Yearly Archives: 2020

Long-needed Change Made to Common App

Finally, the Common App announced in September that it will no longer include a question about the high school disciplinary history of applicants.  That’s a pointless question that needed to go, since most high schools don’t report disciplinary histories to colleges.

Additionally, it’s one more issue that affects minority kids more than majority kids.

For example, after the 2018-19 admissions cycle, the Common App found that Common appof students who recorded disciplinary actions, more than 7,000 never submitted a single college application.  Among them, 52% were Black or Latino, almost double the 27% of all students using the App who are Black or Latino.

In other words, students were disqualifying themselves based on what they anticipated to be adverse treatment of their applications by admissions officials. Their concerns were justified. Many colleges consider disciplinary history as a factor in admissions. This information, in a highly competitive admissions decision, can be the difference between acceptance or rejection.

Individual colleges can continue to ask applicants such a question through their own application supplement, but it will be stricken from the App itself,

 What is the Common App?

The Common App is the organization that has developed and maintains the primary online platform through which high school students apply to colleges. Common appIt’s used by more than 900 colleges. In 2019-20, more than 1.1 million prospective college students used the App to submit over 5.5 million applications.

Since 2006, students applying to colleges via the App have been asked the following question:

“Have you ever been found responsible for a disciplinary violation at any educational institution you have attended from the 9th grade (or the international equivalent) forward, whether related to academic misconduct or behavioral misconduct, that resulted in a disciplinary action? These actions could include, but are not limited to probation, suspension, removal, dismissal, or expulsion from the institution.”

Students who answer “yes” are required to provide the dates of incidents, explain what happened, and “reflect” on what they learned from the experience.

In announcing the removal of the question, Common App’s CEO, Jenny Rickard, said:

“We want our application to allow students to highlight their full potential. Requiring students to disclose disciplinary actions has a clear and profound adverse impact. Removing this question is the first step in a longer process to make college admissions more equitable. This is about taking a stand against practices that suppress college-going aspiration and overshadow potential.”

More Reasons for Eliminating the Question

Another factor that led to the Common App’s decision is that high schools have different rules for detention, suspension, expulsion, and the disciplinary information that will be reported to colleges. Should a student who receives a dress code suspension receive the same treatment in admissions as one accused of academic dishonesty? Obviously not, so the Common App decided that the only way to prevent such unfairness is by not asking the question at all.

Opponents of the use of high school disciplinary records in  admissions point out that this information has little predictive value, needlessly stigmatizes students for infractions that are often minor, and reduces opportunities for higher education.

The Release of Adverse Disciplinary Information

The fact that the Common App will no longer ask the question doesn’t mean that colleges can’t obtain information about your disciplinary record by other means. As noted above, a college will still be able to ask for your disciplinary record in an App supplement. It isn’t yet knowable which colleges or how many will do this, given that the App’s announcement was made only last month.

One would think that a college’s administration would be reluctant to ask the question since the primary motive behind its removal was racial fairness. If, as a potential applicant, you seek to avoid disclosure of this information to colleges, make sure that the schools to which you apply don’t ask for it in a supplemental questionnaire.

Another concern you’ll have relates to the standard practices of your high school guidance office. Even if you’ve avoided disclosure through your selection of colleges in 2018-19, nearly one-third of high schools disclosed disciplinary information as a standard component of their reports to colleges.

This practice is declining due to the concern about the unfairness to minorities described above, but it still exists. I recommend that you ask your guidance office about their standard reporting. If they engage in this practice, then advise them politely that you consider this information confidential and that you don’t grant them permission to release it unless they’re specifically asked for it by a college. Give them plenty of advance notice. Your high school may be reluctant to refuse your reasonable request on such a sensitive matter.0

For questions about the Common App and all aspects of college applications and admissions, or how the coronavirus is impacting college admissions. contact me at [email protected]

Majoring in the Humanities Keeps Your Options Open

“Follow your passion!” has long been the advice given to high school students in choosing a career. It still is, but in many cases this advice is countered by pressure to do otherwise. This pressure comes from the power of the STEM* movement in American higher education. However, this blog post explains why a major in the humanities is a viable solution for high school students who can’t select a career with sufficient confidence that it’s the right choice.

The bias in favor of STEM education can detract from the integrity of your College List, which is comprised of the colleges to which you’ll apply in senior year. The College List, when properly developed, is an important contributor to the success of your college admissions campaign. In building the list, you’ll be advised to set your educational goals beforehand, including your future career, so that you can select a major that will enable you to pursue that career. Then, knowing your major, it’s assumed that you’ll be better able to identify those schools that fit you best — the ones that belong on your College List.

