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The Five Essential Components of an Effective College Application Lesson

Whether you’re meeting with your seniors face-to-face or connecting with them remotely, the college application clock is ticking!  If you’re like me, you want to make sure your students are as prepared as they can be for the college application process so they don’t miss important steps… which often end up being last-minute emergencies for you!

For the past three years, our school has hosted an in-person College Application Boot Camp, a late-summer in-person event that allows seniors to get a head start on their applications.  It’s a great way to teach the most important parts of the application process, establishing a common baseline of knowledge so seniors and their families can have confidence throughout the process.

If you’re interested in offering college application lessons to your seniors, which topics should you include?

We’ve learned that these five pieces of the application puzzle are vital for a comprehensive – yet not overwhelming – college application resource:

  1. Career direction – Your school has likely provided your students with a variety of career development tools over the past few years; now is a great time to get (back) into them!  Seniors are beginning to realize the investment of time and money they’re going to make in the coming years and the importance of choosing well.  Career direction – if not career selection – is important for self-awareness and decision-making during the college application season.
  • College search – If your students are anything like mine (or like I was when I was 18!), they’ve already created a list of schools based on a cross-section of U.S. News & World Report rankings and NCAA national championships.  Or they have no list at all.  Either way, helping students consider a larger number of factors in their college search equips them to find more schools that are a good fit for them.
  • Personal statement – The college essay – or essays as has become the norm for Tier I schools – is often an afterthought for seniors, who treat it like as if it’s another reflection paper for English class.  Especially this year with a glut of test-optional schools, the essay could not be more important.  Our seniors need to know this and we need to teach them about how to craft an effective essay.
  • Paying for college – While you might typically focus on this topic at a financial aid workshop (and then only with parents), we have found that including an introductory lesson on paying for college – and particularly on some ways they can pay less – has been very well received by many of our students.  They are likely aware of the growing burden of student loan debt ($1.7 trillion and rising), and a school counselor can provide tools and information without diving too deeply into the intricacies of financial aid.
  • Project management – Probably the area that trips up most students and their families, managing all the moving parts of the college application process is vital.  Seniors need to realize that they (not their mom) are in charge of making sure that the application, transcripts, letters of recommendation, test scores, etc. make it to the specific colleges by the specific college’s deadline.  Teaching seniors this skill might be the most important lesson of all.

If that seems like a lot of content to you, don’t worry!  What’s great about delivering this content to your students is the growing number of resources that you can provide without having to come up with all of it on your own!  Our role as counselors is to provide tools and equip students to use them, and a college application boot camp – whether delivered online or in-person – is a great way to do that!

Sam Feeney is the Dean of Career and College Success at Falcon High School in Colorado and a consultant for, which is offering their 2020 College Application Boot Camp for free to seniors and their families. 

Help Your Students Find Their Career Path with the Five Whys!

Many high school students have no idea which career path they want to pursue, but with College approaching they will soon have to soon decide which major(s) they want to study and map out a possible career path. Resume now has put together a summary of the five whys method your students can use to determine what areas might interest to them.

The Five Whys Explained

The five whys method was created by Sakichi Toyoda, founder of Toyota Motors, to help streamline the production process. The premise of this method is to start with a problem and ask “why?” five times until the root cause is determined.

While at first glance this technique may seem simple, it is actually an extremely powerful tool for understanding cause-and-effect relationships. The brilliance in this method comes from the bare-bones framework that allows it to be applied to all kinds of problems — including understanding your career path.

1. What Are You Good At? Why?

Although it may seem obvious, the first step to discover a career path is to look inwards and analyze. By starting from square one, your students will be able to dig down to the root of their strengths, motivations and skills to determine the career path that is right for them.

To get their self-evaluation started, they should try answering these questions:

  • What are your interests?
  • What are your skills?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What comes easily to you?
  • What time of day do you work most efficiently?

By answering these questions (and then asking why), they will be able to reflect on their strengths and skills to understand the types of positions where they would succeed.

2. What Are Your Career Goals? Why?

Figuring out their career goals starts by defining what they want in terms of career development. Clearly defining their career goals is crucial to creating a plan to get there.

A great way to foster this process is by creating a problem statement. The importance of crafting a problem statement cannot be overstated — a problem statement for determining their career path is just as important as a hypothesis when writing a research paper.

For example:

I am uncertain of my current career path as a realtor because I worry that I may not be able to sustain a healthy work-life balance long term due to the uncertain hours of this position. I want a job where I can balance my career development with my passions, and having dedicated time off from work is crucial to do that.

