How to submit a question

If you are a parent with a child either in or going to college and have a question about any aspect of higher education, send it to me in confidence at I will select questions to be answered and then place the answers on this blog for public view but without the name of the person asking the question. I have access to many college and university faculty and administrators (deans, health care professionals, coaches, admissions and financial aid officers) and they will assist me in answering your questions. Neither I nor my company, Academic Collaborations Inc., receive compensation for this service.

Monday, April 24, 2017


In the past, community colleges have often been considered as a place your child goes to if they can’t get into a four year college. This is unfair to community colleges because they serve a number of important purposes including providing post-secondary education for students who don't desire or are not ready for a four year residential experience but also for mature students who must continue to work.

But there is another reason why students and their parents might want to consider a community college—cost.

Many community colleges have articulation agreements with four year colleges and universities. Under this arrangement, a student does their first two years at a community college and then transfers into a senior four year institution for the last two years. Because of the articulation agreement, all courses taken at the community college are seamlessly transferred to the four year institution. For example, general education courses taken at the community college fulfill the general education requirement at the four year college or university.

The reason many people are beginning to consider the community college option is because of the cost differential. Take, for example, a typical four year liberal arts college. At this college, you will pay $50,000 per year for room, board and tuition or $200,000 for four years (less at a four year public university). Of course this "sticker price" can be brought down by scholarship support. However if your child takes their first two years at a local community college that has an articulation agreement with a four year institution (and lives at home), tuition and fees for two years will be only $12,500 (which can vary from community college to community college). If you add this $12,500 to the $100,000 your will pay for your child's last two years at a four year institution, the total cost of a BA or BS will be $112,500, expensive but a whole lot less expensive than the $200,000 you would have paid for your child to attend a four year private college. And your child gets the same degree!

Worth considering if college cost is a big issue for you.

In my next post I will discuss why going to an Ivy League university is not necessarily the moist important thing in the world.

Monday, April 17, 2017


When financial aid was given out solely on the basis of financial need, college financial aid officers had rather straightforward jobs. They simply ran the needs calculation on their computer and made the offer.

This has all changed.

Today financial aid is given out on the basis of need and/or merit so even students who don't need it can receive scholarship support if merited by their grades. Moreover, since the court ruling prohibiting colleges and universities from regulating financial aid and scholarship offers via inter-institution information sharing, it is now possible to bargain up financial aid offers, especially if a student is a very desirable candidate. Thus college A (the applicant’s first choice) offers a no-need student who is class valedictorian and editor of the high school newspaper a $5,000 merit scholarship. If College B (the applicant's second choice but a place she would be happy attending) offers $6,000, the applicant can tell College A that unless they match the offer, she might go to College B. Depending on how desirable the candidate is (and also how willing the financial aid office is to negotiate), College A will often give in and up the amount. I’m not saying that a tug of war is the way it should be. I personally believe that financial aid should be given primarily to students who otherwise couldn't afford a college education. Still, if an applicant is a commodity, it’s possible to get a scholarship even if the applicant does not have financial need. Just pity the poor financial aid people who now often get stuck in the middle of an often contentious bargaining process with parents.

Incidentally the ability to negotiate a financial aid package is a reason why an applicant may not want to apply Early Decision. Under the most well known Early Decision options (and there are others that are not as restrictive) a student is admitted in December on the condition that he or she will abandon other applications and attend the college in the Fall if accepted. This is OK for a student who doesn’t need financial aid. On the other hand, for students who do need financial aid, including middle- class families who do not qualify for need-based aid, committing to only one college takes away financial aid options. I have a close friend whose son, a rising high school junior, is not only a world-class junior chess champion but also top of his high school class. Even though this young man can go to any college he chooses, I would advise him and his family against Early Decision because he will need financial aid. Far better to be admitted to three or four top colleges and then choose the one that offers the best financial aid package, an option he and his parents won't have if he is accepted at an Early Decision college and must accept the financial package that that college offers.

In my next post I will discuss one way to save money on higher education big time!

Monday, April 10, 2017

SPECIAL SITUATIONS: Students attending weak high schools or who have a learning or physical disability

In this post I would like to speak to the parents of prospective college students who face certain challenges. Perhaps they attend a weak high school that has put them at an academic and competitive disadvantage. Maybe they have to cope with a physical or (like me) a learning disability. Here is some information that might be helpful as your student begins to research colleges.