The College List Conundrum

This sequence — “career-to-major-to-colleges” — is a sound, pragmatic protocol — if you can follow it! But it isn’t feasible for many students. As a high school student, identifying with confidence which career is best for you is a daunting task. The lucky few already know what they want to pursue as a career, but most do not. In addition, the pandemic has caused the outlook for many careers to be clouded by economic uncertainty. A career that you might consider attractive now may be much less so in five or six years. And some of the hottest careers that will be open to you in 2025 don’t even exist yet.

Because there are advantages in identifying your career while in high school, you may be pushed to choose one before you’re ready, especially a STEM career, due their perceived practicality. Resist this pressure. There’s an alternative that you should consider if you’re unsure which career may ultimately suit you best.

The Emphasis on STEM Disciplines as Majors

In order to maintain America’s edge in the STEM fields, the focus in academia has shifted toward those disciplines. Due to the needs of America’s high-tech workforce, emphasis has been placed on graduating STEM majors who can satisfy the demand for entry-level professionals in those fields. This objective is worthy in and of itself, but there has been an unfortunate side effect.

The proliferation of STEM-centric curricula has driven some students, often against their desire and best interests, away from majoring in the humanities. Moreover, many colleges have reduced the number of traditional required courses in the humanities to allow for more courses in STEM subjects. College administrators are concerned that requirements in the humanities, to the extent that they displace STEM courses, diminish the future employability of graduates.

What Are the Humanities?

The humanities, as the term implies, is the study of the human condition from a number of
different perspectives. They are a subset of the traditional Liberal Arts, which, since classical times, has included the sciences, arts, and humanities. In the United States, the most common majors in the humanities are:

Table A: Majors in the Humanities:
Anthropology      Classical Languages      History
Geography      Grammar, Linguistics, and Languages      Theology     Literature      Law, Government, and Political Science      Philosophy
Writing – Prose and Poetry        Economics

The Role of the Humanities in American Education

Historically, American colleges were not founded to train students for a specialized career in one field. Rather, their mission was to expose students to a broad intellectual tradition. This was considered essential to create effective leaders for the community, commerce, and public and private institutions. This philosophy may seem impractical in a modern society as complex as ours, but it remains a sound design for a robust education because it benefits students regardless of what profession they enter.

The humanities teach two vital abilities that are missing from a purely STEM curriculum: communication and critical thinking. In the humanities, students learn to fully engage with the material, consider it from all angles, solve problems creatively without bias, express themselves well, adapt to new situations, and work collaboratively.

The Humanities and the U.S. Job Market

In today’s fast-changing environment, large organizations, even those whose primary business is STEM-related, aren’t looking for leadership candidates who know only one subject, however thoroughly they may know it. They’re seeking promising leaders who are innovative, creative, and possess an expansive mind-set, characteristics that are more closely associated with humanities graduates than STEM graduates. A study conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that 93 percent of senior executives agreed that, “A demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than a job candidate’s undergraduate major.” The humanities hone the skills that large organizations seek in leaders.

Students and their families are often drawn to STEM fields for financial reasons under the assumption that salaries are higher. However, according to the New York Times, “The top 25 percent of history and English majors earn more than the average major in science and math during their careers, and the bottom 25 percent of business majors make less than the average of those majoring in government and public policy.”

College graduates must compete with their peers to secure their first job in their profession, an undertaking that has become increasingly difficult. A delay in obtaining a starting job is a concern for students who, like you, must anticipate which careers will even be viable several years from now. Fear of underemployment is justified.

As you grapple with this puzzle, bear in mind that the number of jobs that require skills developed in the humanities, especially interpersonal communications and the ability to solve complex, multi-dimensional problems, will be greater than the number of jobs that require highly specialized knowledge. A broad-based exposure to ideas will continue to be valued in new management-track hires.

In the future, the best and most plentiful jobs will go to those who can collaborate widely, think broadly, and challenge conventional wisdom — precisely the capacities that an education in the humanities develops. Don’t let yourself be discouraged from pursuing a major in the humanities if that’s what you truly love.

If you’d like help determining your college and career choices, contact me at [email protected]!

*STEM is an abbreviation for Science, Technology, Engineering, and math.

Early College Planning 101

When should you start planning for college? Earlier than you think!

On Tuesday, October 20 from 6 – 7 p.m., Bonnie Kleffman of the Fort Mill School District will interview Charlotte Klaar, PhD about the steps families should take to set students up for college success. This process begins in freshman year of high school and continues through graduation.

