You Can’t Chase Merit and Brand Name (usually)

One of the biggest struggles I face as a counselor is knowing a student can’t afford the tuition at a college they dream of attending. Many of the country’s most prestigious colleges only give need-based aid. As a result, most middle-income families don’t receive much if any aid. This is why these colleges are still overwhelmingly attended by wealthy students.

There are many affordable colleges in this country. Many give aid to attract strong students. You can often find general perimeters about scholarships and aid on a school’s website. Some schools, like the University of Alabama, are very transparent–they publish for both in-state and out-of-state students the stats and test scores you need to receive a scholarship. To be competitive for full tuition scholarships you need to have a high grade point average, test scores above the 1400 SAT/30 ACT range and a rigorous curriculum. You may need to write additional essays as well as interview for top scholarships. But other scholarships do not require such high scores.

Jeff Selingo, best-selling author of Who Gets In and Why labels colleges buyers (they have to give aid to get students). Jeff takes the info colleges provide to the College Board and to the federal government IPEDS database and compiles who gives how much aid. You can access his list (once you regsiter) here. But fundamentally, the harder the college is to get admitted, the less likely you will get aid. They don’t need to buy you. Where lesser known schools will have to give you aid to get you to attend. Most lesser known privates will discount enough to make their total cost similar to attending the local public college as an in-state resident.

Some colleges will negotiate and some will not. It never hurts to send an email to the admission counselor and ask if there is a process to have the aid offer re-evaluated. They may require proof of other aid offers detailing a less expensive out-of-pocket cost. Again, the more selective the college the less likely they will be to negotiate.

If you would like to learn more about building a list based on the possibility of merit, schedule a meeting with us. We will go through tools and websites that help you see where your child falls in the admissions process and what type of aid may be available.

Building a Balanced List (Reach, Targets and Likelies)

It’s the time of year when junior should be building their college list, doing their research, and visiting schools. Yet the competitive nature of top-tier admissions has made assessing the likelihood of admission more challenging. Students are applying to more and more colleges, making them increasingly selective (we explain why applying to more than 10 schools is a bad idea here). While the highly ranked schools are getting more competitive, eight percent of US colleges still admit eighty percent or more of their applications. Its important that any college list have two to three schools a student is excited to attend, but also confident they will be admitted.

Students should begin by thinking about what they want to study or if they are going to need a program that helps them explore majors while at college. They can then use a college planning website like Collegeboard’s My Big Future, Naviance, Scoir, Cappex or CollegeXpress to search for schools. These sites typically let you search by major, size, location and features like religion or greek life. Students can then explore further reading student ratings on, or in the Fiske Guide, and on Princeton

If your school uses Naviance or Scoir, both sites have scattergrams that allow you to plot where you fall compared to students in your high school who were admitted, denied or waitlisted. This can help you understand if a school is a likely, target or reach. Each school also publishes a common data set with the percentage of applications admitted, gpa ranges and middle 50% test scores. College Board publishes this data on the admissions tab of each school’s profile on their website. Any school that admits less than 20% of their applicants is a reach. If you fall near the top end of a school’s admitted students, its probably a likely. When in doubt, assume a school is a target or a reach so you don’t get your hopes set on any one school. It is important to understand if a school admits by major and which are the most competitive majors (usually engineering, computer science, biology, media/film and business). If you are applying to a competitive major, the school should also be considered a reach.

A school mailing you a brochure or sending you an email does not mean you are likely to be admitted. Many colleges market heavily to increase their applications (only to reject students to increase their selectivity and help them move up in the rankings). Other schools have limited recruitment budgets. But if you are interested in a school, make sure to open their emails, visit and connect with staff to demonstrate interest. Some schools weigh your interest in the admissions decision process.

If you need help building your college list or evaluating your likelihood of admission, schedule a meeting with Coffman Consulting to discuss your options. We are happy to help.

You Really Should Visit Colleges During Sophomore and Junior Year

As decisions come in for seniors, those who visited colleges are having an easier time deciding where they want to attend next year. Those who didn’t are rushing to attend admitted student events and see the campuses that have offered them admission. While Covid made it hard for students to visit colleges during the height of the pandemic, most schools are back open fully to in-person visitors. Log onto the website, go to the admissions section and schedule a tour and information session (if offered). The more research you do on the front end of your application process, the easier your essy writing and decision-making process will be.

Families of high school sophomores should schedule some visits to nearby schools –go see a small private, a large public, something urban and something suburban or rural. There aren’t a lot of schools with 5000-9000 undergrads, but if there is one nearby go check that out, too. Then discuss what your student thought of the size, of the locations and the specific schools. Based on what they liked, start looking for similar size schools with a similar location that offer their prospective major. You can use sites like My Big Future, Naviance, Scoir, Niche to see the academic profile of those admitted–try to find schools where your child falls in the middle to the top of those statistics. While admission isn’t guaranteed, being in the middle or top of stats will make you more likely to be admitted (and possibly get merit aid if the school offers it).

Once you have a list of 10-15 schools, sophomores and juniors should do virtual visits to narrow down where they want to visit in person. Try to see schools while they are in session to get a sense of how you like the students–you will be with them for four years. You also may have to write an essay about the community–it’s hard to do that if you haven’t met anyone who attends or talked about student and academic life with real students. Use junior year breaks–fall break, MLK day, president’s day, and spring break to visit schools. Try to have the list of where you want to apply narrowed by August 1.

Many colleges will ask you to write essays on why you want to attend a specific school. Visits are a great way to gather those reasons. Talk to students, faculty, and staff while there. Learn about campus life, career opportunities, clubs, and study abroad. All of this research will help you write essays that seem authentic versus those just rehashing a college’s website.

If you need help building a college list or narrowing down if a school is the right fit for you, schedule a session with us. We can discuss schools to consider, how to do your research and what to ask on a college visit.

Advice for high school parents based on the 2023 admission cycle

It is the time of year when students are turning in their course selections for next year, trying to build a schedule that will get them into college. I personally think students should take what they need to graduate as well as some courses that interest them. But in this day and age of highly selective admissions, whether right or wrong, it’s often not good enough.

While the 2023 admission cycle is not yet over–highly selective colleges are still releasing their Early Decision 2 and regular decisions–the news so far has not been good. Despite the number of high school graduates being on the decline in most parts of the United States (the birth rate has been down since the early 2000s and continues to trend down), most highly selective colleges are reporting application increases. This is because students, desperately wanting to get into a top school, are applying to 15-20 schools (which is TOO many). But most have been denied early admission or deferred to the regular pool.

Why do schools defer students? Basically, they want to see what their overall applicant pool looks like. They want to be able to shape a class that has geographic, major, gender, and ethnic diversity. They are balancing athletes and legacy admits. Some that are need-blind consider how many students need financial aid and how many students can pay something (because colleges do have to cover the salaries of faculty and staff, keep up building maintenance, pay for those rec centers and new science labs, etc). They are trying to build an interesting community–so activities, interests, and experiences are all analyzed. But the most important factor is the courses students took in high school and the grades they received.

  • There are 4000 colleges in the United States.
  • 1200 are four-year colleges.
  • 200 are “highly selective”.
  • There are over 27,000 high schools.

Students are fighting for admission to these 200. Most of these highly selective are smaller, with first-year classes of around 1200-2000 students. Cal Tech takes one of the smallest–around 250. Michigan and University of North Carolina are larger with 4,000-9,000 first year. Even if they took an average of 3000 first-year students there is space for about 600,000 high school graduates in those top 200 schools. That means 22.5 students from each high school might find a spot at one of these schools. But some schools–like elite boarding schools and top privates and publics in wealthy suburbs are sending more than 22.5. While other schools may see 1 get into a top school. And at highly competitive high schools, many students are applying to the same schools–making it challenging to get in as colleges are not going to take large portions of their class from one high school.

