It’s October, and that means that it’s time to get organized so that you can accomplish all that’s a part of the college search AND enjoy your junior year!

It’s way too easy to get caught up in the details (test prep, testing, reviewing college websites and brochures, doing research, visiting campuses), feel overwhelmed, and begin to despair. I’d like to suggest that you take a deep breath and think of the big picture…

With the gorgeous fall weather today, I think about the look and feel of campuses. When you close your eyes and imagine… What type of campus comes to mind? Do you prefer
> traditional, ivy covered buildings or more modern architecture
> a compact campus in a city or one that’s big and sprawling in the countryside?
> a campus busy, teeming with students, or moving at a slower pace?

What feels right to you? Or, is all this talk about environment irrelevant to you?

When I went on my solo roadtrip to check out colleges throughout New England, I saw four different schools in the same number of days. By the time I got to the last school I walked from the parking lot to the admissions office, did my interview, got back in my beloved, secondhand car and headed for home. By the time I got home I decided that I wanted to apply Early Decision to the last school I visited. I gave them a call that afternoon to check that I still had time to do so. I did, and the rest is (happy) history. I have to tell you that the look and feel of the campus were not really important to me… though for some students it makes all the difference…

Figuring out what matter most to you is the key here… Take some time this weekend to get clear on who you are: your strengths, needs, challenges, and wants. As you become clear on who you are and what you want, it becomes easier to sift and sort through the wealth of information available about colleges. Know yourself first and the search becomes simpler!


Setting: FBLA* Conference in Hershey, PA, mid-April
Scene: After my workshop, Finding the College That’s Right for You
Participants: Two high school students and me

Query from students: “So how do we get into Ivy League schools?”
My response: “Well, what does ‘Ivy League schools’ mean to you?  Are you thinking of Harvard, Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth or one of the other four schools?  While they are all Ivies, and share reputations for academic excellence, they are very different.  Each one has a distinct ‘personality’ and some departments are stronger than others even in these schools. Do you have a clear picture of who you are, and what you are looking for in a college setting; the environments in which you will feel both comfortable and challenged, where you will enjoy the classes and the social life?  Knowing the answering to these questions will help you determine which schools will be the best matches for you.

Honestly,  my answer would be the same for getting in the Ivies, as getting into one of the Big Ten, or the colleges/universities that are at the top of anyone’s list of choices:

  • High GPA
  • High SATs /ACT
  • Evidence of leadership and outstanding extracurricular activities – think quality not quantity here
  • Excellent college essay
  • Strong letters of recommendation from teachers, counselors, and other adults who know you well

Take the most challenging courses  you can while in high school-though doing well in those course is critical. ”

*  Future Business Leaders of America


What are your values?

How cool is this?  A guide to colleges that “gets” what’s really important-looking at all the facets of college life and determining which colleges/universities are the best fit for you.
“This is a guide to 286 U.S. colleges and universities that have demonstrated an exemplary commitment to sustainability. While it differs from our Best Colleges guidebooks in that it does not report information based on our surveys of students attending the schools, it very much embodies our philosophy that finding your “best fit” school means looking at everything from the school’s academic offerings to its extracurricular options and now, even its commitment to going green.”

Regardless of whether you consider yourself “green” and what to check out the colleges listed in the report… You absolutely want to be thinking through what is important to you.

And so, what are your values?  What’s important to you?

Learning  & Achievement… Working hard…

  • What opportunities exist for students in class and beyond the classroom?
  • Does talk about school work take place after class too?  Can you engage in research?
  • Are there avenues for pursuing your goals and being recognized for your work?

Playing hard…

  • What do you love to do during your free time?
  • What kinds of extracurriculars are offered?
  • What is there to do off campus and how easy is it to get there (wherever “there” is)?


  • How much freedom do you have academically and personally?
  • Are you interested in study abroad?  What are your options?
  • What is the college administrators’ vision of the students?  What are the unspoken rules of the community?


  • What the composition of the student body, professors and staffs?
  • How big or small is the campus/community?

Connection/Close working relationships with peers, professors and/or local community

  • What is the student to professor ratio in classes?
  • Who teaches the classes-professors and/or grad students?
  • What connection is there with the local community?


  • What do you think of honor codes (re:  academic work, tests, etc).at college?  Do you want to be in an environment where that’s a paramount value?

Bottomline: What are your values?  How do you see them in action at the campuses you are visiting?  The college community will be your home for four years… you need to feel comfortable, stimulated, challenged, a part of it.


To continue the conversation… What do you expect and want from a college that you’re visiting?  How can the college community-students, professors, administrators-demonstrate who they are and what they value so you can make an informed decision about the environment that’s right for you?

Last week, at Clark University’s Admitted Student Open House prospective students had opportunities to:

  • Meet the members of the community (in this instance, the president to be, an assistant director of admissions, the student council president and another Clark administrator)
  • Get their questions answered by the current students, professors, admissions’ and financial aid staffs, and alumni
  • Learn/Attend session led by professors
  • Eat some the cafeteria’s food (don’t laugh-don’t you want to know what it’s like?)
  • Explore student clubs and organizations
  • Discover special programs, study abroad options, and the college in the Worcester community
  • Walk the campus, and check out the facilities… begin to feel whether Clark is the best fit for them

And, parents had time to do much of the same:  they had the time to look, to listen, to learn about the environment, and attend a session just for parents.