Students from weak high schools: Many very bright students have to endure an inferior high school education on their way to college. Their classes are overcrowded or their school does not have AP (Advanced Placement) courses. But by sheer perseverance and against great odds they are doing well. College admissions people love students who are thriving in an otherwise difficult learning environment. But a word of caution is in order. Any student who gains admission into a selective college from a high school that is below par academically should make sure that the college he or she enters has remedial and other support services. “Remediation” is no longer a dirty word and even places like Harvard provide remedial services for students who enter with academic deficiencies in writing, reading, and math. Just remember, getting into a good college is one thing. Graduating is often something else. When the time comes, encourage your student to ask for help if they need it. And if the college doesn’t provide this kind of help but just lets their weaker students sink, encourage your child to consider a different college!

Students with a physical disability: Because we know so much more about students who come to college with a physical disability, colleges are doing a much better job of providing a quality education for these students. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that colleges make what is called “reasonable accommodation” for students who must use a wheel chair or who are blind.This means, for example, that if a political science class is normally scheduled on the top floor of a classroom building that does not have an elevator and a student who requires a wheelchair wants to take the course, the college need not build an elevator (though it might want to consider doing this), but can accommodate the student by rescheduling the class in an accessible, first- floor classroom. It is important, however, for physically challenged high school students and their parents to understand, preferably before applying, what the college can and cannot do to make accommodation. For instance, it is much easier to accommodate a student who must use a wheelchair at a campus built on a flat plateau than at one built off the side of a mountain.

Students with learning disabilities: Students with a learning disability such as dyslexia or attention deficit disorder should make their disability known to the college preferably before they apply. In the admissions process it is against the law for a college to discriminate against a student with a learning disability! Once admitted a letter will be required from a health care provider (often a physician) verifying and describing the disability. On the basis of this letter, the college's Disabilities Office will then provide the student with accommodation, for example allowing students who are dyslexic and therefore slow readers to take untimed tests. If, on the other hand, the student is unwilling to tell the college about their disability they will have to cope without accommodation. For more on this subject, see my Grown and Flown essay at

Monday, March 27, 2017

MORE ON THE APPLICATION: Don't write your kid's college essay!!

In last week’s post, I addressed common application strategies such as high school recommendations and the importance of extracurricular activities. In this post I will discuss the college essay, interviews, and being what we call a legacy. Again, this is for the parents of high school juniors whose children are now contemplating applying to college.

• The Essay: Essays are becoming an increasingly important part of the application process because they enable applicants to demonstrate their writing and thinking skills. Unfortunately, parents (or worse, a hired writer) sometimes write these essays for their children or the essay is gotten on line from an essay writing service. This is not a good idea. It’s not only dishonest, but it can easily be detected by people in the college admissions office. For example, if they receive an essay that is polished and perfect but then see an SAT or ACT writing score that is below par they will become suspicious. The ACT or SAT writing sample obviously cannot be influenced by a parent or by a ghost writer because the student writes in a monitored setting. The essay, on the other hand, is written in an environment that is not monitored. Parents can proof read for spelling errors but the college admissions essay should always be the applicant's own. College admissions people will probably know if its ghost written and there are ways they can detect if the essay came from an on-line service. Identifying an essay that is not the student’s almost always means rejection. Your student should also choose a topic that will set their essay apart from the other essays. It is well known that students who write about rather common and pedestrian themes such as "What I did last summer" or "The computer games I like to play" are accepted at a lower rate than students who write on more personal or deeper topics. For example, a high school student I worked with wrote an essay on an event in her life that was life changing. When her mother suddenly died from brain cancer she had to help take care of her younger brothers and sisters. She wrote about what she learned from this experience. This moving and very personal essay helped her gain admission to Yale.

• Interviews: You can’t control this, but if your student plans to do an interview, they should try to do it with someone in the admissions office because these are the people who make the final decision on who gets admitted and who doesn't. Most colleges on the other hand either don’t require an interview or, when they are required, assign an alumnus or even a student to do them. You can’t always control this but when it happens your child just has to go with the flow. My own feeling is that interviews, especially with admissions office personal, can be very important because they put a face—a personality—on the data admissions officers must read (i.e. grades, board scores). Interviews, if they are done well, can also help offset an otherwise pedestrian academic or extra- curricular record. I have seen kids with otherwise average high school grades wow the admissions officer with an exceptional interview by, for example, explaining that they have had to overcome a learning disability or poverty. On the other hand, if your student doesn’t interview well and/ or if the interview is not required your student probably shouldn't do it. A student with great grades and board scores but who is otherwise an introvert can only hurt themselves with a bad interview. For more on what the interview might look like, see my article in Grown and Flown (

• Legacies: When I was a college president, I often got phone calls from alumni politicking to get their children or grandchildren (what we call “legacies”) admitted to their alma mater. Most good colleges want legacies, but only if they match the college’s profile and can be successful. If the applicant is a borderline case, it might help to be a legacy. But if the student is well below the profile, politicking by parent or grand parent who is an alum of the college probably won’t help.