If you look at the profile of who is getting in, excluding legacies and athletes (althought many fit the profile as well), most took all five core subjects–English, Math, Science, Foreign Language and History, for all five years. Most took Calculus. They took the most rigorous coursework their high school offered. Colleges look at how many APs your high school offered and how many did you take. Many who submitted test scores had SATs in the high 1500s and ACTs 34 or above. They showed intellectual curisoty through indepedent research projects or mentored research. They lead or founded clubs. They did meaninful volunteer work at not-for-profts where they could reflect on what the experience meant to them (this isn’t just racking up hours for national honor society but truly finding an issue you are passionate about and making a contribution to an organization or cause). They had part-time jobs. They played a sport. They used their summer wisely by interning, working, taking a course, doing research, or volunteering. They were able to articulate in their essays why this was the right college for them, sharing their personality and vunerability.

So as the class of 2024 starts their applications later this spring and summer, builid a balanced list. Find schools that select more than 50% of their applications and fall in love with a few. Have 1 or 2 reaches but know your future is not defined by what college you attended. People accomplish amazing things graduating from all 1200 four-year colleges and the other 2800 two-year and technical schools. Don’t wrap your self worth in attending one brand name place. It may not be all you think it will be. Protect your mental health by going into the admissions process with a realistic view of what could happen.

How to compare financial aid packages-revised

Two years ago I wrote a post with advice on how to negotiate financial aid. It’s still relevant, and that time of year. You will find the original blog below with a few new updates. If you need help understanding your aid or figuring out how to approach a negotiation, schedule an hour counseling session with us to help.

When I worked in admissions and financial aid, I’d often be contacted by families asking if we would match a scholarship offer from another college. We were willing to do this but wanted to make sure families were comparing apples to apples. Not every college has the same budget for financial aid, nor do they have the same tuition costs. I’d encourage families to let me do a net price comparison for them. They could then see the bottom line costs at all schools and factor in the true costs as they decided which was the best option for their child.

Colleges, and the government, use a lot of terms. A term you will hear a lot is “Cost of Attendance (COA)”. The federal department of education allows colleges to list a cost of attendance that includes tuition, room and board, and other costs they estimate like transportation to and from campus, miscellaneous fees, and personal expenses (ie: toiletries). Not every school includes the same things in their cost of attendance. Some colleges use the COA when calculating financial aid. Some use direct costs (tuition, room and board, and mandatory fees).

Mandatory fees are fees a college or university charges all students such as an activity fee or a technology fee. Optional fees are fees students are charged for specific classes or services such as a parking fee or a lab fee for a biology class. I don’t typically compare optional fees in the net price comparison as they vary from school to school but if you know your child will take a car, add the parking fee or any other fee that is similar at each school.

Instead of using the cost of attendance, I look up the actual costs of tuition, housing, meal plans, and fees to make sure I’m using the most similar data. It’s important to compare apples to apples–some schools might have multiple meal plan options. Some may charge different amounts for different housing (suites, apartments, single rooms). The cost of attendance at one school might be average while the other school uses actual numbers.

You can easily make your own net price comparison spreadsheet. Create a column for each school, and input the costs for tuition, housing, meal plans, and mandatory fees. Total those costs. Subtract any aid from the total costs–listing out merit scholarships, federal grants, state grants, work-study, and student loans. You will be left with your unmet need/out-of-pocket costs. Below is a basic example, you could add any lines you need for additional school-specific need-based grants.

 College ACollege BCollege CCollege D
Tuition full-time 15-19 credit hours1122030,10035000 
standard meal plan600055006000 
any mandatory fees500250500 
total costs2289041350470000
Merit scholarship Total50002300025000 
Pell Grant000 
State Grant000 
Work Study150015001500 
Federal Direct Subsidized Loan250025002500 
Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan300030003000 
Parent Plus Loan00  
total aid1200030000320000
remaining unmet need1089011350150000

Sometimes a private school may be less expensive or close to the same cost as a state school, after scholarships. Sometimes the larger scholarship is from a school with a larger tuition–making the smaller scholarship still a better deal. If costs at the two schools are similar, but one has offered significantly more aid, I’d let the other school know. They might increase the scholarship to be competitive. I’d only do it if it’s your top choice and you are willing to attend if they make the increase. Many schools will not negotiate this way, so be prepared for a no.

Most schools will offer a payment plan to let you cover costs over a 9 or 10-month period (otherwise you typically have two payments–one for fall and one for spring). Parents can also borrow a parent plus loan up to the cost of attendance at a college. Discuss as a family what can you afford to pay for tuition annually. Think about expenses you will no longer have once your child heads to college–fees you pay for their clubs/sports/lessons, groceries if they are now eating at school, utilities if they are no longer at home–can that be applied to tuition costs? What have you saved for their education and how much can you use each year? What do you typically spend on vacations a year? Will anything be paid off like a car or credit card that will allow you to redirect those funds toward tuition?

I don’t recommend picking a school solely on cost. You want your child to be happy and succeed. But if they are excited to attend all schools, and one is obviously a better financial option–comparing bottom-line costs can help you with the decision.

Finally, look at the school’s four-year graduation rate. You want to make sure your child will finish in 4 years. The added tuition, room and board, and book costs for 4.5 years or 5 years are major factors to consider when weighing bottom-line costs. They will also be losing a semester or a year of salary if they are in school for an additional year. On-time graduation has a significant return on investment.

If you would like help understanding your financial aid package or need advice on how to talk to a financial aid office, feel free to reach out to Coffman Consulting for assistance.

No need to apply to more than 10 schools

If I could give juniors one piece of advice it would be to apply to fewer schools. Highly rejective schools are getting even more selective. Students are casting a wider and wider net in the hopes of getting into one “top” or “brand name” school. But all this really does is drive up applications, and cause schools to admit an even smaller percentage of their applicant pool. Too many clients spent their winter break trying to get their applications finished for January deadlines when they should have been enjoying time with their family and getting a much-deserved break.

Instead of applying to 15 or 20 schools, do your research. Find a group of schools that are right for you–where you will be admitted. You don’t have to go to a school US News ranks in the top 50 (because their rankings are bogus anyway). 80% of American colleges admit over 80% of their applicant pool. And many of those colleges will provide amazing education where you will be mentored by faculty, make wonderful friends, get internships and jobs–and probably better recommendations for graduate school. As you build your college list, you can have one or two reaches–but the majority of your list should be colleges you will get into and be happy to attend (maybe even with some merit aid).

Most colleges have at least one essay in addition to the personal statement you write for the Common Application. The highly rejective schools can often have 3-5 supplemental essays. If you are applying to 10 of them you are writing 30-50 essays. Most of the topics are released around August 1. You will be spending most of your fall writing essays while trying to manage a challenging senior schedule, activities, a job, and a social life. If you get invited to honors programs or a scholarship program, it can mean more essays. Some essays can be recycled or modified (for example the “why this major” or “how are you going to contribute to our community”), but some are completely original to that school (Stanford’s short answers, UChicago’s whacky prompts written by their students). If you apply to more than 10, you will be writing non-stop. It causes so much stress, anxiety and BURN OUT!

If you pick schools that you have researched, visited, followed on social media, talked to current students, and met with their admissions staff either on campus, at your high school, or at a college fair–writing the essay will be easier. If you are picking schools based on their reputation, name, or because other smart kids at your high school are applying then you won’t have enough detail and connection to write meaningful essays. Admissions officers know the difference. They read thousands of essays. They can also tell when parents have written them or when they have been overly edited by an adult. A smaller group of colleges you are really excited about will result in better admission decisions.

You can also only list 10 schools on your FAFSA form. When you apply to more than 10 you have to constantly watch for who has downloaded your FAFSA, switch it for another school, and it’s easy to make mistakes and cause an error–delaying or jeopardizing your aid.