Register here

Plan for Letters of Recommendation During the Pandemic

Letters of Recommendation (LOR’s) are among the factors considered in a college’s decision to accept or reject you. Admissions Officers (AO’s) learn how to glean more useful information from these letters than you may think.

If you’re a senior applying to highly selective colleges this fall and you haven’t started working with recommenders yet, you should begin immediately. Teachers, especially the more popular ones who receive the most requests, need at least a month to prepare a letter that will serve your purposes.

The preceding is my standard advice to seniors at this time of the year, but 2020 is far from a normal year. Most seniors are now using virtual technology and taking courses remotely. This makes the faculty-student collaboration needed for effective LOR development more difficult than usual. Even though AO’s understand the extra burden that the pandemic places on applicants, they’ll still prefer an applicant with strong LOR’s to one with weak ones.

Unlike seniors, this year’s juniors have plenty of time to identify and work with the faculty members whose letters can add the most value to their applications. If you’re a junior, get an early start on LOR’s. This will assure that the most effective letters possible are submitted on your behalf.

What Are LOR’s?

AO’s view LOR’s as a source of information they need to form a holistic picture of you as a person. LOR’s and other qualitative input supplement your academic record so colleges can narrow the pool of academically qualified applicants down to a reasonable number. For this reason, AO’s value first-hand descriptions of you that aren’t available elsewhere in your application. They assume that if your teachers speak glowingly and knowledgeably about you that you’re more likely to succeed academically and contribute to their student body and community.

A typical LOR rarely grabs the attention of an AO, but that need not be true in your case. Your letters will have an impact if you treat them as more than just “to-do” items to be checked off a list. Guide your recommenders in understanding what you want to communicate to colleges. A recommender’s acceptance of your desired approach is the basis of letters that will mesh comfortably with your application’s core message. This enables an AO to know you better and to advocate for your admission.

Who writes your letters is as important as what’s written in them. Choosing recommenders carefully assures that your letters will be specific, appropriate, enthusiastic, and personal, the four characteristics that AO’s prefer. If a teacher initially balks at your LOR request for any reason, don’t press them. Find a replacement.

Find Teachers Who Will Work With You

 You may have a good relationship with a teacher who agrees early in junior year to write a recommendation for you. Don’t assume that the rest of the process will take care of itself. Meet twice with them, once late in junior year and again early in senior year. Meet in person if possible.

Prior to these meetings, write a letter to each of your recommenders that states your core message to colleges. Your letter should also include a reminder of how well you performed in their class. Attach a graded paper or exam. Also attach a resume that lists your GPA, AP and honors grades, honor rolls, college courses taken, and awards received. Name a few of the colleges that you’re most interested in attending. Scan and upload documents to them if appropriate.

When you meet with a recommender, initiate a candid conversation about the personal attributes that you’d like them to highlight as well as other facts to include. Don’t ask them if they’ll permit you to remind them of submission deadlines because they might say no. Go ahead and remind them, just don’t over-do it.

A Recommender’s Specialty Should Relate To Your Planned Major

 You’ll need two teacher LOR’s for most colleges. Your guidance counselor will also provide a LOR. Letters from teachers in core courses are preferred — math, science, English, social science, or foreign languages. It’s a good idea to elicit a letter from a teacher who specializes in your intended field of study. They may be able to offer evidence supporting your aptitude.

Some colleges require a LOR from a peer. Choose a peer who can attest not only to your character but also to your accomplishments. Ask a current student at the targeted college, if possible. This person can describe your personality and interests in ways that tie them to the college. Some colleges allow you to submit a LOR from an outside recommender such as a college summer course teacher, coach, pastor, leader of a volunteer organization, or your manager at a job. Handle these letters the same way you would one from a teacher.

Recommenders Should Know You Well

 What makes LOR’s so challenging is that you don’t know exactly what a person who agrees to submit a letter will actually write. For best results, get to know your preferred recommenders early in junior year to enable you to build a rapport with them.

Junior year rather than senior year teachers are considered by AO’s to be the ones who know you best because they taught you for a full academic year. By starting early in junior year, you’ll be able to influence your preferred teachers to write LOR’s that mesh with the same core message that’s in your essays, personal statements, and interviews.

Many colleges will accept and review more than their required minimum number of LOR’s. If you have an opportunity to do this and haven’t already done so, request a LOR from an English teacher. AO’s know that competent writing is a key to success in all majors.

Set up a 10-minute in-person or virtual meeting with your guidance counselor twice a year because he or she will also be submitting a LOR. Use this opportunity to keep them up to date on your plans and progress and ask for their advice. Provide them with copies or uploads of documents which they may not have that can help your case for admission.

