Hot Off the Presses: Best Colleges 2013

The eagerly awaited and highly anticipated moment has finally arrived. The U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges 2013 edition is here. Despite my misgivings with the methodology of the rankings and my displeasure with the obsession of using the rankings to determine college preferences, I was as quick as the next guy to review the rankings.

As much as I dislike the way that U.S. News and World Report ranks colleges, I can’t help but look at those rankings. I feel very conflicted actually. On the one hand I need to see where various schools rank because my clients will expect me to have basic knowledge of the current rankings. Also, truth be told, I always scroll immediately to my alma mater (Washington University in St. Louis) to see its ranking. (This year #14.) Whoo hoo! On the other hand I find it incredibly frustrating that in the US and abroad the rankings hold so much water. US News consistently faces criticism over the way the rankings are determined. In fact one of my dear college friends did his senior thesis in economics on the issues facing the US News rankings. I think we can all agree that the rankings are somewhat suspect yet at the same time we are drawn to them like moths to a light. Dangerous, maybe, but titillating, nonetheless.

In my former life as an admission counselor my colleagues and I felt that same love-hate ambivalence towards the rankings. Sure we were always interested to see where our university ranked but at the same time we pooh-poohed the rankings in general. We’d remind visiting students and their parents that rankings aren’t everything, but then in the same breath we’d tell them how highly we were ranked.

So, in honor of the official release of the rankings, I will encourage you to take a look. Parents, see where your alma mater ranks. High schoolers, check out the schools you’re considering. And make me feel a little better by looking into one or two schools you perhaps don’t know. And as always, take those rankings with a grain of salt. They are not the end-all-be-all of the college process.

Gotta run so I can peruse those rankings again…for research purposes.

Image courtesy of


On Mozzarella Sticks and Ice Cream or How to Make Good Food Choices in College

Let’s be honest, we’ve all heard of the Freshman 15, those dreaded pounds that inevitably plague college freshmen. Even with all of the advice that students receive prior to starting college, the health and nutrition tips tend to be ignored. Most students feel that they won’t be affected by weight gain; it will only happen to their peers. College dining plans can make it challenging to be healthy. Food is available any time of day (or night). There are still all-you-can-eat dining hall buffets, challenging for anyone who is calorie conscious. Despite the significant progress made by dining services on many college campuses, students still tend to eat what’s fast and tasty, i.e. the cheeseburger over the salad. Or in my case freshman year those amazing mozzarella sticks in Bear’s Den. Pair the unhealthy eating decisions with late night snacking and it’s easy to see how the pounds can accumulate little by little. After all college is when you can choose to eat ice cream for breakfast, if you want. At least that’s what I tell my kids when they complain about healthy breakfasts and how they would much prefer cupcakes, cookies and ice cream. “Just wait until college,” I tell them.

I am hardly an expert when it comes to nutrition. Remember I’m the one who downed those mozzarella sticks and thought nothing of middle of the night pizza binges. Freshman year wasn’t so kind to me. Or to clarify, I wasn’t so kind to myself freshman year. Turning to an authority on nutrition, I had Stacey Kaplan put together the following list of tips to guide you towards healthy(ier) eating this fall. Here’s Stacey’s list of nutrition tips for freshmen:

1. Don’t drink your calories. 

Limit soda and energy drink consumption as they are high in calories.


2.  Incorporate exercise at least 4-5 days per week.

Utilize the college rec center, walk/jog outside, walk to class each day as opposed to taking a bus or car.


3. Limit fast food to 1-2 times per week. 

Try to eat most meals in the dining hall.


4. Eat breakfast every morning. (Not ice cream!)

People who skip breakfast end up eating more throughout the day.


5. Read food labels.

Look at the calories and sugars in food items.


6. Keep a supply of healthy snacks in your dorm room. 

Have healthy snacks like low-sugar granola bars, yogurt and fresh fruit available.


7. Limit late night eating. (My bad!)

Curb your eating after 7pm.


8. Eat more fruits and vegetables. (French fries, though made of potatoes, are not a vegetable.)

Try to incorporate one fruit and vegetable at each meal.


9. Switch to whole grain products.

More fiber and protein in whole grains will fill you up with eating less.


10. Everything in moderation. (Occasional mozzarella sticks are not the end of the world.)

Don’t deprive yourself completely; you will end up binging on unhealthy foods.

A sincere thank you to Stacey for organizing this list and making such a large contribution to this week’s post. Stacey  is completing her Masters Degree in Nutrition & Dietetics, as well as her Dietetics Internship this fall from Kent State University. She is planning on focusing her career in the area of clinical nutrition.