As you begin the second half of the school year, keep up your grades, research colleges online (use Naviance, Scoir, My Big Future, Niche, Cappex) attend their visits at your high school, go to a college fair and schedule some virtual and in-person visits to start narrowing your list. Senior year does not have to be all essays all the time. Plan well and be realistic, you will be better off in the long run!

What To Do If You Have Been Deferred?

Several things can happen when you apply for admission Early Action or Early Decision. Schools can admit you, they can deny you, or they can defer your decision to their regular decision process. While this can be frustrating, it is not a no. Basically, they are putting you on hold to see what the rest of the pool looks like. Highly selective colleges are building a class–not just admitting one. They are looking to admit a wide range of students for a well-rounded student body. They are waiting to see if they need your profile to fill out that well-roundness.

Don’t panic. Go through the deferral letter (or email or info posted in the portal) and make sure you understand your next steps. If they require semester or mid-term grades, have them sent by your counselor or uploaded into the portal per their instructions. If they want a letter of continued interest there isn’t a rush to send right away. Wait until January to draft and send as they recommend (via email or uploaded to the portal). Include any new information that might be helpful including awards won, new activities, leadership roles, or a new part-time job. Don’t rehash what is already in your application. If they allow additional letters of recommendation, ask a teacher to submit one. It can be helpful to have it come from a different subject than already submitted. This shows more well-rounded academic skills.

If you haven’t visited or done a virtual visit, do one–it shows demonstrated interest. If your high school counselor is willing to make a call on your behalf, ask. It can be helpful to have a school counselor call, tell your first choice school that they are your top choice, and ask what might strengthen your application (don’t do this if it isn’t true because it undermines your counselor’s ability to advocate for students when you don’t enroll despite them saying it is your top choice).

If you applied with test scores, taking the SAT or ACT again and submitting newer, higher scores may help. It doesn’t always though.

Then it becomes a waiting game. It may be a few months before you hear anything. If you have been admitted to other schools, explore them. Get excited about them. They want you–and it is nice to be wanted. Continue to stay in touch with the admission counselor at the deferred school if you have updates or want to demonstrate continued interest. Just remember that one decision does not define you. There is a perfect college for everyone, and it is not always the one you had your heart set on at first.

Your College Application is Like Baking from Scratch

Any of the students who worked with me this year probably heard my baking analogy so many times they got sick of it. But it’s a valid comparison. When you bake cookies or a cake, the ingredients you use are important. What you add, and when you add it, makes a baked treat that tastes great. Add too much baking soda or leave out the salt, and it won’t taste right.

So what does any of this have to do with college admissions? Your application has parts and pieces that are the ingredients needed for your admission. These ingredients include:

  • Your grades-you want the best grades you can achieve, preferably A’s but some B’s. Avoid C’s or below. If you are working hard and getting C’s–and you have met with your teacher or a tutor for help–you may be taking courses that are too rigorous for you. Take the hardest classes you can handle and still get A’s or B’s.
  • Your coursework–some colleges are very specific about how many years of science, math, foreign language or english they require. They may require pre-calculus or physics. You should be taking four years of all five core subjects–math, english, foreign language, science, and social studies to increase your likelihood of admission. As mentioned above, take the most rigorous courses you can handle. Highly selective colleges will want to see Advanced Placement, Dual Credit, or International Baccalaureate if your school offers these programs. Don’t take a light senior course load unless you are doing a quality internship or co-op in places of courses.
  • Your activities, volunteering and work experience–colleges want to see that you are involved outside your classes. Your activities should reflect your interests, for example, robotics if you are pursuing engineering or student council if you want to go into political science. But they can also be things you enjoy like sports, theater, music and philanthropic activities. Colleges want to see that your involvement deepened–you were in the organization for multiple years, took on a leadership role, and can meaningfully reflect on what you contributed and gained. Having a part-time job is also valued. Volunteering in a meaningful way (not just being dragged by a parent to an occasional food pantry) is also important.
  • Your essays–Whether the personal statement on the common app or a school’s specific supplemental essay, these are a chance to showcase your personality and writing skills. While the personal statement allows you to write about any topic if you choose, you must ensure you are answering the supplemental essay prompts. Use each essay to share something new about you. Don’t just rehash information already on your application or in other essays. This is a chance to round out the flavor in your baking and show who you truly are.
  • Your intellectual curiosity–for students applying to highly selective programs, you want to show how you explored your intellectual interests. Maybe you took a college course during the school year, attended a pre-college university program, conducted research on your own or with a mentor. Being able to express the problems you want to solve and how you have started working on solutions through academic pursuits is critical to differentiating you from others.

As you finish up applications with rolling or January deadlines, good luck. Coffman consulting is always happy to help by brainstorming and reading essays, helping you develop your activity list or suggesting activities to connect to your interests.

Undecided or Declaring a Major–Does it Matter?

As you research and visit prospective colleges, its important to understand how major choice impacts first year admission. Every college handles the admission and application process differently (life would be so much easier if it was standarized). But for many colleges, what you major in and how competitive that major is can have a big impact on the admission process.

There are typically four ways a college may use major in the admissions process. Some colleges require you to declare a major on your application and you are applying specifically to that major. You can often list a second major in case you are not admitted to your first choice. There are often majors that are very competitive (engineering, nursing, computer science, business). These colleges will be looking at your high school transcript for coursework that would prepare you for this major. They will also typically look at activities to see if you have explored this major or demonstrated an interest in the field. They may even have a supplmental essay asking “Why This Major”.

Some colleges will have you declare your intended major, but you are applying to the college or the university, not a specific major. You enter the university as “pre-business” or “pre-math”, take prerequisite courses your first year, maintain a specific GPA and are then admitted to your major as a sophomore. Colleges will be looking at your academic preparation in high school to see that you challenged yourself, took classes that will prepare you for college level work and that you had activities where you demonstrated growth, involvement and leadership.

Some colleges have the above process but you can also be considered for a direct admit to your major. There may be a formal application for this. Or based on your grades, test scores (if considered) and coursework, you are offered a “direct admission” to your major without a seperate application. You typically receive a letter indicating you are a direct admit that explains any benefits to direct admission.

Some colleges, especially smaller liberal arts colleges, often don’t have you declare a major until the end of your first or second year. Their curriculum is designed that it is easy to explore, double major and change majors. They are looking at your high school curriculum to ensure you are prepared for the academic coursework at their college. They want to see activities that show leadership, interests and an indication you will be an activie member of their community. They may ask why you are applying to their college becuase they want you to demonstrate you understand the liberal arts and how their curriculum supports your interests.

At some colleges, the major you select really matters. For instance, the University of California system discourages picking a first and second major in the same college/school. If you don’t get into a business major as your first choice, you aren’t likely to get in as a second choice. They only go to the second choice to pull students off waitlist or if schools have space. Many engineering and nursing programs fill with incoming freshmen. Its very difficult to transfer into the program as a sophomore or from another college. So understand how competitive a major is at a certain school-you maybe admissible to the general university but will need stronger grades, test scores, activitities and courswork to be admissible to a competitive major.

It is important as a prospective student–especially your junior year–to research colleges thoroughly. Look at their website, read how they handle admissions, read about their majors, look at the curriculum and courses you will have to take. Attend a virtual visit or an in-person visit. If they offer sessions with your major or school/college (for example a session with the business school) attend it to get in-depth information. If the admission representative visits your high school, meet with them. This way you really understand how important your major choice will be.

And if you are set on a major, and it is a competitive one, start your college planning early. Using your summer wisely to get experience in your field can be helpful. You want to ensure you are taking all the required classes plus challenging yourself. You want to make sure you have clubs and extracurricular activities that show an interest in your major.

Coffman Consulting is always happy to help. You can schedule a free consultation here. We appreciate the student attending along with the parent(s) so we can set expectations and ensure the student is a willing participant in the process.

Are you a senior who hasn’t started their applications?