Don’t be intimidated by the logistical problems caused by remote learning. Remember that online meetings with teacher/recommenders are far more convenient for them than in-person meetings. I advise you to arrange for ready access to a digital scanner. You’ll need it to convert paper documents of interest to recommenders into electronic documents that can be attached to emails.

Webinar on Writing that Crucial College Essay

On October 6 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. I’m hosting a free webinar that will walk through the elements of writing your college essay, including how to find the topic that reflects who you are and why you would be a great addition to the campus community.

I know what admissions counselors are looking for in essays, and I help students ensure that their essay message will resonate with the rest of the application, and shows the student as a growing person.

Register here

Luck Plays no Role in Elite College Admissions

Luck can be said to hold sway over everyone’s destiny in matters large and small. All the same, it’s a mistake to view admission to elite colleges such as Harvard as a throw of the dice. Admission to a top-tier college is the culmination of a multi-year effort on your part to qualify academically and as an individual. This is the only way to achieve your goal if you aspire to attend such a school. If you think that the selection of applicants for admission is arbitrary, you’ll slip up in ways that may Yale Universityprove fatal to your effort.

The bewildering aspects of this year’s admission cycle, heavily impacted by the pandemic, have convinced many that even if you have the best of credentials, you’ll be reduced to crossing your fingers if you apply to an elite college. The fact is that the admissions process at these institutions remains rational and predictable.

One Real Disadvantage That You Will Face

There is one negative aspect of the 2020-21 admissions cycle that affects you and your peers in the Class of 2025. There will be fewer freshmen seats available to you. This past spring, a larger than normal number of students who accepted offers of admission chose to take gap years due to the pandemic. Because they could not travel, international enrollees were also granted permission to put off matriculation until the fall of 2021.

These postponements forced administrators to admit more applicants than usual from their waitlists so that they could fill out the planned size of their freshman classes. Applicants accepted from waitlists this year will continue to matriculate in 2021. The resulting scenario means that the seats that were not filled by those who postponed enrollment for a year will be unavailable to new applicants. This will make admission somewhat more competitive for you and your cohort than it would otherwise have been.

Keep in mind that the long-term impact of the contingencies arising from the pandemic are unknowable. You shouldn’t assume that time-tested methods of improving your chances of admission are no longer useful.

What’s Luck Got to Do With It?

There’s nothing new about skeptics saying that admission to elite colleges is arbitrary and unpredictable. One such skeptic is Michael Kinsley, a graduate of Harvard College, Oxford Early decisions at Ivy league schoolsUniversity, and Harvard Law. He has been editor of The New Republic, the host of a several public issues TV shows, and the start-up editor of Slate. A smart guy — but wrong about college admissions.

Although he’s an alumnus of Harvard, Mr. Kinsley doesn’t appreciate the sophistication of the admissions process at elite institutions. He wrote the following a while ago in a column for Vanity Fair magazine:

“The number of slots at highly selective College X has stayed the same or increased only slightly. When you put it all together, it’s amazing that anyone bothers to apply to College X at all. This may be of doubtful consolation to an applicant and his legacy parent, but it all really boils down to luck. Nobody ‘deserves’ a place at College X. The luck may be… in the dubious meatloaf the dean of admissions had for dinner the night before your application was considered.”

The dubiousness of meatloaf notwithstanding, let’s infer that Mr. Kinsley thinks that a college’s decision to accept or reject you depends on the mood of the individual who, through luck of the draw, reviews your application. So, what is it about Kinsley’s take on the elite college admissions process that misses the mark? Let’s consider what are referred to as the factors of admission:

  • Academic Index (AI): Your academic data is processed by a computer program that assigns an objective, quantitative score known as an AI. This program uses a proprietary algorithm developed by the college to calculate an objective measure of your academic success. The scores are ranked and only applicants with an AI score above a predetermined threshold are considered to be eligible for admission.
  • Soft Factors: Elite institutions have many more applicants with AI scores above the thresholds than they can admit, so they must apply subjective, qualitative measures to narrow the pool of applicants down further.
  • Essays: Essays, unlike academic records, are unique. The quality of the essays that you submit is one of the key subjective means that colleges have to identify the best applicants. Based on each school’s approach to evaluating essays, admissions officers are able to recognize the ones that are strong enough to make a case for an applicant’s admission. Elite schools also consider Letters of Recommendation, and, in some cases, Interviews as factors in admissions, although they carry less weight than essays.
  • Extracurricular Activities: This is another important subjective variable in admissions. Activities highlight the talent that you have developed and proven during high school and which you have emphasized in your application. Kinsley dismisses this factor too when he says, regarding luck — “Still other factors—the college orchestra needing an oboe player—are complete wild cards.”  Kinsley assumes that your highly developed talent can help you only if a college is looking for exactly that talent when your application is reviewed. Although colleges do consider student body needs, there is a wide range of reasons why they might reward your talent by granting you a higher probability of admission. A college seeks not only demographic and geographic diversity, but also diversity in the talents, skills, and interests of the student body. College administrators consider student diversity to be beneficial to the education of all their students.