In this problem statement, the issues are clearly established and both short- and long-term goals are considered. To apply the five whys to the problem statement, try asking questions like:

  • Where do I want to be in one, five, 10 or even 20 years?
  • Do I want to live to work, or work to live?
  • What exactly are my outside passions, and how much do they intersect with the career paths I’m considering?
  • Why do I care about those passions?

The answers to these questions should give them an idea of what they value most: money, time or fulfillment.

3. What Do They Value the Most? Why?

The ideal career for them is one that encompasses what they need from each of these three pillars: money, time and fulfillment. However, it’s important to remember that these three pillars are not a zero-sum game. It’s possible to find a career that achieves all three, or sacrifices in areas where they are willing to change while still meeting their needs.

To help them determine what they value most in their career, it’s important to take a look at the boundaries they want to set. Some things to consider are:

  • Do you want to work 9-to-5 or are you willing to work nontraditional hours?
  • What type of work environment do you prefer?
  • How much weight do you place on work-life balance?

Work-life balance is a scale where the gain of one requires the loss of another. Try to instead view this as work-life fulfillment, which allows them to ask, “how should I spend my time to lead a fulfilling and productive life while meeting my goals?”

4. What Areas Are They Willing to Compromise On? Why?

Although it’s possible to find a career where they can balance money, time and fulfillment, it’s important to take a pragmatic approach to finding their career path. Think of their minimum, ideal and dream requirements, and use this framework to find an intersection that meets their needs. Some questions to get this process started include:

  • Have you considered the industry standard for the field you want to enter?
  • How much do you want to earn? How much do you need to earn?
  • Are you willing to take a step backward to move forward in a new path?

5. What Are They Willing to Do to Get There? Why?

Lastly, it’s important to take into consideration the sacrifices they are willing to make to get where they want to be. They should answer the following:

  • Would you pursue more schooling or certifications
  • What about moving to a new city for a career?

Regardless of the professional path they choose, it’s important to stand out from the crowd. Investing in their personal branding can open the door for new opportunities and pave the way for an upwards trajectory in their career.

Resume now has also provided some worksheets your students can download for free:

Self Evaluation Worksheet

Problem Statement Worksheet

The Top 12 Questions Your Students Should Ask Their Future College About Safety

With COVID-19 there are a lot of unanswered questions about how schools will handle safety protocols. There have already been breakouts at a number of schools including the University of Alabama which reported positive tests for more than 500 students today. If your students are concerned here are 12 questions they can ask their future schools.

  1. Who do I alert if I believe I am sick or have symptoms of the coronavirus?
  2. Will face coverings or masks be required?
  3. What regulations and requirements will be enforced to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 on campus?
  4. How do I get tested on campus?
  5. Is there a place nearby?
  6. What happens if my roommate or I have to self-isolate?
  7. How will we practice social distancing in classrooms and other common areas of campus?
  8. How will my campus track the number of positive cases and tracing?
  9. How will students be notified about new Coronavirus cases and the spread?
  10. How will my college handle remote meetings, classes, office hours and tutoring?
  11. What virtual resources will be available?
  12. What activities will be available that meet social distancing guidelines? (Intramural sports, gyms, etc.)

These came from a Guide to College Safety During the Pandemic published online at Here is a link for your students to check it out:

How the College Admissions Process Can Stick Your Students with a Higher Price

Unless you’ve had to fumble your own way through the college search process recently (as a student or as a parent), you might be tempted to discount stories of students graduating with crazy-high student debt as silly financial decisions made by naive folks. After all (you might ask), how could someone come out of college with such massive debt when there are plenty of less expensive schools?

Although we can’t presume to know why some people do what they do, we can take the publicly available college pricing data and see if it’s plausible that someone could make rational financial decisions using the available information and still end up paying more than they should–or could–have paid.

So first, let’s outline how the college search process plays out in most cases.

  1. You know that you want to go to college.
  2. You know that you only have so much money to pay for college.
  3. You have access to some information, but you certainly aren’t an expert on college admissions.
  4. You assume that similar schools give similarly-sized scholarships to similar types of students and therefore assume that the sticker price is an appropriate gauge of which schools will be more and less expensive for you.
  5. You don’t have the time or the money to apply to every possible college or university, so you narrow your choices to a set of finalists and (see bullet point #4) your educated guess about price is one of the factors you use to narrow your list.
  6. You are accepted to some of the schools to which you applied, and you now assume that your choices are limited to the schools that accepted you.