Parents Check This Out:

These last few weeks of summer have turned me into a lazy blogger. Apologies for my lack of consistency posting in recent weeks. Now as things are heating up for the start of the school year my attention turns once again to the needs of high school and college students and their parents. As I come across interesting college oriented websites and services I am always excited to share them with you. None of these companies have asked to be promoted. I simply find sites that interest me that I would like to pass along.

This week I would like to highlight University Parent, an incredible resource for the parents of college students. This site fills a much needed niche for parents to get information about the college their sons and daughters attend. Colleges develop their own pages which include calendars of upcoming events, suggestions for nearby hotels and restaurants, and advice for parents of college students. What an amazing idea!



I particularly appreciate University Parent’s purpose, as outlined on their website:

Why do we exist? Because being a college parent is not easy. Parents strive to be helpful and supportive of their student without being too overbearing or too distant. We empower college parents with the information they need to build healthy relationships with their student.

Kudos to founder Sarah Schupp recently recognized by Inc. magazine as one of the top 30 under 30 of America’s Coolest Young Entrepreneurs. She is a true visionary and has created something very impressive.

Parents, I highly recommend checking out this site. Please be sure to post your feedback here after you visit the site.


Happy Common Application Day!

Ladies and gentlemen start your engines. Today, August 1, is the day that the venerable Common Application goes live. In honor of Common Application Day I would like to share ten tips to assist you as you begin.

  1. Read all directions clearly. Duh, right? This seems so obvious. You might be wondering why I am even taking up space to remind you of this. Well, every year I’ve worked with students who don’t read the directions and end up causing themselves (and their college counselor) considerable stress and unnecessary work.
  2. Put your username and password in a safe place. I bet every year the Common Application IT team is inundated with student requests for new usernames and passwords. Write this information down in a safe place (or two) and don’t lose it. Why make more work for yourself? You’re going to be busy enough as it is.
  3. The short answer is 1000 characters, not 1000 words. Big difference. This really tripped up students last year. In the past the directions indicated that the short answer should be 150 words max. Then last year the wording was changed. I can’t tell you how many 1000 word short answers I read. Refer back to tip #1, read those directions.
  4. Personal statement option #6 is the most popular. For good reason. You are offered six prompts for the personal statement. You only need to pick one. Phew! Option six, which allows you to complete the topic of your choice, is always the most popular among applicants.
  5. Do the writing samples in Word or another word processing program. Rather than typing directly into the Common Application, you should do your drafts in a Word document and then cut/paste or download to the Common App site.
  6. The entire application does not need to be completed in one sitting. You should take your time completing the application and the Common App makes it easy for you to do so. You can save your work as you go and come back to the application as often as you’d like. Just be careful not to submit it until you are fully satisfied with your application.
  7. Fill out the easy stuff first. If starting the Common App seems daunting, spend a little time doing the easy sections– biographical information, schools attended, etc. Work your way up to the harder parts but don’t procrastinate the entire application just because you’re intimidated by its length.
  8. Research supplements. Some colleges will require you to submit additional essays or short answers in addition to the general Common Application. Make sure that you determine which supplements you will need to complete. Don’t be surprised the day before the applications are due.
  9. Give your teachers their recommendation forms. At the beginning of the school year determine which teachers you want to complete your recommendations. Make sure to communicate clearly with them so that your recommendations will be submitted on time.
  10. Proofread as you go. As you work on the Common Application take time to proofread as you go. Enlist the help of mom or dad or another trusted adult to proofread your work.

If you have questions or need advice as you work on the Common Application, be sure to post them here. I’m more than happy to help.


Ten Beautiful College Campuses…You’ve Never Heard Of

I’ve just returned from a lovely extended Fourth of July vacation to Kansas City, MO. I know, I know, when you think of Independence Day the first thing that comes to mind is the Midwest, right? Smack dab in the middle of our fine country sure is a great place to have a barbecue, shoot off some fireworks and cool off from 100 degree temperatures. Try as I might to leave the college work at home while I was on vacation, low and behold, my family discovered the most gorgeous college campus in the least expected place. Parkville, MO, o is home to Park University. Have you ever heard of it? Neither did I until we stumbled upon it looking for ice cream and adventure. This got me thinking about all of the amazing college campuses most of us don’t know, even those of us in higher education. I’ve put together a list of ten beautiful college campuses you may not know. I purposely didn’t include places like Harvard, Yale, Washington University and others that are well known.

  1. Berry College– Mount Berry, GA
  2. Florida Southern College– Lakeland, FL
  3. Furman University– Greenville, SC
  4. Lewis and Clark College– Portland, OR
  5. Park University– Parkville, MO
  6. Rhodes College– Memphis TN
  7. St. Olaf College-- Northfield, MN
  8. Salve Regina University– Newport, RI
  9. Scripps College– Claremont, CA
  10. Sweet Briar College– Sweet Briar, VA (doesn’t it just sound pretty?)