I think there were great opportunities to understand the breadth and depth of the university.  So, in thinking about and perhaps visiting the colleges that have accepted you, in your effort to make a fully conscious decision:  What do you think?  What do you want to know?  What will you look for?  These are the most important questions; I hope that you develop your answers using your head and your heart.


Last Saturday was a COLD end-of-March day.  I had been hoping for warmer weather… but I have to say it really didn’t matter because it was so fantastic to be on campus and meeting prospective students and their parents.  I love the feel of Clark University-though that’s really not what I want to talk with you about… I want to ask seniors* who are about to make decisions about where they want to spend the next four years…

  • How will you decide?
  • What’s important to you?
  • What are you looking and listening for on campuses as you visit-whether it’s for the first time or the last time-before you make your decision? (Or, what are you looking for on the colleges’ websites and in conversations with current students and alumni?)

You have some time to make a decision.  I’d like to suggest that you choose with your head and your heart.  Reflect on who you are:  what you need and want in an environment so that you are both comfortable and challenged to do your best work and have a great time!  Good luck!

*  These are great  questions for juniors too, as you begin visiting campuses.


My heart aches for the students who committed suicide, their parents, and their friends.  These tragedies are one of the realities of life at college.  Colleges appear to be wonderful little worlds/microcosms separated from the “real world.”  In fact, savvy students don’t fall prey to the belief that life away from home, is life in a protected bubble.

Life on campus is often exciting, and challenging; it is also critical to realize that bad things happen on campuses too, whether the campus is in the middle of a city or out in rural America.  As you visit college campuses over the next half year ask questions/read/learn about safety statistics at each and every college.  It’s their obligation to share that information/crime statistics-and be certain to ask or learn about their services for students who experience difficulties during their years on campus.


  • be an ostrich about the dangers that exist on campus-alcohol and drug abuse, interpersonal violence such as dating violence and sexual violence


  • Ask questions about student services-you may never need them for yourself yet you may be able to support a friend

This is big, frightening stuff we’re talking about here… it’s really important.  Learn all you can to make yourself and others safe.

  • Be clear about your values, your strengths, your challenges, and your need for support when the going feels too difficult to do it on your own.  Reach out when you need help… There is no shame in seeking assistance.
  • Support friends in getting the care they need.  You don’t have to have solve their problems… You can help by knowing about the resources on campus and in the community.


What a great chat!  We devoted our time to discussing some key themes-and tensions that play out during the college search process… once we got past that little contribution from the dog!

  • your growth and change
  • maintaining close relationships with your family and becoming more independent
  • using both your head and your heart to sift through the information you hear and learn to reach decisions that work for you

You can listen here

Being in the college search means being a detective

and finding out the “scoop.”


We had an awesome call about all there is to learn about finding the college that’s right for you… While I was chatting away with the girls on the call, Grace, (leadership coach for talented teen girl athletes, http://TigressTeens.ning.com) was taking notes of our conversation-here are the highlights (plus a wee bit more information)!

Did you know?

There are over FOUR THOUSAND colleges and universities in the US-so you are bound to find some that fit YOUR needs.  (And, you might look outside the US too!  Take a peek at Maya Frost’s book, The New Global Student. )

It’s real important to college admissions for you to be resilient (and show it!). Everyone has bumps in the road, what they (admissions office personnel) want to see is how you respond to and manage adversity.

Remember you are a whole person.  The package of you is what matters-be honest about yourself-know what you want (size, location, etc.)-even if that means you don’t have a major yet.

Not knowing your major is fine-50% of students haven’t decided on a major by the time they enter college. If you want to go to school to find what you want to do then you look more towards liberal arts colleges, on the other hand, if you know what you want and are focused, look to schools with your focus.What is important is to know your interests.  Find schools that have what you want-look for the differences in how each school presents your focal interest.

SAT Scores are NOT required at all schools. So, if you are intimidated or have strong feelings against SAT’s then find a school that does not ask for these or other standardized test scores. There are plenty of excellent colleges that do not require these scores. And the number is steadily growing.

Always go to the interview and college tour if possible AND do the interview-this gives you an opportunity to be a face with the paper-you really are a human being. Go with a portfolio-this can include your awards, your community service, your interests.

Be prepared for the interview, develop questions about the schools. Be specific as well as general-have at least one question that is very school specific.

Understand that the school is a community. They are trying to see how you will fit into their existing structure-what can you add? What do they have that you need? Why you are different and unique?

Know yourself both strengths and weaknessesknow your needs–these can be anything from the school having the club you most desire,to having the reading help you must have, to having the buildings that you feel most comfortable in.

Size of school is important-how can you tell what is the right fit for you? When you visit the school see if you can sleep over, spend a day in classes. Talk with the kids who are there. Eat in the dining hall.