Then let’s take a hypothetical individual; let’s say that someone wants to attend a challenging college or university in Boston (you can run this same scenario in any region of the country and get similar results).  I’ve picked three well-known institutions that would be a reasonable fit: Boston College, Boston University, and Northeastern University.  Let’s posit that our hypothetical student is typical academically for the kind of student that is accepted and enrolls at each of these institutions.  In other words, she has a very high GPA and a composite SAT in the low to mid 1400s.  As a result, let’s assume that she will be accepted and offered a financial aid package of scholarships and grants that end up charging her the average actual price.  We will have to make do with the most recent pricing data available – prices paid by students entering in the fall of 2017 (yes, the time lag in current available data is another problem, but one we won’t be able to tackle that fully today).  And let’s posit that, like most students, price matters a lot and she (and likely her parents as well) will be borrowing to pay for college.

The Department of Education collects pricing information from all colleges, and I’ve pulled a few key data points from the Integrated Post-secondary Education Data System (IPEDS).  Schools must report a “total cost of attendance,” which include the listed tuition, fees, room and board, and an estimate of books, travel, and other necessary expenses.  Schools must also report the average actual price that students pay, calculated by subtracting the average amount of federal, state, and institutional grants and scholarships awarded from the the total cost of attendance.  Finally, colleges must report the average actual prices paid across five different income categories: families making between 0 and 30,000 dollars per year, between 30,000 and 48,000 dollars per year, between 48,000 and 75,000 dollars per year, between 75,000 and 110,000 dollars per year, and above 110,000 dollars per year.  Have a look at the price tags below.

17-18 pricing data (source – IPEDS)Boston CollegeBoston U.Northeastern U.
Listed Cost of Attendance70,58870,30267,957
Avg actual price across all new students26,56729,15434,246
Avg actual price: 0-30K income7,25115,66112,168
Avg actual price: 30-48K income9,69313,21114,186
Avg actual price: 48-75K income16,64820,80118,627
Avg actual price: 75-110K income23,17232,26527,272
Avg actual price: above 110K income47,67547,58644,248
Middle 50% test score, new students1320-1490 SAT1330-1500 SAT1360-1540 SAT

Let’s look at these prices in the order in which they would be revealed.  If our hypothetical student uses the sticker price as an indicator of which institution will end of up being the least expensive (a reasonable assumption), she would lean toward Northeastern, since their sticker price is the lowest of the three.  If our student is like many who don’t have a blank check to spend on college applications, she might only apply to one or two of the three schools, but probably not all three.  So rational decision-making would likely lead our bright young mind to apply to Northeastern and either Boston University or (although slightly less likely) Boston College.

So what happens when she gets accepted and sees the financial aid packages she is offered?  Unlike the sticker prices, we can see that the range of most to least expensive institutions is reversed. Although Boston College and Boston University were about $3,000 more than Northeastern, when financial aid awards arrive Northeastern is almost $8,000 more expensive than Boston College and just over $5,000 more expensive than Boston University.  What’s more, if you look at the differences in average actual prices across the different income brackets, Boston College would be the least expensive of the three institutions in every category except families making more than 110K/year, and Boston University jumps into the most expensive spot in four of the five income categories.

But the problem for our hypothetical young student is that she doesn’t have the benefit of this table.  We only know these prices because they have become public two years after the fact.  Moreover, since our student only applied to two of the three institutions, she has no idea what that third institution’s price would be.  If she applied to Northeastern and Boston College, fortune has smiled on her.  But if she applied to Northeastern and Boston University . . . ugh.  Imagine if her family’s income is less than 110K/year.  In any of these situations, we have a student who is going to pay substantially more than she could have paid, if she had only known.

You can find a combination of relatively similar institutions in every region or metropolitan area in the country where this same scenario plays out like clockwork.  Still wondering how it is that so many students end up with disproportionately high debt?

Mark Salisbury, Ph.D., spent 25 years in higher education as a coach, admissions counselor, instructor, and academic dean.  His research on college students and organizational design has been featured on NPR and WNYC and has been published in the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed.  Dr. Salisbury launched TuitionFit ( in 2018 to empower the public to create college price transparency through crowdsourcing and sharing information.

NACAC’s Knowledge Center

NACAC has set up a Knowledge Center where they host a lot of their assets they have put out for the Counselor Community. Here is a summary of the available reports/documents with direct links:

College Rankings Report of the Ad Hoc Committee – Released in 2011, this report includes recommendations from NACAC’s Ad Hoc Committee on U.S. News and World Report Rankings. The committee’s recommendations focused on ensuring that students and families have the ability to form their own impressions about which college is the best fit for them.

NACAC Report on Standardized Testing

NACAC’s report on standardized testing is a much-needed call on colleges and universities to examine their ACT and SAT policies and practices. As NACAC CEO Angel B. Pérez noted, “As a profession, we must find the courage to examine our habits and policies, and we must adapt if we are to continue to fulfill our duty to the public good.”