You can’t defy the power of the pandemic to change the process of admissions, at least not this year. But for the purposes of gaining admission to elite colleges, you should approach matters as if this year were no different from any other.

And as far as luck goes… “Never give up and luck will find you.”

Things Can Go Very Wrong no Matter Where You Live!

There are students who, in normal times, see benefits to living on campus for all four undergraduate years. On campus, they feel like they’re at the center of all things important to them. On the other hand, there are many students, especially upperclassmen, who prefer the independence from administrative influence that comes with living off-campus.

This dichotomy has long existed on campuses across the country. At any college, the ratio of students in the two camps is determined by factors such as a college’s policies, the cost of room and board, the local cost of living, the availability of rentals, and the ease of finding part time jobs in the area.

We have seen recently that things can go very wrong no matter where you live at college. Consider the unpleasantness that both on-campus and off-campus residents experienced earlier this year due to the coronavirus — an unforeseen crisis. Colleges closed dormitories abruptly, with all residents, including international students unable to return home, ordered to leave ASAP. Many on-campus residents never received refunds for the fees they paid for the semester. Most off-campus students were locked into contracts for rentals even though their purpose for living in them ended when classes did.

Like so many other things, the pandemic has affected college housing choices. If you’re a high school senior planning to attend a residential college in the fall of 2021, you should keep apprised of what’s happening on campuses this fall.

To Open or Not To Open

There are two main factors working at cross-purposes in a college’s decision to open their residence and dining halls. The first is money. Both public and private institutions have invested heavily to upgrade on-campus residential life in order to remain competitive. To earn a return on these investments, colleges have increased their residential fees by 9% annually over the last ten years, which is much more than the rate of inflation and also exceeds the rate that tuition has risen.

In a recent year, colleges collectively realized $15.5 billion in revenue for room and board and spent $14.9 billion to provide it, generating a surplus of $600 million. But if they’re empty, residence facilities chew up overhead while generating no revenue, causing substantial losses. This scenario incentivizes college administrators to open dormitories and dining halls.

The second factor, health, pulls in the opposite direction. Colleges long ago shed the burden of acting in loco parentis for their students, but they’re still ethically obligated to protect their student’s health. This is their duty regardless of how severe the financial impact may be on the college.

The tension between these two forces is being played out in real time as administrators waffle between alternatives. The choices are clear. They may open their campuses to business as usual, keep their campuses closed and conduct virtual classes, or offer a hybrid approach.

Thus far, the plans of administrators have proven ephemeral and subject to sudden change. Examples include UNC – Chapel Hill and Notre Dame, where students returned in August for one week before the rate of infection caused the campuses to close again. Imagine how many lives were disrupted by just these two quick policy reversals.

Certain administrators feel compelled to fill their dormitories to capacity this fall. Some are under contract with private corporations that operate the college’s residential facilities. Any policy that limits revenue makes the college subject to a lawsuit. The University System of Georgia is one of the largest institutions in this predicament. Other colleges are opening but with long lists of safety precautions that they’re undertaking to curtail the spread of the virus. Unfortunately, the efficacy of these measures will only be knowable in retrospect. It’s a roll of the dice.

What’s shocking is that decisions of such major consequence are being left to you — the student. Administrators seem reluctant to make tough decisions and stick with them. That’s why the current operations of so many colleges are subject to the day-to-day vicissitudes of a viral disease. The quality of administrative leadership of America’s colleges has been spotty, to say the least. Perhaps we can take comfort that from this experience, improvements in preparedness for future crises are bound to evolve.


COVID-19 Makes Difficult College Admissions Even Worse


This blog is about college admissions and the concerns of students in the admissions process, primarily rising seniors.  You need to understand how the pandemic affects you as an aspiring member of the college Class of 2025 — the students who will be freshmen in the fall of 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hastened what was a slow-moving crisis. The 10% decline in college enrollment that Nathan Grawe, author of Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education, predicted would happen between 2020 and 2030 is happening right now in 2020 as the pandemic continues to shock higher education in the U.S.

Lately, the media has focused on the plans of colleges for their re-opening in the fall. It appears that college operations will be variations of the following three basic options:

  1. All classes will be conducted online,
  2. Some classes will be conducted on campus and some online, and,
  3. All classes will be conducted on campus.

