workshop

By: Julie Harvard

Education is one of the most important investments in your life because it will affect your future career. If you are at your senior year in high school, it probably the right time to think about college, and the type of subject your are interested to major in which directly related to the type of career you plan to go for once your enter the workplace. In order to successfully enter into your college of choice, you need to know exactly what these colleges are looking for so that you can prepare yourself to maximize your chances of making in to your top choice college.

Generally, colleges have very similar admission criteria, which means what is acceptable to one college is most likely will be acceptable by most other colleges. These common criteria include:

1. Your High School Grades

If you want to enter into your top choice college, you don’t thinking about taking it easy during your high school senior year because your grades will have great impact on your success or failure in making in to a college. Over 90% of colleges weight heavily on grades when deciding whether to accept an applicant. Hence, you need to put huge efforts to get good grades in order to meet the acceptance criteria of most colleges.

2. Admission Tests

The same “A” does not weight equally in different schools, an A in your high school may only worth a B in another school. For this reason, admission test results are used by many colleges to measure the applicants’ grades. Two of the most highly used admissions tests in United State are the SATs and the ACTs, about 88% of colleges are putting huge emphasis on the SATs and ACTs scores. Hence, it’s worth to take up these tests and work hard to get good scores.

3. The Overall High School Graduation Rank

How good your school is performing is one of the consideration factors for college admission. However you can’t directly control the overall performance of our school graduation rank. The graduation rank is measured by average mean grade point which is calculated based on the students’ grades in your high school class. All you can do is play your role as students who score high grades which will contribute to the school’s overall graduation rank. About 28% of schools emphasis strongly on the graduation rank while others count in the factor moderately.

4. College Application Essay Writing

Essay writing is part of admission requirements. Although it does not weight as important as your GPA and admission test, but recently more and more top tier colleges have been placing more attention to the well-written essay. The key purpose of a college application essay is to find out how the applicant writes and thinks. Moreover, writing is an essential part of college life. If you are good in writing essay, then you can be at the advantage over those applicants who are week in writing essay. If you are not so good in writing, then you have to try your best to write in a manner that perfectly showcases who you are.


In order to assure you will enter your top choice college, you may want to review the above tips and prepare your college applications based on the criteria accepted by most top college.

Getting Organized

Chapter 1: Getting Organized
By: College Life Planning

Getting organized for college is the most important step before applying. In order to get organized, you need to establish a college checklist. There are a handful of tests, registration dates, requires courses, extracurricular activities and meetings which should be done during your sophomore and junior year of high school.

For those who are sophomores and in the 10th grade, the first step is to take challenging courses in the areas of English, history, geography, foreign languages, government, economics, math, science, and the arts. The next item on your checklist is to speak with your counselors and locate adults willing to talk to you about their profession. Ask them what they like and dislike about their jobs and what level of education is needed for each profession. The third thing on your college prep and college checklist is to get involved in extracurricular activities which interest you or which help you to explore which kind of career you are looking for. Make sure to use your summer wisely in this regard and incorporate a summer course at a local community college, a summer job for experience, or volunteer work. The next item on your checklist is to meet with your counselors to discuss the requirements of each college you are considering. Take the practice SAT tests as well as National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Register early for these and speak with your counselor for fee waivers if you cannot pay the registration fee. Make sure to continue saving for college at this point and visit colleges if you can. Part of saving for college requires an understanding of financial aid. You should learn the difference between college loans, grants, work study, and scholarships. This can be done at www.college.gov. Talk to other college students you know about their experiences to gain insight. They can recommend career paths for summer employment as well as colleges which might match your interests.

You aren’t the only one who has a checklist to create. Your parents should be part of your checklist. Their roles include helping you balance a part time job with school, helping you take night courses at a local college or contributing to financial aid. They should help you learn about the required standardized tests and read an overview of financial aid options and scholarship options for you at www.ed.gov/parents.

For those in their junior year of high school, the college checklist which should be created expounds upon the initial checklist for the 10th grade. You should continue taking challenging courses such as AP courses in the areas of English, history, geography, foreign languages, government, economics, math, science, and the arts. After this you should continue to meet with your counselor or career advisor to discuss the colleges you are interested in and what their individual requirements are. The third item on the checklist is continuing with your participation in extracurricular activities through your school and/or your local community. At this point you should begin to decide which colleges are of the most interest to you. Add to your checklist that you should contact each of the most interesting colleges and request additional information as well as the admission application. Speak with them about any special admissions requirements, deadlines for admissions, as well as financial aid. The next check point is to attend college fairs and speak with the college representatives about admissions information. After this, visit the colleges you find most interesting and speak with current students to get a first-hand perspective. Now you begin considering people who would write letters of recommendation for you. Consider people such as teachers, employers, or counselors.  When you consider your field of study, consider which jobs you want. Exploring careers as well as their potential for earnings can be done through www.bls.gov/oco.