Once upon a time, most college students didn’t start applications until sometime in the fall of senior year and submitted them in January or February. Now, the push is to have everything in early, by November 1st, to maximize scholarhips, early action and early decision. But those are technically “early” programs. Most colleges have a regular decision deadline that hasn’t passed. Many colleges offer rolling admissions, which means they accept applications on a rolling basis until their class is full. So all is not lost if you haven’t gotten everything done yet. There is still time to apply to most schools, although top scholarships may have been tied to earlier deadlines.

Where should you start? Here are a few tips

  1. Does you have a list of schools. If not, that needs to be step 1. You should use a search engine like College Board’s My Big Future to compile a list of schools. Look at the admission statistics and pick schools where you have a stronger chance to be admitted (for example–if the published middle 50% gpa range is 3.5-4.1 and you have a 3.2 this isn’t a good fit but if the range is 2.9-3.6 then you do).
  2. Visit the school’s website to research the school more thoroughly and to understand admission requirements.
  3. Schedule a virtual visit (or in-person if it is nearby) to learn more and make sure you want to apply.
  4. Look up the colleges’ deadlines to make sure you can still apply. Note the date all materails must be received by the college so you can have everything in before that deadline (including financial aid forms).
  5. Start the application required by the college. Mostly likely they use the Common Application ( but they may use their own application.
  6. Review the application materials needed for the school and start compiling them:
    • Do you need letters of recommendations? Ask teachers then send them a link through the common app to complete.
    • Are you applying with your SAT or ACT scores? Do you need to send official scores? If so order them.
    • Start completing the college specific questions on the Common Application. Adding a specfiic major or program (honors for example) can result in additional essays.
    • Start drafting your essays. Some schools can have up to three essays so get those started ASAP.
    • Order your transcripts to be sent by your high school.
    • Submit your applications
    • Do they recommend an interview or video submission? Get that created or scheduled.
    • Does it require a Self Reported Academic Record (SRAR)–get that stared and then once the school sends you their SRAR link you can connect your SRAR to their school.
  7. If you want to be considered for financial aid, submit the FAFSA and file a CSS profile if you school requires it.
  8. Check your email often and follow any steps sent by the college including creating an applicant portal account.

While we prefer to start early with students to help them have a thoughtful and strong application process, we can help a limited number of students applying regular decision develop their essays and complete their applications. To start the process schedule a consultation here.

Steps You Might Miss in the Application Process

You have hit submit on your college application and that feeling of “I did it” comes over you. Then a few days later you log into your applicant portal only to see big red X’s saying you missed something causing your heart to race. Sometimes these X’s don’t impact the application deadline and you have some time to get them submitted. Sometimes, missing these items pushes you from early admission into the regular pool. Its important to submit your applications as early as possible to give you time to check application portals to ensure you have completed all the steps. Colleges, especially those highly rejective ones, are also adding more and more steps to make the process complicated. Here are some tips, best practices and advice to make sure you are ready.

  1. Know the requirements: Check the college website, the common application or school application and make sure you understand everything you have to submit. If you need letters or recommendation or forms from a counselor, ask early. Common requirements include
    • 1-3 essays (some majors have additional essays)
    • 1-3 letters or recommendation (some schools have specific teachers they require like english or math)
    • A school counselor form, recommendation or secondary school report
    • Your transcript
    • Your test scores if not applying test optional-check if school accepts self reported scores or if you have to send official. If official order from Collegeboard or ACT at least 4 weeks in advance.
    • An application fee (some colleges are free, some charge up to $80 to apply)
    • Financial aid forms and possible scholarship essays
  2. Start the school specific questions early-Lots of students start the main portion of the Common Application over the summer but wait until they are almost ready to submit to start the school’s actual questions (found under “My Colleges” on the Common Application). However, answering certain questions (like adding a second major or selecting a selective business school) can trigger particular essays. Start these questions early so you see all the requirements you may have to complete (For example adding a second major at Purdue creates a new essay, applying to the Ross School of Business at Michigan opens two new essays that are not easy to write).
  3. Create an applicant portal account: After you apply make sure you are reading the emails from all the colleges where you submitted applications. If you applied using the Common Application you will need to make an account on the colleges applicant portal to manage your application. Follow the steps to create the account. Use the same password on all the sites and share it with your parents. You will be in and out of these sites the next few months.
  4. Check the portal for new requirements: Many schools add new requirements to the portal or new opportunties. This might include
    • A Self Reported Academic Record (SRAR)-the SRAR is a long, annoying form where you have to enter all your courses and grades even if you schools ends a transcript. You can complete it here and link it to schools who require it. We suggest doing this early verses waiting to get the SRAR in the portal. Schools that require the SRAR can be found here
    • An invitation to join an honors program that requires more essays
    • A optional (not really) 2 minute video to submit in place of interviewing (Brown, University of Chicago, Babson, Wake Forest, Claremont McKenna, Goucher, Colby, Washington St. Louis and many others have started doing this)
    • An additional essay required for admission (Grinnell and Hamilton have these)
    • Quarter or semester grades (they want to see how senior year is going)
    • Scholarship invitations which require more essays
    • An optional alumni interview (always do what’s optiional at highly competitive places to show your interest)
  5. File your financial aid forms on time
    • Most schools require the FAFSA but may have different deadlines for when it is due
    • Some schools also require the CSS profile, a collegeboard form that has a fee to file per school.

Requirements change from year to year. It is always best to review the college’s website early and often to make sure you are meeting all their requirements. Missing a step can prevent you from being admitted. Schools that need students will be more flexible. Schools with very low admission rates will not.

If you need help navigating the admission process please reach out. We are starting to work with juniors now for the 2024 application cycle. Book a free consultation here.

Summer Can Make or Break an Application (yes, I know its October)

It takes more than good grades and test scores to get into top colleges these days. The extremely rejective schools and even the selective schools are looking for you to have participated in activities, classes, clubs and programs that help you develop your academic interests. Summer is a great time to do this. While most teens do need to work (and should to build those important soft skills), taking a week or two for a summer or pre-college program can be a way to learn more about your interests, experience a mini version of college life, meet new people and have fun with a topic you enjoy. The reason I’m bringing it up while you are still shopping for Halloween candy is because some programs have already opened their applications.

For my fellow Hoosiers who follow this blog, the Lilly Endowment Inc generously awarded several Indiana colleges with grants to start new youth summer programs. While many colleges are still planning these programs, others are scaling up existing programs. The 27 colleges on this list received funds so keep an eye on their webpages or social media for announcements about summer programs for middle and high schools around everything from the liberal arts, to STEM to sports industries (not athletic camps but learning about sports as a business). Some will be free, others will be discounted and some will charge tuition.

Nationally, there are many great programs, both in-person and virtual. And they range on topics from helping you explore your interest in medicine, to studying marine life off islands in Maine. You can learn creative writing, battle social justice issues, act, studying engineering and more. The people at Teenlife have done a great job curiating lists. I often start on this site, type the subject area into the search box and find a great list of programs. Summer Discovery is another company that offers a wide variety of programs all across the country. You can also find programs on most campuses. Some programs are “pay to play” you just register, pay the fee and go. Others are more competitive and involve an application like the very selective Research Science Institute held each summer at MIT or Yale Global Scholars . LaunchX has a program for students looking to solve business programs for real companies. FIT, Parsons and SCAD all have some amazing programs in fashion. If you like politics consider appying for the Boys’ or Girls’ state programs through the American Legion (your social studies teacher can connect you).

If you are looking for an opportunity to do mentored research with a faculty member, Lumiere Education has programs to help you connect to a network of faculty. Shadowing a professional is another great summer experience. Reach out to your friends and family to ask if you can spend a few days on the job with them to see what they do (be polite and stay off your phone while there).

Doing one of these programs does not gurantee you will get into college. But it will show a college you were interested enough in a subject to take some time out of your busy schedule to go more deeply on the topic.