The 2020 report is the result of a years’ worth of discussion and deliberation among an expert group of NACAC members who formed our Task Force on Standardized Admission Testing for International and US Students. The report examines the inequities associated with standardized testing for college-bound students and calls for solutions that can help bring about needed change to the admission process.

“This is a year to reexamine any mandatory use of testing as part of enrollment operations, for both practical but also ethical reasons,” said John Latting, chair of the task force. “It is a year to be reminded of appropriate uses, and potential misuses, of standardized tests.”

College Affordability

As costs continue to rise, planning how to finance a four-year degree has become a more prominent part of the college application process.

These three handouts are designed to highlight the value of a college degree, showcase the true cost of college, and break down borrowing options.

Share them with your students as you discuss college affordability and college options.

Download the individual handouts:

College Value Extends Beyond Financial Gain
The benefits of college aren’t just in future earnings. A college education opens doors to opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be available.

Students Often Overestimate the Price of College
Sticker price is the published tuition price, whereas net price is the amount a student actually pays to attend an institution after subtracting federal, state, and institutional grant aid that doesn’t need to be repaid. The difference between the published price and the actual price a student pays can be significant and varies by institution type.

Talking About Borrowing Doesn’t Have to be Hard
There are many ways for students and families to consider the “right” amount of borrowing to finance their college education. Your school counselor can be an invaluable resource as you search for right-fit programs.

Financial Aid Basics: What Students and Families Need to Know

Choosing to pursue postsecondary education is one of the most important decisions a young person can make.

As a school counselor, college counselor, college adviser, or admission rep you are uniquely qualified to help applicants navigate the admission process. And increasingly, students and parents also turn to you as they sort through complex questions about financial aid, college affordability, and the value of a degree. What’s an admission professional to do?

No, you don’t need to become a financial adviser to the families you serve. But good information can go a long way when helping students make the right college choice, especially when counseling applicants whose understandable confusion about the financial aid process threatens to derail their college dreams.

Additional Resources with Links:

InternationalMarginalized Populations

Professional Standards

Student AthletesSchool Profiles


Apps Your Students Can Use to Boost Productivity

Your students now use apps for everything from catching a ride (Uber) to checking their social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to ordering food (GrubHub, Uber Eats, etc.). Why shouldn’t they be searching out apps to help them be more successful students? put out a nice list of 25 great apps for students that they can use for organization, note-taking, brainstorming and to be more productive.

Top Rated Apps

1. Google Drive

Price: Free

Available on: iPhone, Android, desktop

Average rating: 4.75 stars; 9.2 million ratings

Google Drive is an organizational tool that can sync with other Google tools, like Docs and Sheets, for easy access. If you’re looking for a way to stay organized and have instant access to all of your classwork, this app should be on your phone. With over 9 million positive reviews, Google Drive speaks for itself in terms of user friendliness and design.

2. Quizlet

Price: Free for basic; $19.99/year for Pro

Available on: iPhone, Android, desktop

Average rating: 4.75 stars; 741k reviews

Quizlet offers different ways for you to study, including pre-existing flashcards created by other users. From test-day prep to learning a new language, this app offers learning tools, practice tests, matching games and other creative ways to learn virtually with classmates or by yourself.

3. My Study Life

Price: Free

Available on: iPhone, Android, desktop

Average rating: 4.5 stars; 55k reviews

Designed to be a modern-day student planner, this app is top tier when it comes to keeping you organized. With scheduling, calendar views, to-do lists, event reminders and more, My Study Life will keep you on top of responsibilities and help you be successful, both in and out of the classroom.

4. StudyBlue

Price: Free for basic; $3+/month for Pro

Available on: iPhone, Android, desktop

Average rating: 4.5 stars; 15.6k reviews

Featuring over 500 million flashcards from 10 million student users, this app is designed to make studying easy and eliminate the need for piles of books and notes. StudyBlue allows you to create and quiz yourself with flashcards, set study reminders, customize your study materials and more. With over five million downloads, this app is sure to help you prepare for any test.

5. iStudiez Pro Legendary Planner

Price: Free for one semester, $2.99/one-time purchase on mobile,  $9.99/one-time purchase on computer

Available on: iPhone, Android

Average rating: 4 stars; 858 ratings

This planning and organizational app can take your studies to the next level. Not only can you see daily, weekly and monthly calendar views, but you can also track your grades and GPA in each class so you know what areas to focus on. Among other features, you can also upload your professor’s office hours, emails and schedules — making this a true one-stop shop for all things college productivity.