The next step is investigating financial aid from federal sources, state sources, local and private sources. Counselors can offer information pertaining to this. On the same note, add to your check list the investigation of scholarships. These are offered by credit unions, religious groups, labor unions, corporations, professional associations, as well as private parties. Libraries will help you locate scholarship directories for females, minorities, and people who are disabled. The next step is to register for the SAT I, SAT II, ACT, and any AP tests and then take them. For those who have difficulty paying the registration fee, your counselor can help direct you to fee waivers. During the fall of your junior year is when you have to take the PSAT and the NMSQT in order to qualify for scholarships. In the spring is when you register and take the SAT and ACT.  Lastly, you should continue to save for college.

By this time you will be ready to discuss your college plans in detail, complete all of the financial aid forms on time, write to your colleges, take all necessary entrance exams, prepare your application, and visit those colleges you truly wish to pursue. Helpful websites for this stage include:

The Three Step College Booty Dance

The Three Step College Booty Dance

Going to college is not a huge mystery, but if you plan to go to a semi-selective college, there are some things you need to make sure you know in advance. If it were as simple as 1-2-3, more students would do this. For the sake of time, I will over simplify the college admissions process and provide a very basic outline for you. This will be especially helpful if you are a parent trying to give your students just entering high school some direction, or if you are a sophomore in high school reading this.

Step 1: Don’t Slack off! We’ll get to college selection, and which major you want to do and what you want to do for the rest of your life in a minute. First, you must focus on your character. Who you are as a person reflects in your grades. Yes, I know this is over simplified… there is more to a person than their grades; but poor study habits, reflect sharply in poor grades and test scores. There are a few students who are just “not good test takers”, but by and large what that means is that they didn’t take the time to study the needed material. If you have any desire to go to a challenging school, you need to focus on challenging yourself academically and socially. The basic rule of thumb is that selective colleges are looking to create a learning environment with many diverse peoples in many areas, so where you’ve been and what you’ve done can be a huge strength; one thing that MOST students on these campuses have in common? High grades in challenging AP classes and decent to high test scores on SAT/ACT tests. Do not slack off thinking that a “b” is good enough. Study hard and take all the practice tests before the real thing.

Step 2: Know Thyself. Work based on your strength! It makes no sense to try and work from weakness in this physical world we live in. The way adults talk to young people thinking about college, you might think that they are asking a 16 year old to have their entire life mapped out. I have fallen into this trap. It is impossible to know where life will take you, and planning a college and/or potential career is a helpful guide, not a leash. In creating this future for our kids, we have forgotten to help them develop their own futures. Step one encourages working on your own character; this is part of knowing yourself. Who are you? Really? At College Life Planning we do “strengths-based counseling”, in other words, we attempt to uncover the individual strengths of our students and then provide counsel based on that information. So try new things! Volunteer at your church, or local hospital, or anywhere you might be interested. Start to form your desires and learn how you work best. Start to really understand yourself, and live life. This is an important part of the college admissions process, but you have to know yourself and what your passions are and invest time in those areas before you start applying to colleges, and certainly before you can engage in any kind of college, or life planning.

Step 3: Start talking! Too often I get students who just haven’t talked to their parents about college and then there are conflicts, huge misunderstandings about where to go to school, how it will be paid for, what to study and any number of other things. If you are starting to think about college, start talking with your parents (or your student) about it. Here’s a tip for you students: Parents like for you to be prepared, and since they don’t know how to use the internet, you have the upper hand. Do some research about where you might want to go and start talking to your parents about it. They know you better than you might think, and they may be able to share some helpful insight that you never thought about. Some things to consider are: in state or out of state? Large campus, or small one? Private or public? Research or teaching facility? Expensive, or ridiculously expensive?

There are many more things that really need to be discussed, and timing is very important. Missing deadline can mean the difference between admission and denial. One of my students listed her biggest fear as not being accepted. What are some of your fears? Maybe it’s time to start talking about them. My cell phone is always available, and it I’m not, please submit a question on the CLP website: www.collegelifeplanning.com/ask-the-experts

Nathan Cornett

Back to school: School is Starting September 7th!!

Back to School

“He who fails to plan, plans to fail” -Ancient Proverb

We are about to start a new year, and with that new year comes new opportunities and challenges and successes. I wanted to provide a very basic overview of a potential plan for 9th-12th graders going into this new year. The importance of a plan is hard to stress in a short article, you either understand the value of a plan and do it, or you don’t. Another quote that has meant something to me is:

“Good fortune is what happens when opportunity meets with planning.”Thomas Edison

Here is a quick list of grade specific strategies you can employ this year:

9th Grade-
– Make an appointment and meet with your school counselor to map out some challenging classes in your core academics.