If you need help finding summer programs that might be right for your child, we are happy to help. Contact Coffman Consulting to schedule a meeting to discuss summer and next year’s classes.

To Ed or Not to ED, That is the Question?

Many of the students I work with are really struggling with whether to apply Early Decision and to which school. Early Decision is a process where you can complete your application to ONE school by an earlier deadline and commit to attend THAT school if admitted. It is considered binding–you have to withdraw your applications to other schools. Students (and parents) often think applying Early Decision will get them into a school that they likely would not have been admitted to applying Regular Decision. That is not usually the case.

Early Decision is a strategy to use with your top choice, when you can afford to attend no matter what the final cost (or you have run the school’s Net Price Calculator and the aid they estimate is sufficient for you to attend), and you fall in the school’s middle 50% of grade point average and test scores. This is where most clients disagree with me. The feeling is “If I’m already in the middle 50%, aren’t I likely to be admitted anyway? Shouldn’t I use my ED at a really selective school”? My feeling is no. If a school normally admits less than 25% of their regular applicant pool and you aren’t in their middle 50%, ED doesn’t improve your chances significantly. No admission is guaranteed. Unless your first choice admits the majority of their applicants and you are solidly at the top or above their 50%, no admission is guaranteed. If you are a likely candidate for admission, strengthen your application with ED.. Otherwise you are just throwing away your time and money preparing an application that will get rejected, and helping an already selective school be more rejective by denying another application.

What is a middle 50%? Admission offices break their admitted students into quarters. They are required to submit data on the group that falls between 25% and 75%, along with a ton of other data on retention and graduation rates, to the Federal Government (if they participate in the federal student aid programs). This data includes gpa and test scores (if they use scores for any of their admitted students). It’s refered to as the Common Data Set. Most college’s publish it somewhere on their website (google the school’s name and common data set) and several college search websites, like Collegeboard’s My Big Future, use it to publish their admission info on schools. Colleges report it around October each year so the data you find on search engines is often a year behind.

A great tool to use for figuring out if you should apply ED is the spreadsheet compiled by Independent Admission Consultants Jennie Kent and Jeff Levy. God bless these two! They look at every school who releases data and compile it in a handy dandy chart showing the ED admit rates compared to the regular admission rates. When you look at the chart, many colleges admit a much higher percentage of applicants during ED. For some the percent is over 75%–so definitely consider ED there. But for others, it goes from an RD admission rate of 6% to 23%, which still means 77% of the applications will be denied. If you aren’t likely a competitive applicant RD, and the admit rate for ED isn’t very high, then its probably not worth wasting your ED shot at that school.

There are hundreds of colleges in this country. Just because something is selective or has a brand name doesn’t mean its the best college for you. There are many very similar schools that can offer you just as strong of an education and who will admit you–making the process positive instead of rejective and disappointing.

If Coffman Consulting can help you develop a balanced list of schools where you will be admitted and happy, let us know. We love helping students find their right fit.

Advice for 11th grade students and parents

Now that I have been through a few cycles as an independent college counselor, I have lots of advice to give. Here are a few tips for families to make the process go smoother.

Start Research Schools Now

As I read numerous essays answering the question “Why are you applying to this school” or “Why have you chosen this major at this school” its clear students don’t know why. They have picked their school because of a brand name or ranking. I probably didn’t know why at that age either. I mostly wanted to go to a college where I wouldn’t be compared to my two older sisters. But colleges, especially the highly rejective ones, care about the why. They want to know you have done your research, understand what they offer, and how it will benefit you. They want you to be happy so you stay, graduate and become a generous alumni. Start now so you have built a list that you are not only excited to apply to, but, can share why.

How do you research?

  1. Visit–through an official admissions visit (not a drive around campus or just meeting someone you know there). Hear the admissions presentation and take the tour. Look around–do you feel like these are your people? Does the campus have classrooms and facililites that will accomodate your interests and needs? Are people friendly and interacting with each other or walking/studying alone? Also go in some buildings not on the tour. Do they not show them because they are old or full of huge lecture halls. Go in the cafeteria and see what’s being served. Drive around the surrounding to see if it feels safe, has things to do and is accessible.
  2. Attend a virtual information session-if you can’t go in-person, see if they offer a virtual session. Many schools offer both a general session about the university and specific ones on majors or schoosl within the university.
  3. Go through the website. Look at the general curriculum everyone must take to graduate. Find your major and the requirements you need to take as well as electives you are excited to take. Look up the clubs and campus life. Read about residence halls and living learning communities.
  4. Follow their social media and read the school paper–what are they talking about on campus? Do they promote issues and events that interest you? Are there problems on campus that might impact your time there (like safety, budget cuts, staff turnover)?
  5. Check out college guides like Fiske, Niche, Collegeboard, Naviance, Scoir, Cappex, and Princeton What are they saying about the school?
  6. Check out reddit blogs if that is your thing.
  7. Don’t get hung up on rankings. They don’t always reflect the experience you will have at a college. They are designed to sell magazines.

Start Your Applications Early

The Common Application is the application used by most colleges. You can create your account as a junior and complete most items on the Common App tab. While the Common Application does make changes over the summer they tend to be minimal. Do not complete anything on the my colleges tab as those will change for 2024. Common App typically releases their personal statement writing prompts very early (they announced Jan 27, 2022 that questions were staying the same for 2023). You can begin your personal statement in the spring/summer.

Colleges often release their essay questions early as well. Follow their social media or join their admission mailing list as they are often announced over the summer (not everyone releases early). Use the summer to outline what you want to share with colleges, what did you like about each school and write their essays. It will make life much easier in the fall. It is not uncommon for students to have 10 or more essays to write.

Create a Plan and Stay Organized

Make a spreadsheet or document with your list of schools, their deadlines, the requirement (essays, recommendation letters, resume, test scores optional or not) and set dates to accomplish the tasks. Mark off what is done. Stick to the plan. Don’t wait until the last minute. Websites crash, people get sick, recommenders forget they said they would write your letter. Plan ahead so you aren’t making a stressful situation more stressful.

If you need help building a college list, navigating the research, brainstorming essays or crafting your application–Coffman Consulting is here to help.

Testing Plans

The world of test optional admissions is somewhat of a moving target. Many schools went test optional during Covid, and plan to stay that way. Many were test optional before. But many are evaluating it on a year to year basis. Georgetown and MIT are requiring test scores for 2023 and Purdue just announced they will require them for 2024. Students should plan to take an SAT or ACT (or both) and then determine whether to use their scores.

What makes this even more complicated is tests keep getting cancelled. Today the SAT was cancelled throughout the south due to Hurrican Ian damage. Last month the ACT was cancelled in California due to wildfires. Schools have had to cancel due to lack of proctors. While much of this is out of students’ control, it’s frustrating if they are trying to get a test in by the October and November Early Action and Early Decision deadlines.

Our advice is plan ahead. Students should register for a test in spring of their junior year, if their high school doesn’t already offer a school day SAT or ACT (Indiana does have a March in school SAT). We’d suggest a March SAT and an April ACT. See how you do then decide which one you felt was a better fit for you. Do some test preparation (buy a book, take a course, do free online or paid online prep). Then take either test again in June. If you are still wanting to raise your score there will be August, September and October tests. But know, the closer to deadlines you test, the more risk involved if tests are cancelled or there is an issue.

Below are the ACT tests dates currently available through July 2023. Visit to learn more and register. Also follow ACT on social media for updates and tips.

These are the SAT test dates through June 2023. Vist to learn mroe and register. They also provide free test prep through Khan Academy which you can link to through Collegeboard.

Always check with the college where you are applying to know their most recent test policy, if they require you to submit official scores from a testing agency or if they take self-reported scores off your application. Don’t automatically send your scores when you take the test, wait and see if you are happy with the scores and send them at a later date. Understand deadlines and when score reports have to be received by to ensure your application is complete by the deadlines.