Option 1 is controversial because of the strong preference of students for campus life as a part of their college experience. Options 2 and 3 are controversial because they call for stringent policies to mitigate the spread of infection among students, faculty, employees, and their families. Criticisms center on the question, “Will even these policies be sufficient to prevent an outbreak?”

There’s wide variation in the policies of colleges concerning tuition, travel, PPE requirements, student access to the Internet, residential and dining hall operations, health facilities, Covid-19 testing protocols, quarantining, social distancing rules, and many other matters. This information is vital to a current student making the decision to re-enroll or not. Thus far, it appears that many will not, as evinced by the sharp rise in requests for gap years.

Let’s be optimistic and assume that a vaccine will be available in early 2021 and that everyone will have been vaccinated by mid-year. Colleges can then safely resume normal operations in the fall of 2021. But by then the admissions process will have undergone radical changes. Some of these changes will be permanent. You’d be wise to anticipate and accommodate them in your admissions strategy.

Major areas where permanent change is expected:

1. College Closings – Colleges occasionally fail, usually for financial reasons. A large number of colleges have been financially unstable since the Great Recession, so they were struggling before Covid-19 struck.

Experts such as Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma,  have predicted that from 25% to 50% of colleges will close in the next decade due to a combination of factors that include the pandemic, changing demographics, state disinvestment, and an increasing expense burden. You should investigate the ongoing viability of the colleges to which you plan to apply. Are they likely to be among the 75% that may survive?

2. SAT and ACT Exams – The exam organizations have been cancelling test dates since March. They’re having difficulty scheduling and keeping replacement dates due to the persistence of the virus. Both organizations have considered but rejected plans to conduct exams online. As a result, many more colleges have joined the ranks of test-optional schools, at least temporarily. The majority of colleges now don’t require SAT/ACT test scores for admission.

Given the controversy over the potential of the exams to discriminate against socio-economically disadvantaged students, it’s probable that most colleges will remain test-optional after the pandemic. It’s also likely that more colleges will adopt test-free policies, which means they won’t consider your test scores even if you submit them voluntarily. Depending upon your circumstances, this trend may have a great effect on your selection of colleges.

3. Visiting Campuses – It seems likely that on-campus tours for prospective students will not resume until after the deadline for applications has passed next winter. This is significant for those building a list of “best-fit” colleges. A campus visit has always been the best way to determine if a college is right for you. Many colleges have made it easier for you to become familiar with their campuses online. They have invested in innovative methodologies that combine virtual technology with communication tools to provide state-of-the-art virtual tours.

Some colleges who have been unable to re-architect their online tours now offer a simple but effective improvement. It involves a student guide on campus using a smartphone to be visually connected with you. He or she makes the usual tour stops and then shows you whatever you want to see that is of specific interest to you. It’s not as good as actually being there, but it can help you to assess colleges.

4. College Major and Career Choices – The choice of your “best-fit” colleges depends to a great extent on your choice of a major, which is based on what you see as the best career field for you. Since the pandemic has caused mass disruption to entire industries, resulting in job losses in many fields, there are likely to be fewer job opportunities in these fields when you graduate.

However, no one is sure which fields will be most affected long-term. Complicating matters is the fact that the economy appears headed for a recession of unknown duration. In a poor economy, many graduates experience problems in landing a first job in their chosen field.

In short, even if your course selections in high school were oriented toward a particular major, your plans for that major should be re-examined.

5. Fewer Scholarships Available – In the past, many partial scholarships were awarded by colleges after they had accepted an applicant for admission. These “tuition discounts” were offered as a recruiting tool to try to prevent you from enrolling at another school that had accepted you. Now, funding for this type of scholarship is declining as colleges seek to increase revenue to offset the losses suffered thus far due to the pandemic.

Many colleges have taken a huge hit to their endowments funds, the source of many of the needs-based scholarships awarded to students who are socio-economically disadvantaged, members of minority groups, or from rural areas. In addition, many wealthy individuals and foundations that fund private scholarships directly have pulled back from their regular sponsorships.


Getting into the colleges that fit you best is about to become even more difficult than it has been in the past. If the 10% enrollment decline that’s been forecast holds true and the number of colleges declines by somewhere between 25% to 50%, as forecasted, the competition for the freshman seats that remain can only intensify.

If you would like some help and advice in making your decisions, contact me at [email protected]  I’ve guided hundreds of students to college success!



Is your target college in danger of going bust?

If you’re a rising senior, you’re probably looking forward to your upcoming college years with great anticipation. You’ve worked hard for the credentials that will qualify you for admission to College just aheadthe schools that fit you best. College is the prize!