In my next post I will share an article on admissions that will give you some insight into how admissions offices operate.

Monday, March 20, 2017

THE APPLICATION: The Importance of Extracurricular Activities, Recommendations, etc.

Submitting an application next Fall can be done in a number of ways: (a) via an application form sent to the applicant by the college,(b) by filling out the same application but using the Internet and, (c) by completing the Common Application form. The most convenient way to apply is via the third option, the Common Application form, because a single filing can be used for any college that is a member. While there are a large number of Common Application colleges (including most of the selective colleges in America—see there is an even greater number of colleges that do not accept the Common Application, and for these colleges your child will have to make an application either electronically or in the traditional way by mail.

In my last post I suggested that high school grades and the difficulty of the courses taken will be the number one factor in gaining admission to a selective college. Other factors include:

• High School Recommendations: The Recommendations of high school teachers and guidance counselors supplement the applicant’s grades. This is an opportunity for teachers to point out, for example, that while the applicant got a B- in Physics, this was one of the toughest courses in the high school. Guidance counselors can also explain lower grades by pointing out (if this is indeed the case) that there has not been grade inflation at the high school. Your child should only ask teachers or advisers who they know well to write a recommendation. They might want to supplement these required recommendations with additional recommendations from people who are well known in the community or are well placed alumni of the college but they shouldn't ask someone who really doesn’t have an inkling who they are because this turns admissions people off! When I was a college president, I was sometimes asked by graduating seniors whom I had never met for a recommendation to graduate school. I suggested that I was perhaps not the best person to do this, but if pressed by the student (or, more often than not, by their parents), I would write a form letter. Form letters are also written by guidance counselors and high school teachers who do not personally know the applicant. These letters are usually discounted by admission’s personnel because they can't really tell them much about the candidate.

• Minority status: Some might question whether minority students should identify themselves in the college application.The fact is that colleges and universities in this country are all competing for qualified minority students not only because its the right thing to do, but also because they know that a diverse campus is a stronger campus. In my opinion, if your child is an American minority, there is nothing wrong with letting the college know this, especially if there isn't a place on the application to state their racial identity.

• SAT scores: I have already addressed the issue of SAT and ACT scores. I place them here again only to suggest these tests are not as important as most people think. Other criteria are better predictors of college success. Generally, if the applicant has good school grades, a high SAT or ACT score can give a competitive edge. But, again, low grades and high SATs send a potentially negative message.

• Extracurricular activities: Good colleges want well-rounded students—students who not only excel academically but are also leaders in one or two co-curricular activities. Indeed, once admitted, freshmen will be expected to participate in out-of-classroom activities like intercollegiate or intramural athletics, the college newspaper, drama, etc.These and other activities are considered part of a college education. Colleges, even very selective ones, are sometimes willing to give way a little on grades if they can find students who excel in these extracurricular activities. After all, colleges need a quarterback for the football team, a violinist for the community orchestra, and a soprano for the choir. So, in addition to being a good student, applicants need to present themselves as active and involved students. Your child's application, however, should include only those activities in which they are actually involved. For example, if they wrote one article for the high school newspaper, they shouldn't suggest that they are the paper's editor. On the other hand if your child has achieved special recognition for some activity in which they are involved, they should mention this. For instance, admissions people know that being an Eagle Scout is a great predictor of college success, because it shows tenacity and drive. The same is true for the captain of a high school athletic team or lead violinist in the community orchestra.

I should mention in parenthesis, that contrary to what many parents believe, students involved in extracurricular activities including sports tend to do better academically than students who are not involved in out of classroom activities.

In the next post I will write about the essay, the interview, and being a legacy (a student whose parents or grandparents attended the college.

Monday, March 13, 2017

CRITERIA FOR ADMISSIONS: How important are SAT or ACT scores relative to grades?

Once your student has decided on the kind of college or university to attend, the next order of business will be to apply (see my next post). Again, for this year's juniors this will happen next Fall.