As always, if you have any questions Coffman Consulting is happy to help. We are currently accepting clients from the class of 24, 25, and 26, a limited number of seniors applying for January deadlines and students looking to transfer colleges this spring or next fall.

You’ve Been Admitted–What’s Next?

Congratulations. You have been admitted to a college. So what’s next? If you know you have been admitted then you have probably already created a portal accont for that college. If you are asking, “what’s a portal?”, then check your email. Most schools now use an online admissions system to manage the process. You need an account to enter that system, view your account, see your decision letter, financial aid notification, andsometimes apply for housing. You probably received an invitation via email (check your junkmail/spam) to start the process.

  1. Read the emails and texts schools send you. Yes, some of it is just marketing and trying to stay on your radar as you make your decisions. But some of it is important and helpful information. Make sure you are sharing it with your parents/guardians/person helping you through the process. Save them in a file, don’t just delete them.
  2. File your FAFSA form if you want to be considered for need-based financial aid. Some schools also use the CSS Profile. Check the colleges website to make sure you understand the financial aid process for that school. There are schools that make you file a FAFSA even if you are only receiving merit-based aid. You should be able to find this information on their website.
  3. Visit if you haven’t already, or if you need to see it again to make a decision. There are special visit days for admitted students.
  4. Register for housing if you plan to live on campus. Some schools allow you to apply for housing without committing to the college officially–but the housing deposit may not be refundable. If the college has a housing shortage this may be worth doing to guarantee you get housing. Some schools do not let you apply for housing until after you have paid an enrollment deposit.
  5. Once you have made a decision on where you will attend, pay your enrollment deposit. This saves your place in the class and tells the college you are attending. It is usually due by May 1. But there may be incentives to paying it early like housing priorities or an early registration date. Make sure you know when things are due. Colleges can tell you there is not space and you can no longer attend if you don’t meet deadlines.
  6. Pick a registration/orientation date and submit materials. This may include having to take placement tests online, submitting transcripts with any college courses you have taken, sending AP scores. You want the college to have all of this as soon as possible so they have time to apply them to your academic record. Otherwise, you may end up registering for classes you don’t need.
  7. Turn in/upload required health and vaccine information as well as other forms that are required.
  8. Make note of move-in dates and Welcome week schedules (even if you are commuting). These events are designed to help you succeed and connect to others at your college. You need to plan to attend them. They are fun, I promise!

At this point you should be ready to move-in, start classes and take advantage of all the great things college has to offer you. Its an exciting year with many steps but as long as you do them you will be ready!

Senior To Do List

School is back in session. And for seniors, it means you should be applying to colleges. Many colleges have November deadlines for their top scholarships. Here are the steps you should be taking the next few months to have your applications submitted.

1.Create an account at and complete all the sections on the common app tab

2. Finalize your college list and add the to the Common Application. If they don’t use the Common Application create accounts at either the school specific application or application they use.

3.Look at the requirements for the colleges where you are applying. Click on the college on the left hand side menu and a page will open with information about applying and requirements further down the page.

4. Do they require letters of recommendation (if so have you asked teachers)?

5. Do they have supplemental essay questions?

6. Do you have to send official SAT or ACT scores if applying with test scores (go on to or to send)?

7. Do they accept self reported grades or do you need to send an official transcript (and do you know how to request transcripts at your school)?

8.Write your personal statement…the Common Application has 7 choices to choose from and most work for the Coalition or school specific applications if you are also applying to schools that use those applications.

9. Start to answer the college specific questions (click on the colleges on the My College tab). If colleges have essays, start to draft those.

10. Click the Recommenders and FERPA section. FERPA is a federal law that protects your educational record. You need to waive your rights to allow your high school to send grades to your colleges. You should also waive your rights to read letters of recommendations. Colleges want teachers to feel they can be honest in the letter. If you are asking to see the letters its harder for a teacher to do that.

11. If your school doesn’t use Naviance or Scoir, then you need to add your school counselor and recommenders in the Common Application. If you do use Scoir or Naviance (or Maya or Xello) check with your school as to how they want you to request recommendations and counselor forms.

12. If you want to invite someone who is not a teacher as a recommender, you can use the invite recommender section.

13. When you have completed all parts of the application, click the review and submit and follow all prompts until you see the Congratulations screen.

14. Once you submit your applications make sure to follow up with other required materials like transcripts and test scores. Some colleges will email you confirming they received your application and have you create a portal to view your application materials and even your decision. Make sure you write down the username and password as you will need to get into that portal often over the next few months.

15. October 1 begin your financial aid process by filing your FAFSA. Some schools also use the CSS Profile. Check the college website to see if that form will be needed. You can start the FAFSA process now by registering for your FSA ID at

Coffman consulting is always happy to help with the financial aid process or college admission process. To schedule a free consultation visit click here.

Don’t add to those rejections

Many students have a dream college, and its often an Ivy or a highly rejective college like Notre Dame, Stanford or MIT. Many of these colleges have admission rates in the single digits, as low as 3%–meaning they deny 97 of every 100 applicants who apply. The applicant pools are filled with incredibly smart and talented individuals. Why some get in over others could be for any number of reasons, especially when so many have strong grades and incredibly high test scores. It’s almost a lottery.

The United States has over 23,500 high schools, approximately 23,5000 valedictorians (although some schools don’t rank). 22,000 test takers got a perfect SAT score. Most of the Ivies have a freshmen class of under 2,000 students. 36% of Harvard’s Fall 2022 class were legacies (a parent or grandparent attended). There are far more qualified applicants than there are spots in Ivy League schools. Plus, lots of other people apply because they “just want to see what happens”. All of this equals most applicants being denied.

If you are considering a highly selective college you need to make sure you are taking the most rigorous curriculum your high school offers. You need to take all 5 core academic subjects all four years–Math, Science, Social Studies, English and Foreign Language. You need to take the most challenging level of these courses offered, and do well in them (all A’s). You also need to select academically challenging electives. This can include computer science, music, art, or extra core subjects.

While many of these schools are test optional, most applicants are still submitting incredibly high test scores. But even students with perfect SATs and ACTs are rejected. Just because a school is test optional, it doesn’t mean you should apply if your scores and grades are lower than their admitted averages. There are lots of free test preparation resources. Try to increase your score by preparing for the exams.

Activities play a huge role in gaining admission to highly rejective colleges. It is important to have used your summer wisely working, attending academic programs related to your career interests, participating in community service or mission work, or conducting research. During the school year, students should be participating in organizations that demonstrate their interests and passions, while gaining more responsibility and leadership each year. While it is challenging and time consuming to be in marching band or a varsity sport, students must have involvement in addition to those activities.

Finally, engaging and well-written essays help your personality shine through. Think about what information is not in the rest of your application. Use your essays to share that information and create a three dimensional picture of you.

If you still decide to apply, have a balanced list of schools. Make sure you still have at least three schools where you are likely to be admitted, and you will be happy to attend. Nothing is guaranteed but applying to a great mix of schools will help you have options verses receiving mostly nos.

I don’t understand what “Early Action” means

Saturday night, I hosted an application workshop for some local seniors (including my son). It was incredibly inciteful to hear their questions and concerns. One question that came up a lot that, and in multiple follow up email since, is “what is Early Action” and “Should I apply Early Action?”. Early Action is called an application plan. Most schools have one of four–Rolling Admissions, Regular Admissions, Early Action and Early Decision. But to make it more complicated, they have different version of these and sub- categories. Here is an overview of each.

Rolling Admissions–Schools who use rolling admissions don’t have a formal deadline. You can apply any time until their application closes (usually late spring or summer before classes start). You will receive your application decision a few weeks after your application is complete. You typically have until around May to decide if you are attending.