You may start each semester with the intention to stay organized, only to find yourself drowning in due dates, assignments and projects that “just snuck up.” Bid those days goodbye with these five apps that will help you get control of your schedule, instead of feeling controlled by it.

Organizational Apps

6. Exam Countdown Lite

Price: Free with in-app purchases

Available on: iPhone, Android

Average rating: 4.5 stars; 2,414 ratings

With a simple and easy-to-use interface, this app does exactly what it says: keeps track of exam and assignment due dates. You can choose from different icons and colors to keep track of assignments and tests for different classes, and can include notes on each upload for your reference. If you’re in need of a no-frills countdown app that can help you stay on top of due dates, this is the one for you.

7. Microsoft To Do

Price: Free

Available on: iPhone, Android, Windows 10

Average rating: 4.5 stars; 164.4k ratings

This app strives to be an all-in-one organizational tool, housing every list, task and to-do in one easily accessible place. You get a breakdown of your day every morning, and can plan events, see upcoming tasks or due dates, and even start a shopping list. If you’re the type of student who misplaces every piece of paper and list, this is the solution you need.

8. Todoist

Price: Free for basic; $3/month for Premium

Available on: iPhone, Android

Average rating: 4.5 stars; 250k ratings

Used by over 25 million people, this app is an all-in-one productivity solution to help you keep things streamlined. With tools to track important dates, set up recurring reminders, track your progress, and assign tasks a priority level, this app allows you to create the organizational system that works best for you.

9. myHomework Student Planner

Price: Free for basic; $4.99/year for ad-free

Available on: iPhone, Android, desktop

Average rating: 4 stars; 32k ratings

This organizational app has almost everything you could want. myHomework allows you to see schedules at a glance, track due dates, keep a running to-do list and sync devices, making it the perfect app for replacing a pen-and-paper planner.

10. TeuxDeux

Price: $3.99/month, $24/year

Available on: iPhone; Tehda for TeuxDeux available on Android

Average rating: 4 stars; 113 reviews

Designed based on the simplicity of a scrap paper to-do list, this app has a minimalistic Swiss interface that lets you focus on what matters: finishing your to-do list. You can create recurring to-dos, color code tasks, and drag and drop tasks to different days. Among other capabilities, like voice-to-text options, these make TeuxDeux a great option for anyone who always misplaces to-do lists.

Note Taking Apps

11. Adobe Scan

Price: Free

Available on: iPhone, Android

Average rating: 4.5 stars; 1 million+ reviews

The minds behind Illustrator, PhotoShop and InDesign designed this easy-to-use app to do exactly what it says: turns your mobile device into a scanner that converts any document to an online PDF. Adobe Scan is the perfect app to help you learn on the go: now all you need to study is your phone and a scan of your notes.

12. Notion

Price: Free for basic edition, $4/monthly for Pro edition

Available on: iPhone, Android, desktop

Average rating: 4 stars; 12.3k reviews

More than just a note-taking app, Notion was designed to be an all-in-one solution for editing and projects. Blending notes, tasks and wikis all in one place, you can easily see your projects, collaborate with others and quickly access your organized notes at the touch of a button.

13. SpeechNotes

Price: Free; $9.99/one-time payment for Chrome extension

Available on: Android, desktops, Google Chrome

Average rating: 4 stars; 23.1k reviews

Designed to make voice-to-text translations fast and easy, SpeechNotes incorporates Google’s speech recognition service for accurate notes. This app is multilingual, helps catch typos and spelling errors, and allows you to export or print your notes from the app’s homepage. If you’re hard of hearing or just prefer digital notes, this is the app you’ve been looking for.

14. Grammarly Keyboard

Price: Free; $11.66+ for Premium versions

Available on: iPhone, Android, desktop

Average rating: 4 stars; 104.6k reviews

If you struggle with grammar, spelling or professionalism when crafting your notes, essays or emails, Grammarly is the app for you. With built-in spell-check, grammar suggestions and general writing tips, Grammarly is a must-have if you could use some writing pointers.

15. MyScript Calculator

Price: $2.99/one-time payment

Available on: iPhone, Android

Average rating: 4.5 stars; 4,415 reviews

If you’re a math or science major who scribbles formulas and equations out on scrap paper, those days are over. This app turns your device into an interactive calculator, where you draw out a formula or equation with your finger or stylus and the calculator helps you solve. With the ability to solve basic operations like multiplication and advanced operators like inverse trigonometry, this calculator is a must-have.