But what happens to your aspirations if you enroll at a college that closes its doors when you’re a freshman? You’d be forced to transfer to another college –  one that might not suit you as well. It’s possible that the new one might fail too, forcing a second transfer in pursuit of your Bachelor’s degree. You’d end up spending most of your precious college years gaining and then losing friends, mentors, coaches, jobs, and some credits too. Not to mention the loss to your peace of mind.

Colleges fail

This is not a far-fetched scenario. Colleges fail. In fact, a surprisingly large number of them have failed or been struggling in recent years, even before Covid-19 struck. Experts predict that about 20% of colleges will close in the next few years due to a combination of the pandemic, changing demographics, state disinvestment, and unaffordable tuition. If you’re going to college in 2021, you should find out if your targeted colleges are likely to be among the 80% that will survive.

Top-tier private colleges with multi-billion dollar endowments were given millions in Federal pandemic relief (with many, but not all, returning the money). However, the most at-risk colleges were excluded from the relief legislation. This neglect, added to the problems noted above, will take a heavy toll on the ones most likely to fold, which are small, private colleges with small endowments. Some of them have been operating at break-even or a small deficit for years. Even a slight decline in enrollment can be ruinous because they don’t have large endowments to cushion the blow. The pandemic will be their death knell.

A number of small private colleges have already closed or have announced a closing date in the near future. Here are a few examples:

• MacMurray College, IL
• Urbana University, OH
• Holy Family College, WI
• Pine Manor College, MA
• Nebraska Christian College, NE
• Robert Morris University, IL
• Concordia University, OR
• School of Architecture at Taliesin, WI
• Watkins College, TN
• Marlboro College, MA

Colleges tightening their belts

Many small colleges are adopting severe austerity measures in an effort to avoid closing. Even if they succeed in surviving, you’ll want to assess the likely impact of these measures on you as a student.

Public institutions, even some large ones like Rutgers and Michigan, are also feeling the pinch. States are compelled to cut their education budgets due to the statewide expenses and loss of tax revenue wrought by the pandemic. Public colleges have never fully recovered from heavy cuts to their budgets in the wake of the Great Recession. Add the current budget crisis on top of that and it’s inevitable that some state campuses will be closed.

Even large public and private universities that are expected to survive the pandemic will need to tighten their belts. You should stay informed because your target universities may discontinue the degree programs, majors, and courses in which you’re most interested. There’ll be reductions in faculty that will change the faculty-to-student ratio and impair mentorship programs that may be important to you.

How to research a college’s financial health

You’ll encounter two problems when you search for financial information upon which to base your decisions. First, a private non-profit college is not obligated to make financial statements available to the public. Second, the financial condition of all individual public colleges will be aggregated within the entire state university system, so you won’t be able to discern the financial outlook for a particular campus. Obviously, you won’t find even a hint of the possibility of a college closing on its website. Websites are marketing tools that try to recruit you, not discourage you.

The best way to obtain the information you need to assess a college is to enter the college’s name in a web search engine. If a college is experiencing difficulties, this will be reported in the local press because colleges are important to a community’s well-being.

The Common Data Set (CDS) is another a valuable resource. CDS is an intermediary used by colleges to provide institutional data to interested parties. It’s a collaborative effort between colleges and publishers who report on them, including Peterson’s, the Thomson Corporation, U.S. News & World Report, and the College Board. The purpose of CDS is to improve the accuracy of the information that’s released to interested parties, including you. To find the CDS data set for a particular college, enter “Common Data Set “Name-of-College” into a web search engine.

COVID-19 has come and it will go, but the uncertainty plaguing students at certain colleges across the country will remain. Try not to share their predicament. Use available resources to assess the financial stability of colleges before you apply.

Gap Year Programs for 2020 – 2021

If you’ve accepted a college’s offer of admission, you may find yourself in a dilemma. You may not know if the campus will be open in the fall or if classes will be online, so you’re hesitant to pay a substantial sum for what may be only a facsimile of college life. Or you may simply be reluctant to join campus life while the coronavirus is still extant.  Instead, you may want to consider a gap year program.

Colleges that plan to re-open their campuses in the fall are introducing so many restrictions to cope with Covid-19 that it can hardly be considered college life. You may prefer to save money by attending a local community college and then transferring to a four-year college or enrolling at a state college for all four years.

Another alternative is to attend the college whose offer you’ve accepted but wait until all contingencies caused by the pandemic are resolved and normal campus life has resumed. You can choose this path if the college allows you to take a gap year during the 2020-21 academic year. Under present conditions, many institutions have revised their policies so that you can be granted a gap year after you’ve accepted their offer of admission.