Many people think that the most important criteria for college admissions is the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or the American College Test (ACT). In fact, SAT or ACT scores are ranked somewhat lower at most selective colleges, because the predictive value of the tests is questionable.The tests were designed to predict how well students will do in the first semester of their college freshman year, and the correlation between test results and how well students actually do is extremely low. The tests are also reputed to have a cultural bias against American minorities, which is why many colleges have made the tests optional. For a list of colleges that do not require these tests, see The fact is that while it is still true that high test scores together with excellent high school grades might be predictive of college success, most admissions counselors agree that high test scores and low school grades suggest a bright student who lacks motivation, a good reason for rejection. Nevertheless, parents will still spend thousands of dollars on test prep courses.

They would do better to encourage their children to focus on high school grades and demanding courses, the two most important criteria for admissions to a selective college. Even if your child's high school freshman or sophomore year was not great academically, recovery is still possible. But by junior year they need to be taking the right (i.e. academic) courses and doing well in them. Unfortunately, high school students often wait until first semester senior year, when it is often too late, to worry about this matter. Even so, colleges are far more impressed by students who are improving academically than by those who start out strong but end up weak.

It is also important to understand that it is not just the courses a student takes, but the difficulty of those courses that impresses admissions officers. The easy way out is to take general math or “business” English” and get all As. But this will not impress a college admissions officer who would prefer to see applicants take Advanced Placement (AP) credits (i.e. high school courses that colleges will credit toward college graduation) or honors courses, even if it means getting a B. Admissions officers at selective colleges will be far more impressed with a B in Advanced Placement Physics or in honors Calculus than an A in a less rigorous course.

In my next post I will talk about the application.

Monday, February 27, 2017


If your high school junior is ahead of the game (not always the case!) they should be visiting colleges between now and next Fall. This post will give parents a sense of what their child should be thinking about as they begin the process of deciding where they will eventually apply.

After sorting out which colleges interest your child the most, they need to do a reality check to determine the likelihood of being accepted. Your child can do this by looking at Barron's College Guide (or a similar guide) and matching their high school grades and board scores with what the college advertises for the students it accepts. But sometimes other factors, unrelated to reality, drive college choice. For example, there are all sorts of pressures on high school students (including from parents and family), to apply to only one kind of college, often their mother’s or father’s alma mater, even though there is not a good match between the college's profile and the student's. I'm a good example of this. My father's alma mater was Yale and he really wanted me to go there. But I was a very average high school student with an academic and board profile well below Yale's. Just looking at Barron’s College Guide and the profile from which Yale drew most of its students, I realized that there was no way I could get admitted, even though my father still thought I had a chance. But I applied anyway with predictable results. I didn't get in. Unfortunately, students often get fixated on one level of institution and, regardless of whether there is a match between their high school profile and that of their desired college, apply only to elite, brand name colleges and universities.

Based on this research including a reality check on profiles, next Fall your child (working with his or her high school guidance counselor) will select about seven or eight colleges to which to apply. Two of these colleges should have admissions profiles below your child's (what we call “safety” colleges). Four should have profiles that match their profile. The final two might be colleges or universities that have profiles above your child's (what we call “stretches”) but that have a strong appeal because of the academic program offered or because attending the school is a family tradition. All selections should be places where your child can be happy.

Early Decision and other variants of the application process: Many colleges give applicants an Early Decision option. This means that the college will notify a student by December whether or not they have been accepted. In return, the accepted applicant promises to abandon other applications and attend that college in the Fall (but see non-binding early decision below). Applying Early Decision gives students a slight edge in the admissions process, and, of course, also gives them peace of mind in not having to wait until March or April to see if they have been accepted. Your child should apply early decision only under three conditions:

• The college is their first choice.
• Their academic profile matches that of the college
• Financial aid is not an issue (because its more difficult to bargain up the financial aid package,a subject I will discuss in a future post)

Two other variants of the admissions process include Rolling Admission and non-binding Early Action.

Rolling Admissions means that your student will be accepted or rejected two or three weeks after the application is submitted. It is done by less selective colleges that are comfortable accepting students on a first-come first-served basis. It is also done by colleges having difficulty making their enrollment goals and feel that early acceptances will somehow result in early commitments.

Early Action means that students will be notified at a date earlier than the usual March or April deadlines that most selective colleges use to send out acceptances and rejections. It is non-binding. It’s a sort of a half- way point between Early Decision and Regular Admission. If the option is available, it should probably be considered, even if your child will need financial aid.

In my next post I will share an interesting piece on early admission.