– Start establishing relationships with your teachers and counselors; they may turn into your biggest fans when you’re planning to go to college.

– Get involved in your school or community or church activities. Starting early in your commitment to service and community involvement is the best strategy, but do not neglect your studies!

10th Grade-
– Sign up for the PSAT or PLAN. These practice tests will help you get oriented to taking these tests and show you areas you may be weaker or stronger.

– Consider taking on leadership roles in some of the activities you are involved in.

– Start doing research on colleges you may be considering. Go see a basketball game, or a concert at a local university; get yourself on campus and start to see what college life looks and feels like.

– Find some local scholarships and scholarship opportunities at local colleges.

11th Grade-
– Sign up for the PSAT; it counts toward the National Merit scholarship.

– Register for the SAT and/or ACT. Start studying!

– Attend Fall college fairs.

– Schedule a road trip with your parents, youth leader, coach, or older brother or sister- GO VISIT SOME COLLEGES.

– Find scholarships you are going to apply for and note the deadlines and requirements (probably around 50-100, this depends on your need and drive).

12th Grade-
– Get your recommendation letters in EARLY.

– Finalize your college essays.

– Decide on your top 4-5 colleges and finish your college applications

– Register to take the SAT and/or ACT in EARLY fall. Be sure to take the SAT subject tests if your college choices require them.

– Pay attention to scholarship deadlines; being late is a sure way to disqualify yourself from the money!

Nathan Cornett

If you need help with the college planning process, contact me directly at (619) 823-5974 or visit: www.collegelifeplanning.com

Bill Gates at Harvard Graduation

Bill Gates has a way with words. I am not going to lie, I feel like he is mocking Harvard grads, they worked so hard for that degree and he didn’t finish. Some would say, “see, I don’t need a degree.” Others might look at reasonable odds that a person that drops out of college is not likely to start a company, innovate an entire industry and make a billion dollars. Graduating from Harvard (or any college for that matter) may well be the start of a bright future working in a field that provides a great amount of happiness and security.

I do like his take on giving to a cause. I agree with that. My wife and I give a lot of time and money to organizations like he suggested because, like Bill Gates, I believe that the solutions to the world’s problems will come through normal people like you. And who knows, maybe you will start a company like Microsoft… In fact, I think you should.

Action Plan for Seniors

Found on the College Board: Locate that here.


Pulling Your Applications Together

  • Narrow your list of colleges to between 5 and 10 and review it with your counselor. Get an application and financial aid info from each. Visit as many as possible.
  • Make a master calendar and note:
    • Test dates, fees, and deadlines
    • College application due dates
    • Required financial aid applications and their deadlines
    • Recommendations, transcripts, and other necessary materials
    • Your high school’s deadlines for application requests, such as your transcript
  • Ask for recommendations. Give each person your resume, a stamped, addressed envelope, and any required forms.
  • Write application essays and ask teachers, parents, and friends to read first drafts.

Applying Early Action or Early Decision?

  • November 1: For early admissions, colleges may require test scores and applications in early November. Send your SAT® scores at collegeboard.com.
  • Ask if your college offers an early estimate of financial aid eligibility

Get Financial Aid Info

  • Attend financial aid info events in your area.
  • Talk to your counselor about CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE® and learn about it with Completing the PROFILE.
  • Use Scholarship Search at collegeboard.com, review scholarship books, and ask your counselor about local and state funding sources.

Application Details

  • Most regular applications are due between January 1 and February 15. Keep copies of everything you send to colleges.
  • Have your high school send your transcript to colleges.
  • Contact colleges to make sure they’ve received all application materials.

Financial Aid: Apply Early. Apply Right.

  • You and your family should save this year’s pay stubs to estimate income on aid forms that you’ll file early next year.
  • Submit your FAFSA as soon after January 1 as possible. Men 18 or older must register for the selective service to receive federal financial aid.
  • Many priority financial aid deadlines fall in February. To get the most attractive award package, apply by the priority date. Keep copies of everything you send.

When the Letters Start Rolling In

  • You should get acceptance letters and financial aid offers by mid-April.
  • Use Compare Your Aid Awards to compare awards from different colleges. Questions? Talk to financial aid officers. Not enough aid? Ask if other financing plans are available.
  • If you haven’t already, visit your final college before accepting.

May 1: Making Your Final Choice

  • You must tell every college of your acceptance or rejection of offers of admission or financial aid by May 1. Send a deposit to the college you choose.
  • Wait-listed? If you will enroll if accepted, tell the admissions director your intent and ask how to strengthen your application. Need financial aid? Ask if funds will be available if you’re accepted.


Next Steps

  • Ask your high school to send a final transcript to your college.
  • Start preparing for the year ahead.