I’d love to hear your feedback. Do you agree? Disagree? Do you have other colleges to add to this list?


Some Helpful Advice By the Parents, For the Parents

It is best to get information straight from the source. In the world of college admissions and applications there are seemingly infinite possibilities for conducting research and gleaning advice. Resources include: current college students, endless websites, social media sites, search guides and professionals, both on the counseling side and on the admissions side. I feel that parents of high schoolers can learn a great deal from parents who have recently been through the process. If a parent can survive the admission process and come out on the other side willing to give advice, that advice is certainly something to consider. I recently surveyed parents of rising college freshmen to learn what they wish they had known a year ago and what advice they would share other parents. I captured some great kernels of knowledge. Enjoy!


Keep a spreadsheet of deadlines.


Keep track of activities/extra-curriculars to write a resume. Start this freshman year, if possible. 


Get skilled outside help for your child at editing/crafting the essays.


Fall in love with more than one school. 


Get excited about wherever you are going: community college, state school, small liberal arts, quirky unknown or even Ivy. 


Do not wait until junior year or even high school. Start the process in junior high. 


Avoid loans as much as possible, especially anything more than $5K year.


Make your college choice by October and apply early decision. It’s the only way to put the odds more in your favor. (“And may the odds be ever in your favor.” I couldn’t help it. I had to throw in that shameless Hunger Games reference.)


Parents should not let their kids apply anyplace they wouldn’t let them go for any reason: financial, location, etc. They should talk honestly to their child about their concerns (finances, the size of the school, whatever), but if they tell the kid it is his or her decision, they must let them make their own decision.


Read the communication from the school. Our son didn’t notice that he had been offered a spot in a highly specialized program because the school buried that in the penultimate paragraph.


I’m not sure you should bother filling out the financial aid forms if you [think you] are not going to get any financial aid. It is a big time consumption. It probably cost me $600 to fill it out if I were billing for my time! (Author Note: I don’t necessarily agree with this. If you don’t take the time to submit the forms, you will never know whether or not you would have qualified. Also, some schools require submission of financial aid forms even for merit scholarship consideration. So here’s another tip: Always read the fine print.)


Before applying to a school using the Common App[lication], make sure you read up on the school to see if there are any special programs that might not be listed on the Common App.


Enjoy the ride.


If you are a parent of a college student, what other advice would you offer other parents just embarking on this process? If you are the parent of a high school student, what would you like to know?


Talking College with Kindergartners

I recently spent a very entertaining afternoon with a class of kindergartners at The Agnon School in Cleveland, Ohio. How children understand college and campus life has  fascinated me ever since I became a mother. My daughters, ages six and eight, have an acute awareness and understanding of college largely because it is a frequent topic of conversation in our home. They have also spent more time visiting colleges than the typical high school student and they have even stayed overnight in a residence hall at my alma mater.

I was extremely curious, and obviously excited, to research kindergartners perceptions of college. I individually interviewed all 15 boys and girls as I didn’t want their answers to be swayed by their peers. I asked all of the students the following four questions:

What is college?

What do you have to do to go to college?

What do you do while you’re in college?

Do you know where you want to go to college?


Here are some of my favorite answers:


College is…

“…a school where the big kids go.”

“…a place where you learn how to be a grownup.”

“…a place where you stay for two years without your mom and dad. And there’s beds there.”

“…the last grade. Well, there are four years you have to go to it. It’s the last school you go to. They teach you how to be really good at stuff. Then you can do your masters and PhD.”

“…a kind of school you go to before you go on to be an adult.”


In college you…

“ work. Lots of work.”

“…eat and have to work a lot and do papers.”

“…pay a lot of money. About $50. No wait, change that to $100.”

“…learn all the rest that you need to learn before you get to be an adult, when you don’t go to school anymore.”

“…have to stay there for a long time. You get to choose your room. Everybody has their own room and sometimes they sleep over.”

“…sometimes take classes on how to do stuff, like, for being a grownup.”


Do you know where you want to go to college?

“It’s 80 years from now so I don’t know where I want to go.”


How do you get into college?

“You need to be really smart. And you need to go through a test.”


And one final thought from one of the most outspoken kindergarteners:

“College is not fun. Because you have to do a lot of work and teachers yell at you. (long pause) You can get a boyfriend there. But I don’t want to go to college. I want to be free.”


Finding Harmony: Some Suggestions for Parents

“As a parent, what should my role be in the college admissions process?”

What a terrific question! During a meeting with a rising high school junior last night, her mother posed this question. I know that this mom wants to be involved in the process but not in a way that will suffocate or stifle her daughter. Since this is the eldest in this family of three children, the concerned mom is still trying to navigate her role. She specifically mentioned not wanting to become “one of those helicopter parents” yet she maintained the importance of participating in the process with her daughter. In a simple and honest way she wants to understand what her role will be in the coming two years. I offered five possible roles parents can play.