Regular Decision-Applying Regular Decision means you are meeting the school’s deadline, typically in late fall or spring. You must have all of your application materials in to the Office of Admission by the deadline date. They will then send you a decision by their published response date. There are usually not any incentives for applying by this deadline (extra scholarships, housing incentives) and it is not binding (if you are admitted, you are not obligated to attend). You typically have by a certain date (around May 1) to respond to accept or decline the offer.

Early Decision– Not every school offers Early Decision. It is a program where you submit your application early and commit to attend if admitted. It is called “binding” as you, your parents and your high school counselor all sign a document (a section in the common application) that you agree to attend if admitted. You should only apply Early Decision if you intend to enroll. Complete the Net Price Calculator on a school website to see what aid you might receive (and take a screen shot). You may be able to back out if your financial aid will not make it affordable, but it can hurt future applicants from your high school. Many schools use Early Decision to admit a large portion of their class and lock them in to attending–if you have a top choice, and can afford to attend it no matter your aid, Early Decision can be a strategy to help secure your admission to that school (although admission is never a guarantee as applicant pools continue to get larger and stronger each year). You can only apply to one school Early Decision (you can submit others regular decision or early action). If admitted, you must withdraw any application you have submitted to other schools.

Some schools offer two rounds of Early Decision called Early Decision I and Early Decision II. If you are not admitted to a school Early Decision I or if you did not apply under Early Decision I, you can submit an application Early Decision II. The same Early Decision rules apply.

Early Action– Early Action is not binding. You still are applying by an earlier date. You can apply to multiple schools Early Action. If admitted, you are not obligated to attend. It is not binding. Sometimes, scholarships are tied to applying Early Action, and you also receive your decision earlier.

Some schools have Restrictive Early Action, which is basically like Early Decision. You can only apply to one private school via Restrictive Early Action. You can still apply to public colleges. Restrictive Early Action is not binding but you are telling the college they are your first choice.

If your materials will be ready–you aren’t retaking the SAT or ACT and your essays will not be rushed–applying early can be advantageous. However, the best strategy is to apply when you can put forth the strongest application.

If you need help deciding which application program to use or compiling any aspect of your application, Coffman Consulting can help. Schedule a free consultation to learn about our services here.

Advice for New College Students as you Start Your First Year

You are probably feeling a mix of emotions right now from good excited to petrified. That is perfectly normal. You are about to start something new, and it will be hard. There will be times you think “I got this” and times you want to call a parent to come pick you up and drop out (don’t do that)! I have worked at several colleges, teach a new student transition course and have seen my fair share of first year students thrive and struggle (sometimes both at the same time). Here are some of my tips for doing well your first year academically, socially and mentally.

Things You Need

Buy your books: I know they are expensive but buy them. If they come with a digital copy, get that too. And use them, but we will talk more about that later.

A calendar: If you are good at using a digital calendar, great. But using an old fashioned paper planner can be really helpful. Put everything in it from when you plan to eat meals, work out, club meetings, study time, and assignments. You have a lot of free time in college but you need to use it to be successful.

A meal plan: Even if you are commuting, get a meal plan. You will want to eat with friends or grab a coffee and study with classmates. Having the ability to do this easily will help.


Attend class and sit near the front: You are paying for each class you take, so go to them. Engage with the material, pay attention, take written notes in a notebook not a laptop (it is proven writing things down helps you remember them better than typing them).

Go through ALL of your syllabi: The first day of class your professor will give you a syllabus. It has the course policies (do they accept late work and how many points do you lose), assignments and do dates, reading materials, how to contact your professor and where to find their office. Put all your assignments on the calendar mentioned above, including readings…not just tests or papers.

Go to your professors’ office hours: Don’t be intimidated by your professors. They teach at a college because they like students (at least most of them do). Going to their office hours and introducing yourself could lead to a mentor and a friend. They can explain concepts you didn’t understand in class, give you tips to prepare for exams, review drafts of your paper or suggest books that might help you complete your research, and if you are applying for a job or graduate school–they can be great references. Large colleges/classes may assign you to a graduate student. If that is the case, meet with them. Same results as above can happen. But if you can also meet with the professor, do that.

Seek Help: Everyone struggles in college. The coursework is harder than high school. I got a D in Finite Math at Indiana University. I still went on to graduate school and I’m proud to say I have never used Finite a day in my life. But, I wish I had gotten help. Start with your professor or graduate assistant. It’s helpful to know what you might need help with to give them direction. Are you not getting a specific concept and want them to explain it to you. Are you struggling to do research or write at the college level-most campus have a writing center that can help. Have you never taken lecture notes–there is probably a note writing workshop offered on campus through the Academic Support Center. Need a tutor–that is probably offered as well…check with your advisor. Campuses have all the offices I mentioned above because students struggle. You aren’t the first, you won’t be the last so don’t be embarrassed…ask for help.

Plan Ahead: read assignments before class, it helps you understand the lecture better. Download any notes are materials ahead of time so you can take your own notes on them. If you have a paper due, plan out what you need to do so you turn it on on time (week one–research topic, week two finalize books, week three write first draft and show to professor, week four revise, week 5 its due). Turn things in on time so you get all the points you can. Spend the time doing the work so you don’t need to ask for extra credit! You may have multiple exams in one week, study and stay on up on the work so you don’t have to cram.


In the world of airpods, residence hall suites, door dash and netflix–it is easy to be in your room or walking on campus and engage with no one. Don’t do that!

Go to the Welcome Week events-there are people on your floor that are new just like you. Suck it up, push past that feeling of being a dork and ask your neighbors if they want to go to events. Some schools will have you assigned to a group with a student leader/peer mentor. If they are organizing events or getting a group to go to events, go with them. You will find you have fun and may actually make some friends (and win prizes). If you are commuting, reach out to the commuter student organization or the Office of Student Life (might be called Campus Life or Dean of Students) to see if there is a group you can attend the event with.

Join a club-Colleges have a club for everything, and even let you easily start new clubs. Go to the activity fair, read the flyers on bulletin boards, check your email announcements, read the chalk messages all over campus and attend something. They will become your closest friends and maybe your future spouse is in one of those clubs.

Attend events on campus: Get a group together to go to the basketball game, see a musical performance or play. Campuses offer lots of events regularly, for a variety of interests. It is always hard to work up the courage to ask someone to go to something, but think about how good it feels when you are asked. You can do the same thing and ask someone else.

Study around campus not just in your room: See if classmates want to have a study group, you can learn thing from others. Or hang in the student center, library, a classroom building. You may run into classmates or faculty helping you feel connected.

Get a job on campus-while some campus jobs require workstudy (a form of financial aid) some do not. Ask your career services or student employment office about campus employment. Working in a campus office helps you get to know staff, faculty and other students. You also learn the ins and outs of the college helping you to better connect to resources.


There are many mental health and support services on campus. Make use of them if you are struggling. Talking to a counselor can be incredibly helpful. They can refer you to services and doctors if you need support the university doesn’t offer.

Is hiring a college counselor worth the money?

Just about any task or project in life can be done yourself, but sometimes having an expert to walk you through the process is easier. Many people can watch a YouTube video on how to install a ceiling fan or change their motor oil and do so successfully. But others prefer to hire someone to handle the work.

If you fight with your spouse anytime you do a house project, there is a good chance you may end up fighting with your child when you try to do their applications. Having someone to assist your child can make senior year more enjoyable. Let the college counselor be the task master while you get to go on college tours and buy sweatshirts in the bookstore!

College admissions is by no means an exact science. Watching YouTube videos, reading subreddits and visiting colleges can certainly give you some direction–but the outcome may still not be admission to your top school. College counselors can’t guarantee admission either. When schools are receiving 30,000 plus applications and admitting 3% of those–all we can do is help package your application in the best light compared to past applicants and feedback we gain from schools. But we understand what student who were admitted did–the classes they took, the way they spent their summers, the way they approached essays and whether they applied early decision or regular decision. And the earlier your child starts, the more we can help. Nothing is worse then meeting with a student who dreams of going to a certain school but they haven’t taken four years of a foreign language or have no senior year math–but the school requires it (or in most cases prefers it but doesn’t specify that on their website).

