Apply. Compete. Succeed.  Blog

Category: For Parents

One Big Problem: Cars on Campus

September 26, 2013

Now that legions of students are making themselves comfortable settling in on campus, they are going to do something that everyone does when they dorm: look for the kid who brought his or her car to campus. Keep in mind that at many colleges, like Washington University in St. Louis, most students who dorm don't bring their car to campus. So guess what happens to the kids who do?

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September 19, 2013

One of the biggest questions I get is should students take the SAT Subject Exams. The short answer is yes (it's a long story), but allow me to share my thoughts about this whole concept.

The Subject Exams are meant, in theory, to test a student's knowledge in a given discipline. Fair enough. It is meant to be a standardized exam, so no grade inflation will affect results from school to school. Understood.

But wait a minute: isn't this why we have AP examinations? Also, how much more anxiety to we have to keep throwing at high-achieving high school students? They need to keep their GPA's high, belong to half a million activities, take the ACT and/or (usually "and") SAT -- multiple times -- and still have something resembling a social life. Add to that admission rates lower than 6% at Harvard and Stanford, and . . .  do we really need MORE tests?

I've been an advocate for a long time to make the college application system more fair, efficient, transparent, and merit-based. This does nothing to further any of these goals.
Yet, we don't make the rules, we live by them, so in a nutshell, take the SAT Subject Exams.

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A Persistent Myth: Working with your high school counselor

September 6, 2013

Working for 13 years as an independent college advisor, I am often asked by families if they should still be working with their high school counselor. My advice is an emphatic YES.

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Iowa Schools Shine

August 21, 2013

A sizeable number of families I work with live in Minnesota, but relatively few consider the University of Iowa and Iowa State. I think that is a mistake for students who are looking for a great regional state school with good academics and a reasonable price tag.

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Terrific New Tutoring Website – Check It Out!

June 23, 2013

I came across a very interesting operation called InstaEDU that I think would have immediate value for students. Generally speaking I’m not a huge fan of most tutoring websites. I just don’t feel most outfits do a good job in terms of recruiting their tutors. After all, it is not as if there’s a certification process to be a tutor.

But InstaEDU stands out, and I’m very impressed with their approach. They draw their tutors from the very top universities in the United States, with a disproportionate number coming from the top 25 schools in the country. I like that. What I also really love about this website is that students can (and do) review their experience with the tutor, and those student reviews are public. No matter what you need tutoring in – say math, science, or history – you have a lot of options for who you want to work with. This company is doing a lot of things I look for in academic startups – they place students first, give students plenty of choices, and will do what it takes to make you happy if you are not satisfied with your tutor.


I love competition, and here the tutors are working to be the best because they are rated. To be frank with you, this is the most innovative tutoring website I’ve come across in a long time, and it’s well worth your time checking it out. They’ve also received some very good press lately, and I wish they had been around when I was in college. Check these folks out and let me know what you think!

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Frothy Stock Market means Good News for 529 Plans

June 13, 2013

Finally some good news for folks who have invested tirelessly in their 529 plans - with the stock market hitting all-time highs, your basket of investments in your 529 plan should be showing dramatic increases. Now, I am not a financial planner, but one thing that many indpendent eduction consultants will tell you -- including me -- is that the closer your kids are to applying to college, PLEASE choose safer investments and transition out of the higher-risk but potentially higher-yielding investments you may have chosen in the past. After all, who knows what will happen in the coming years - lock in your gains and talk to your financial advisor as always. And, congratulations for the sacrifices, organization, and planning you did for your child's education.

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Museum Youth Programs = Success for Academic Growth

June 5, 2013

One thing I always stress to my clients is that I find a direct correlation between my top students who do well in their college applications and those who participate in the arts. In fact, what I increasingly see is that many of these students are beginning at an extremely young age, which I think is a great thing. Here in my adopted hometown of Minneapolis, we boast one of the top art museums in the world, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, or MIA. What many don’t know, even in the Twin Cities, is that the MIA has a broad range of youth programs that my own children have taken advantage of and as a result, they have really developed both intellectually and creatively.

I would stress to everyone to check out these programs and the visit their website. The prices are surprisingly affordable, the class sizes are rarely more than 15 students, and I have found that the staff at the MIA and especially the teachers who work with young people are incredibly passionate, enthusiastic, and genuinely friendly individuals. It’s a great investment of your time and money, and it will reap wonderful dividends in the future.

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College Counselors Making Promises they Can’t Keep

June 3, 2013

I am all for my colleagues in the professional independent educational consulting profession doing their best to get their kids in the best schools. That is what I try to do and all reputable independent counselors do. And most do exactly that. But I am coming across a disturbing trend of counselors and even college students promising to get kids into their top choices. Let's stop for a moment. Harvard accepted less than 6% of students this year. I should know because I get admissions emails from Harvard since I interview students for the school. As a Harvard graduate, even I cannot guarantee admission to Harvard (although my track record is pretty good). A word to the wise: if you meet any independent counselor who promises admission to your top choice, run in the opposite direction. Look for someone who will zealously work for you but not make unrealistic promises.

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