1. Supreme Organizer– Parents are fabulous calendar keepers and supreme organizers. There are scores of dates and deadlines that need to be well maintained in order to keep a hold on the process. Mom or dad can establish a paper calendar or Google calendar specifically dedicated to noting application deadlines, scholarship deadlines, high school visit dates, SAT/ACT registration deadlines, etc.

2. Travel Agent– Parents and students will want to make visits to colleges to gain a sense of campus life. Scheduling visits takes some organization and planning. This is another great role that parents can serve.

3. Schmoozer– This is one of my all time favorite Yiddush words. If you are unfamiliar with the word schmooze, it basically means to intimately and cozily chat. I stress to students the importance of talking to friends, relatives, classmates, and random college students in order to learn about colleges, majors, and campus life. Parents can do the same thing with their peers. Speaking with relatives and friends about everyone’s favorite subject, college, can be a great way to conduct research which can then be shared with the entire family.

4. Communicator– Keep the lines of communication open. Or at least as best you can with your teenage sons and daughters. Be open and upfront about your expectations for the admission process. Raise concerns about finances, distance, locations, etc. The more you are able to communicate, the less likely you will reach the point of door slamming, eye rolling, finger pointing and out right family chaos.

5. Cheerleader– The college admission process can be daunting and overwhelming to even the most organized, accomplished and confident high school students. Parents can continue doing what they do best: celebrating their children for being the amazing young people they are. The students may be moody, sullen, outright cantankerous– all of those wonderful teenager qualities. Parents, don’t forget, soon your sons and daughters will be out of the house attending their dream colleges. Remind them of their unique and special qualities and remember to tell them how much you love ‘em.


What other roles can parents serve in the admissions process?



Four More Years of College? Yes, Please!

Returning to my alma mater for a visit last month left me in awe of the institution where I spent four formative years as a student and three enriching years as an employee. Washington University, my dear alma mater, is more lovely, student centered and inspiring than even my rose colored recollections. What strikes me about the changes made at Wash. U. over the last ten plus years are not exclusive to my alma mater alone. As much as I would love to say that Wash. U. is the only institution making sweeping changes that affect the day-to-day lives of students, I think universities throughout the country are positively transforming. I started college at the wrong time, far too early. I missed out on some amazing changes to college life.

My freshman dorm room was a standard, concrete block, utilitarian space. Don’t get me wrong, I loved living in the dorm and would happily relive that experience. In an effort to “keep up with the Joneses” and impress prospective and current students, college residence halls (the very terms “dorm” or “dormitory” are so outdated) have become modern edifices that look as if they’ve been lifted from Las Vegas or Disney World. College dorm, er, residence hall living has followed the lead of HGTV and become unbelievably stylish and comfortable.

And the beds. Oh, don’t get me started on the new residence hall beds. Tempurpedic. Memory foam. Best night sleep I’ve had in months, maybe years. Yes, I did spend three nights in one of these modern residence hall rooms, overlooking the very dorm I spent my freshman year.

Campus dining is another great area of change. I am in awe of the amazing and diverse food options available to students. Back in my day we still ate dinner in a large communal all-you-can-eat dining hall. Now it’s stations and food courts. Dining has gone trendy with sushi, wraps, vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, kosher, and ethnic options. In fact the food on campus looks as good as fine dining options. Now college dining is ranked in a national survey.

Seeing the level of environmentalism and the commitment to sustainability truly left an impression. It used to be challenging to find a recycling bin on campus. Now recycling bins are everywhere. Bottled water is banned. Students are encouraged to use their own reusable containers. Drinking fountains are outfitted with special faucets to accommodate water bottles. Many buildings have dual flush toilets.  Bike racks and paths are in abundance. I even passed a bicycle tire inflator tucked between a parking garage and one of the residence halls.

Times have changed in the last fifteen years. All I can say is college life just keeps getting better and better. No wonder the application process is so competitive. I’d like to toss my hat back into the applicant pool. I would gladly go back to college for another four years.


College Application Essay Contest

Hey seniors, I just heard about an awesome scholarship contest! Free Test Prep is offering a $1000 scholarship to the best essay written by a college bound student. All you have to do is submit the essay that you used for the school you’ll be attending next fall. Your essay will then be made available on the Free Test Prep website so that future students can read and enjoy your hard work. Hey, you’re already written the essay. You’ve already been admitted to college. And you could win $1000. How cool is that?!

And if you’re just embarking on the application process this summer, check back with Free Test Prep so that you can peruse some actual college essays. Might make for some interesting reading.

Check back with me throughout the summer for much much more on brainstorming and writing those dreaded, or as I like to say, delightful, college essays.

Older posts «