College counselors also know their university counterparts. We attend the same professional conferences, we tour their schools, we attend webinars where they present about the admission process at their college. We get to ask tough questions that give our students more detailed information to use in their college process. And we can often send an email/text/facebook message to get help because we have developed these relationships over the years.

We can also project manage–we know he deadlines, the pieces you need to apply, when test date and scholarship applications open (or we know how to do the research quickly). This can save you significant time when you don’t know where to look or how to find the info easily.

College counseling can be expensive. But when the counselor breaks down by hour the time they are spending with your child to get them ready for college and applications submitted, you will see the value. And when you are panicking or unsure how to approach something, the ability to send an email or a text to get the answer quickly is priceless.

If Coffman Consulting can help with your college search please let us know. We have space for a few more seniors and are accepting freshmen, sophomores and juniors at this time. Schedule a free consultation here.

How to write a “Why this college” essay

August 1st is around the corner, which means you can start submitting the Common Application and other college applications. While many schools only require the personal statement from the Common Application, others have supplemental essays that are required. One of the most common additional essays is the “Why are you applying to this school?” question.

These are typically short, 100 to 400 words. The college wants to see that you have done your research and that you understand what their college has to offer you. They also want to see that you have thought about what you want from a college–and how theirs matches those requirements. Start by thinking about what those things are and make a list:

  • What do you want to study as a major, minor or concentration?
  • Do you want to conduct research with faculty?
  • Are you interested in project-based learning or experiential learning or are you ok with large lecture style learning?
  • What type of clubs and activities do you want to join?
  • Do you want very specific major and curriculum requirements or do you want the freedom to take a variety of classes that interest you?
  • Do you want to study abroad?
  • Do you want big time sports and tailgating, or a vibrant arts scene (or both)?
  • Do you want a traditional campus or to have a major city serve as your campus?

Then once you have compiled the list of things you want in a college, start researching those items at the college where you are applying. For instance, if you want to do research with faculty, is that possible as an undergraduate? Are there particular faculty members conducting specific research that interests you?

Then write an essay describing how what you want from college can be accomplished at this particular school. Don’t rehash their website to them but instead share your vision for your college life and how their school helps you accomplish that.

If you need help building your college list or would like someone to brainstorm essays with you, Coffman Consulting is happy to help.

Jobs That Help Pay For College

Working while in high school (and college) can teach a teen time management, customer service and communication skills as well as how to work as part of a team. It can also help them pay for expenses and save for college. There are many companies that off their teenage employees educational benefits. Between hourly part-time rates reaching $15 an hour, working for these companies literally pays off.

Restaurant companies like Chipotle, Chick-fill-A, and McDonald’s all have tuition assistance or scholarships programs for their employees that you find at the above links. Starbucks also offers excellent tuition benefits.

Many large retailers are launching educational programs including Walmart and Target, however you must attend a specific online college that is part of their partnership. Amazon also offers a program with specific college partners. Home Depot offers employees tuition support after part-time or full-time 90 day employment. FedEx, UPS and Best Buy also have programs for part-time and full-time employees.

Grocery Stores seem to be very generous with Kroger, Meijer, and Publix all having programs. Trader Joes has a competitive scholarship for Employees. CVS offers up to $3000 to employees.

Many companies have programs for the dependents of their employees. Check with your HR department to see if your company has a scholarship program, how to apply and deadlines.

Research has shown that students who work between 10-20 hours a week while in high school or college often have better grades because they learn how to make the best use of their time. But working more than 20 hours a week can negatively impact a students grades. If your student is going to work, why not find a job that also gives educational benefits. Its a win-win!

What Activities are Colleges Looking for?

There was a time where colleges wanted to see a really active student, involved in lots of diverse clubs and activities. Now colleges are more interested in seeing you have an interest or passion that you are exploring more deeply verses superficial involvement in lots of different activities.

While many students choose to do their activities at schools, part-time jobs, church related roles, volunteering in the community, research projects all can show passion. For example-if you enjoy political science getting involved in your student government is an easy way to learn about politics. You could also volunteer on a local campaign and attend your local Boy or Girl’s State. You could even write political op-eds for your school paper. If you enjoy science you could join your school robotics’ team, volunteer at the zoo, work at vet/dentist/doctor’s office, participate in a research project through an area college.

How you use your summer can also be a great way to showcase your interests and passions. There are many summer programs at colleges that allow you to explore subjects. Some are competitive and require admission. Others are more “pay to play” (as long as you can pay the tuition you can attend). You can also take courses at a local community college or on-line. And of course–working in an area of interest is an excellent way to explore future careers.

What’s most important is that you can articulate why you got involved, what you learned from the experience and how it is propelling you forward with what you want to do in the future. If you were forced by your parent to go to a food pantry a few times but you didn’t enjoy it or didn’t connect with the participants–it will be hard to talk about it in an essay or to an admission representative. Be authentic and share what you truly enjoy. Colleges are looking to build a class and create a community filled with a variety of people. You will be happier in that community if they choose YOU because YOU are the right fit for their institution.

Are College Fairs Still Worth Attending?

Back before the days of the internet and before College Board and ACT would sell your information to colleges so they could send you (lots of) marketing materials, families had to attend college fairs. Many colleges would visit a high school gym, hotel ballroom or convention center–each with their own table. Families would go from table to table learning about the school and what it had to offer.

From the admissions side, colleges have seen student attendance at fairs dwindling over the years. Students are busy and often have other ways to build a list of colleges they might apply to or attend. When Covid hit, many colleges were able to take their presentations virtual. College fair organizers also arranged virtual events–and did a great job in many cases.

In-person fairs are back and many students ask, should I attend? I’m going to give my favorite answer, “it depends”. If you are just going to walk around taking pens and brochures (you probably won’t read) and not speaking to any reps–don’t go. But here are a few cases where attending college fairs makes sense.

-If you are interested in a specific school and have questions that would be helpful to discuss with an admissions representative, attend and discuss them. This could include what coursework they recommend to be competitive for admission or a discussion of whether or not to apply test optional. But remember, depending on how busy the fair is, they may not be able to go in depth with you about a personal situation and may need to address more general comments for the entire crowd.

-There are fairs for special topics or populations–LGTBQ+ friendly schools, performing arts fairs with auditions, multicultural students, STEM. If you are looking for schools that are serving a particular population well or cater to a certain major, attending the fair is probably worth your time.

-If you are interested in schools that consider demonstrated interest (demonstrated interest means you have shown you want to attend the school by interacting with them), speaking to a rep at a college fair and allowing them to collect your data (whether through completing an interest card or using a bar scan provided when you registered) will get you added to the database and calculated in the demonstrated interest formula (although visiting campus or attending an on campus event may count more in their demonstrated interest formula).

Prior to the fair, visit the organizer’s website to see which colleges will be attending. If the colleges are ones you wish to visit/learn more from, pre-register. Do some research on the schools so you have questions to ask the reps. Some of the common fair organizers include:

National Association for College Admissions counselors — college fair webpage

Many states and region have a state affiliate of NACAC such as INACAC, NYACAC–google your state and Association for College Admissions counselors to find local fairs to your state. NACAC also has STEM and Performing Arts fairs.

Campus Pride (LGTBQ+ friendly) fairs– webpage

National Diversity College fairs webpage

Each year new fairs are launched–whether at a high school, through a community organization or even a group of like colleges (the Big 10, the 7 sisters, etc). Keep you eyes on your mail and email to see if any of the particular events may be a good fit for you.

If you need help with your college search, Coffman Consulting is always happy to help. We are currently contracting with rising juniors and a limited number of rising seniors to assist with the college application process.