Before a college approves your request, they want to know that your plans for the year are worthy of the privilege. The most popular gap activities have been packaged programs involving overseas travel. However, due to the pandemic, traveling abroad isn’t a good idea now, so international gap programs have been shut down.

The idea that you need to travel to a developing country, learn about its language, people, and culture, and improve people’s lives, simply isn’t practical in 2020. But you don’t need to go abroad to improve people’s lives. By revealing harsh inequities in our society, the pandemic has made it clearly evident that there’s plenty of help needed in our own country.

Gap Year Programs for 2020-21

An online search will enable you to review gap programs that conform to this year’s constraints. These programs allow you to assist those people most in need in your area as a result of the pandemic. A few of the programs are described below:

1. Global Citizen Year – When Covid-19 struck, Global Citizen Year converted its international travel-based gap program into a virtual leadership course. Among the features of the program is that students will be matched with mentors in their planned profession who will coach them on a one-on-one basis toward their goals.

2.  Americorp – This national service initiative is recruiting for programs like VISTA, whose            volunteers work on poverty-related projects all over the United States. AmeriCorps covers living expenses and includes an education award to help pay college costs. See additional options on this site.

3. Service Year Alliance – This nonprofit lists even more gap year activities than Americorp. It focuses on areas such as the environment, health and nutrition. aging, disability, homelessness and housing, disaster, animals, and public safety. Taking a Service Year provides you with an opportunity to develop real-world skills through hands-on service to those in need. A stipend is paid to participants.

4. The 2020 Election Gap Year Program – This organization’s mission is to: “Empower our nation’s youth to take an intentional gap year in 2020 to work on an election campaign or for an issues-based organization that resonates with their values.”  ​The program lets you engage in our democracy. You’ll defer college by taking a gap semester in fall 2020 so that you can dedicate yourself to campaign work, getting out the vote, or organizing around an issue that’s important to you. The organization provides assistance in obtaining permission from your college.

The Benefits of a Gap Year

A gap year is more than a way to cope with the present moment. In recent years, there has been increasing awareness of the benefits of gap years to students and colleges. This accounts for the growth in the number of students requesting permission to take a gap year and the willingness of colleges to grant them.

Conceptually, the purpose of a freshman gap year is to allow a student who has been driven to excel throughout high school some time to relax and reassess while engaging in a purposeful pursuit. For example, Harvard’s rationale for their gap program is: “Harvard College encourages admitted students to defer enrollment for one year to travel, pursue a special project or activity, work, or spend time in another meaningful way — provided they do not enroll in a degree-granting program at another college.”

 Some colleges provide a structured, pre-approved approach to gap year activity. The University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill offers incoming students the opportunity to participate in their Global Gap Year Fellowship, which is described as  “…the only college-sponsored gap year program that allows students to design their own gap-year experience. Fellows are encouraged to create their service-based gap years with the full support and guidance of our staff and faculty.”

In addition to college-sponsored gap programs, there’s a growing mini-industry of gap program providers. Many of these organizations, such as Outward Bound and National Outdoor Leadership School, are members of the American Gap Association, a professional group that sets standards and accredits participants.

Gap Year Pros and Cons:

Like all important decisions, you should consider the pros and cons of taking a gap year between high school and college. Below are those associated with an academic year that doesn’t have the added pressures of 2020.


1. After the intensive grind of college admissions… you’re fried! You’ll benefit from being in a non-competitive environment for a while to assure that you’ll be at your best when you begin college. You’ll return from your gap year with your vitality restored and your focus sharpened,

2. Research (see Middlebury College website) indicates that students who have taken a gap year perform better in college than those who have not,

3. It allows you to learn about an unfamiliar culture and region,

4. You’ll have an opportunity to become fluent in another language by immersing yourself with native speakers,

5. It enables you to develop leadership and self-reliance skills, and to grow in maturity, independence, and self-confidence.

6. Participating in a gap year program displays the qualities that post-college employers will be looking for in professional hires, and,

7. During your gap year, you’ll be part of a community of peers with aspirations and goals like yours. You’ll form lifelong friendships.


1. A major reason why most students choose not to take a gap year is that they don’t want to fall out of step with their class. Their friends will be going away to college in August and they want to share that experience,

2. Certain financial aid programs require students to attend college without a break in order to remain eligible for funding each year, and,

3. Packaged gap programs can be expensive. If your family is stretching its budget to pay for college, the added cost of a gap program may be too much. However, low cost options such as AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps are likely to be approved by your college.

For more thoughts on gap years, visit this earlier post.  And, as always, contact me with any questions – [email protected]