Brainstorming Apps

16. MindNode

Price: Free for basic version; $2.49+/month for Pro editions

Available on: iPhone, desktop

Average rating: 4.5 stars; 641 reviews

Recognized as Apple’s “App of the Day” and “Editor’s Choice” for brainstorming apps, MindNode is a powerful brainstorming and visualization tool. Perfect if your brain goes faster than your fingers, this app allows you to jot down all of your ideas and organize them later in a way that makes sense for you. Not just for mind mapping, MindNode allows you to organize your thoughts into lists, bubbles or anything else that matches the way you think.

17. Mindly

Price: Free with in app purchases; $6.99/one-time payment for Pro version

Available on: iPhone, Android, desktop

Average rating: 4.5 stars; 33.7k reviews

Created to “help organize your inner universe,” this app is perfect for if you’re a visual learner who needs to organize your thoughts. If you’re planning a group project, organizing your thoughts or just brainstorming, this app helps create mind maps, lists or any other visual representation of the way your brain works.

18. SimpleMind

Price: Free for Lite edition; $7.99/one-time for Pro version

Available on: iPhone, Android, desktop

Average rating: 4 stars; 43k reviews

This mind-mapping app is as simple or complicated as you make it — the beauty of SimpleMind is that it’s totally customizable. Whether you’re using this to chart out your master’s thesis or keep a group project on the same page, this app will help you visualize your ideas in a way that makes sense to you.

19. MindMeister

Price: Free for basic plan, $8.25/month for Pro edition

Available on: iPhone, Android, desktop

Average rating: 4 stars; 11.2k reviews

With over 14 million users and thousands of positive reviews, this mind mapping and brainstorm app was designed to help you create, prioritize and organize ideas. It’s ideal if you have an upcoming presentation or simply want to organize your thoughts.

20. XMind

Price: Free for basic edition; $9.99/six months for Pro

Available on: iPhone, Android, desktop

Average rating: 4.5 stars; 6,032 reviews

With over 30 built-in mind mapping templates and different structures to choose from, this brainstorming and mind mapping app allows you to jump right in. You can draw, outline and link different topics and ideas to one another to create maps that are as intricate or simple as you need. You can even print your mind map if you need to put pencil to paper.

Productivity Apps

21. Focus To-Do

Price: Free

Available on: iPhone, Android, desktop, Google Chrome

Average rating: 4.5 stars; 73.3k reviews

The Pomodoro technique is a simple yet effective time management tool, where you set a timer, work until the timer goes off, then take a short break and repeat. Said to boost productivity and optimize brain power, Focus To-Do takes the work out of the Pomodoro technique and does it for you. You can view daily reports to see how much time was spent on a project vs. taking a break, and can even set up due dates so you know exactly how much time you have to work on something.

22. Forest

Price: Free for basic edition; $1.99/one-time payment for Pro versions

Available on: iPhone, Android, Google Chrome

Average rating: 4.5 stars; 250.2k reviews

This is the ideal app for anyone who needs an extra incentive to stay in the zone. When you want to focus, you plant a “seed” in the app. The longer you go without picking up your phone, the more the seed grows, eventually blooming into a tree. If you pick up your phone or go into a different page in your browser, the tree dies. The Pro edition plants real trees for each virtual one that is grown, giving you even more of a reason to stay distraction-free.

23. Flipd

Price: Free for basic edition; $34.99/year

Available on: iPhone, Android, desktop

Average rating: 4 stars; 6.5k reviews

If you find yourself constantly tempted or distracted by your phone while studying or in class, this is the app for you. Flipd shuts down access to all of your apps when you turn on a session, making it nearly impossible to procrastinate with usual time-wasters like social media. You can see how much distraction-free work you’ve completed with a timer, and can even set timers to “Flip Off” while in class or studying.

24. Headspace

Price: 2-week free trial; $9.99/year for students

Available on: iPhone, Android, desktop

Average rating: 4 stars; 811.5k reviews

Between studying, classwork, assignments and homework, college can be overwhelming, and Headspace knows that. This is a guided meditation and mindfulness app that guides you through 10 minutes of breathing and thought exercises to relieve stress and allow you to have some time to yourself. There are different packs available for various exercises and needs; perfect if you need some mental health guidance.

25. Asana

Price: Free for basic edition, $10.99/monthly for Premium edition

Available on: iPhone, Android, desktop

Average rating: 4.5 stars; 39.3k reviews

With millions of downloads, this app speaks for itself in terms of usability. The goal of Asana is simple: organize work from big picture to small tasks, along with priority level, so there’s never a surprise or gut-wrench when something is late. You can collaborate across teams or use it as a solo productivity, time management and project management tool to ensure you’re getting the most out of the app.

These are all apps your students should check out to help them become more productive students.