Ask the students why they are there. What is the best part of the school? What is the worst part? VERY important question-what do you do, you know, when you are not in class?  And, the fact is, as the visitor you are way more nervous than kids in the school. They have had to go through this process-so they understand-and most of them want to help you make the best decision for you.

Keep to a few things really passionate about—don’t try to do a ton of stuff just to put it on a resume. Remember you are the person-it’s you who will be going to school, not your resume.

If you have extra things you want to share (letters of recommendation, awards, written work, videos), call (the admission office) to find out what to do, (not all schools want and/or accept extra materials).  Use them as a “door opener” to get your folder opened and to show you are interested in the school.

Wow!  These were only some of the topics we discussed in the 20 minute call!  If you have questions, email me!

Next post:  Questions teens have… that we didn’t get a chance to talk about on the call!


I give interactive workshops in high schools, and at local, regional and national conferences… on the very subject listed above.  So many students have questions and concerns that can be addressed easily in an hour’s time.  For the past two Monday evenings I’ve partnered with Grace Mauzy, Coach for Talented Teen Girl Athletes, to talk with girls about their college search-with great results!  I’ll share the key points of all the 15 minute sessions on the blog, (and the audiofiles when we have them).

First Session
The Question
What do you know about the college search that you’re not aware of… that you just never thought about before, or information you have picked up along the way?

If you want to hear what we talked about, click here. If you want the info. – read on!

Key Points

  • What do you know about yourself?  Be prepared to talk/write about your passions, needs, wants, challenges, favorite subjects and activities, connections to the community.  Thinking through your answers will help you write applications and essays.
  • First, focus on: What do you want? Make decisions about which colleges are the right fit for you.
  • Second, focus on:  What do the colleges want?  Colleges want to know about you as a whole person: your strengths, challenges, course of study, grades, extracurriculars, community involvement, what you want from college and your education
  • How many colleges are there in the US?  There are 4,000 colleges… plenty of them that will be a good fit for college ready students/you.
  • What’s your reason for picking a school?  If it’s all about the name/prestige… think again!
  • Where should I be looking at colleges?  Check out colleges/universities beyond your region.  Colleges are looking for diversity… including what part of the country you represent.
  • What about the big price tag for college today-how can I afford it?  Teens and parents have misconceptions about the costs of colleges-small, private, liberal arts colleges are costlier than state schools, yet they give out more financial aid and scholarships.  Don’t cross them off your list.

Grace was taking detailed notes.  She felt that the two most important points were:
1.  Colleges are looking to create a community-Candidates need to share who they are and what they do throughout the admissions process (applications and interviews)
2.  There are a number of ways to fund your college years-look at all the possibilities.

Second session… We talked about, “What do you have yet to learn about the college search process?”
Check out the next post!


I love this saying!  How true, right?  I know that I approach tasks I like much more readily than those that feel difficult or boring.  What about you?

How do you feel about searching for colleges that are a match for who you are, and what you want and need?  Does it feel fun and exciting?  Big and scary?  Overwhelming and tedious? Maybe all those things?

How can looking for colleges that are matches for you be fun? By tapping into what you already do well.  Here’s a question:  What are your strengths?  What do you do really well?  I love helping teens get in touch with their strengths and then identifying how they can use them to make EVERYTHING easier… and more fun!

Take the next few minutes to think and then make a list of at least five of your strengths. If that feels hard to do, go here, www.authentichappiness.com and take the Brief Strengths Test.  It’s free, takes about 20 minutes, and will give you great information-about yourself!

Now reflect on your strengths and how they show up in your life… here are just a few examples of strengths:

  • Are you curious about the world and open to new experiences?
  • Do you have great perspective?  Do others seek you out to help them solve problems and gain another view of themselves?
  • Do you persevere, finishing what you start, being flexible, realistic, and not perfectionistic?
  • Are you kind and generous to others?
  • Are you a leader, organizing activities and maintaining good relations among group members?
  • Do you demonstrate self control, holding your desires, needs and impulses in check when appropriate?

How can you use these strengths to have more fun during your college search?
If you…

  • are curious, use that trait to become a super sleuth, figuring out who you are, what the colleges are about and how you will create a match (more on that in the next post!)
  • have perspective, maybe you want to approach your search as a problem solving exercise
  • persevere, then you will be in great shape to mange the big and little pieces of the project
  • are kind, then perhaps others will repay your kindness by working with you and answering questions
  • are a leader, then your organizational and people skills will help you manage the pieces of the puzzle, the “paperfun,” and the people you will meet during this months long journey
  • are a wizard at self control then you will manage yourself in the process, working when necessary, helping yourself feel more in control of the big picture and the niggling details, and stepping away from the search to take a break!

You may want to make a quick mindmap, web, collage of your strengths (mmmm, that must be your strength in creativity!) and keep it with your college search materials… to give you the lift you need when the task starts to feel too big.

I bet you’ll have more fun if you’re using your strengths to meet your challenges!

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