Careers Your Students Might Want to Check Out

We publish several articles in each issue of LINK for Counselors that cover “Careers to Consider”. These are careers you and subsequently your students might not be that familiar with. I came across a podcast recently that is covering something similar. It is called “Gracie Meets” and is hosted here at She also has set up a Youtube channel you can find here:

Some of the careers she has covered so far are:

Martial Arts Instructor

Senior Crisis Management Specialist

Sports Reporter



Dance Studio Owners

Marine Biologist

Funeral Arranger

Trek Leader

Physical Therapist



Flight Attendant

Sports Counselor

Maybe one of these unique careers will interest some of your students!

7 Tips for Dealing with Academic Burnout

Whether you’re working with Ph.D. candidates or college freshmen, teaching them to balance personal, academic and professional life can be a difficult task. Skillful organization and responsible habits may make the academic schedule more bearable, but fixating too much on studies can have a negative effect on physical and mental health. Academic burnout impacts all types of students, so it’s important to recognize the warning signs and teach habits compatible with a successful, manageable school year.

How Does Burnout Affect Students?

Though the movies might portray the “college experience” as full of frat parties and late-night pizza runs, it’s important to remember that the college years should mainly be dedicated to pursuing studies and expanding knowledge. Professors’ teaching styles and requirements vary greatly, but a personal schedule and self-discipline will help prepare students for any university classroom. However, too much strategizing can consume their focus and lead to a detrimental “obsession mode.”

Many college students face challenges that they may not have experienced in high school, such as anxiety, depression, complex relationship issues, and adjusting to a new environment. These can impact academic performance, causing burnout from the effort to keep up with the courseload. In a society where economic growth and social development can depend on impressive college transcripts and professional connections, meeting high academic demands is often a stressful experience for students. This stress can lead to increased levels of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion, as well as cynical or detached attitudes toward others.

What Are the Warning Signs?

Understanding burnout requires a person to recognize the early symptoms before they become too overwhelming. Academic burnout usually causes students to feel swamped with exhaustion, which can result in low productivity levels and difficulty balancing responsibilities. Warning signs include:

  • Loss of interest in regular hobbies outside of classwork
  • Frequent excuses to avoid social events
  • Lack of energy and motivation
  •  Declining grades
  • Increased levels of anxiety

How Can You Prevent It?

Burnout is not a permanent condition, though it can become more prevalent during peak academic periods such as midterms or final exam season. However, students can implement a variety of strategies to balance intense study hours with time for recreational and social activities. Here are a few ideas to suggest to the students you know:

  1. Recognize how stress is affecting your mind and body. If you’re having trouble sleeping, concentrating or having a conversation without thinking about your schoolwork, you might be experiencing burnout. Listen to your body and learn to recognize what it needs. 
  2. Know when to say no. If you volunteer to be leader of every group project and take on more work than you can handle to impress professors, step back. Give your best effort to only a few projects rather than overextending yourself.
  3. Designate breaks in your schedule. Don’t keep your nose in a book from sunrise to sunset. Take some time to engage in social activities between study sessions, or walk away from your workstation for a few minutes every hour.
  4. Unplug at the right time. Checking email every five minutes can take a toll on your energy level. When you take breaks, set aside your phone and laptop.
  5. Embrace the to-do list. A tangible list with items to physically cross off can provide a great sense of accomplishment. Obligations that feel mentally overwhelming may seem more doable when they’re on paper.
  6. Surround yourself with uplifting people. A strong support system is vital when the demands of academia become too much. Whether it’s a solid group of friends, a family member or a counselor, having someone to listen can lighten the load of a daunting semester.
  7. Treat your body with care. Sleep, proper nutrition and physical health are crucial in healing an overwhelmed body and mind. While it may seem unavoidable to pull an all-nighter fueled by energy drinks and protein bars, try to prioritize your health instead.

Burnout may start in the classroom, but it often carries over to students’ lives after college. The good news is, it can be prevented and treated. Inform yourself of the warning signs, and promote healthy coping mechanisms to help equip students for academic, personal and professional success.

Author bio: Dr. Tamika Haynes is CEO, operator, and founder of Scholars Professional Editing Group LLC, managing high-level teams while collaborating cross-functionally in the continued pursuit of building a vision for success. As a seasoned mentor, Dr. Haynes understands the inescapable challenges, rigor, and intricacies of the endless cycle of revisions, committee changes, ambiguous feedback, increasing student loan debt, and countless sleepless nights while managing the demands of life, family, and work. Out of the core of her frustrations and challenges, Dr. Haynes birthed a passionate mission to assist and fully equip doctoral candidates with knowledge on how to write a scholarly dissertation and navigate to the finish line successfully.

Evaluating What Really Matters on a College Campus

Judging the Financial Aid Office

Campus visits are a critical part of the college search process. But it is important to know what parts of a campus to evaluate more closely and what parts of a campus to smile at and move on. One crucial, and often missed, campus office that hold a profound influence on a student’s college experience is the financial aid office. 9 out of 10 students will interact with the financial aid staff at some point in their college career, and navigating these experiences effectively becomes critical to a student’s ultimate college success. Yet, no financial aid office is like another.

After examining the responses from thousands of college student interviews (courtesy of Induck College Impressions), several themes emerge that provide some key insights into the ways to identify differences in financial aid offices and the ways in which these offices can be more or less alike.

A Good Financial Aid Office has Great People Skills

In almost every case, the personal interactions between students and the people in their college or university financial aid office matter immensely. When students had positive things to say about their financial aid office, they often referenced the speed and clarity of those interactions. One student described his positive experience like this:

“Dealing with money and payments is always a pain, but the office is relatively easy to get through. You usually get your questions answered relatively quickly and if there’s any uncertainty you can call during business hours.”

Another student described a similar experience with the financial aid office at her college. In addition, she pointed out how her interactions didn’t just answer questions, but “dispelled fears” about what might happen as a result of more complex financial aid issues.

“I’m pretty reliant on financial aid. Generally, I found the office to be really helpful in answering questions and dispelling fears I had. If your balance isn’t paid, you can’t apply for classes or if it’s between semesters you won’t be allowed to move back in, which is a really scary situation to be in if your balance isn’t what it needs to be. I have a lot of external scholarships that I have to get signed by the school and that’s always a super easy process. A lot of the time I have a balance that isn’t paid, but there are scholarships that pay it that the school needs to sign, so I’ve been able to work through that easily here.”

Finally, other students pointed to the way that their financial aid office interactions included actions and solutions taken by that office to alleviate financial problems stemming from financial need.

“They’ve been generally pretty helpful. When I was coming into the school and told them I couldn’t make it work they helped me with an additional kind of grant aid so that I would be able to attend.”

“Yes, I do [use financial aid], and I feel that they are fairly accommodating. The cost was a big issue when coming here, so they were able to help me with tuition.”

Overall, these positive experiences with financial aid offices suggest a few ways that counselors can help students and families assess the financial aid office at a specific college or university. First, is the office staff friendly and welcoming? When trying to sort through a stressful financial issue, working with an office that builds trust and calms your stress matters a lot. Second, do they work with students to address potential issues before those issues arise, or is that office primarily about setting rules and applying penalties when those rules are broken? No matter how prepared a student might be, it is almost certain that some financial aid issue will catch them by surprise. A financial aid office that helps students and families see around the next corner can be invaluable. And third, does the financial aid office have the means to assist students financially when emergency needs arise? Higher education institutions are increasingly realizing the importance of emergency funds or other forms of supplemental assistance. Schools that have already invested in these kinds of programs make a clear statement about their priorities. Encourage your students and families to ask these questions when visiting a campus virtually or in person to find out more about the capabilities and philosophy of a particular school’s financial aid office.

Not All Financial Aid Offices are Well Designed

But not all student experiences with financial aid offices are positive – sadly, far from it. These survey responses provided an important snapshot of the things that a counselor can guide students and families to look out for when considering college options.

First, there are times during the school year when there will be inevitable swells in traffic at the financial aid office. And although this might result in longer than usual wait times, some institutions develop smart ways to adapt to minimize those delays so that when they occur, students understand that they are not the norm.

“Right now, they’re being a little slow because it’s a busy season. I’m waiting for them to get back to me and they’re taking a little longer than expected, but they’re usually pretty good.”

However, when these experiences become typical, student expectations can drop and their opinion of the financial aid office shifts negatively. In these instances, this student’s response cut to the chase.

“It’s not good. If you try to email them, they might respond sometimes. Most of the time you have to go there in person and try to get your situation sorted out. Most of the times when you have to sort it out it’s at the beginning of the semester and during that time the office is usually really crowded. You might have to go there multiple times to get your situation sorted out. It is one of the downsides of the school because it just takes a while to get things done.”

The inability to adapt to increased student traffic at times of the year that are entirely predictable might also suggest a deeper issue in the way that an institution’s financial aid office helps students navigate a complex and often convoluted system. Unlike the financial aid office that ensures that students know what is coming before it arrives, some financial aid offices leave it on the students to read the fine print.

“I’m on a lot of financial aid. The financial aid office is bad about telling people when deadlines are. I guess that’s on the students to figure out, but they also could give some reminders. (College) gives out really good financial aid.”

In many cases, this approach is most clearly seen in the way that a financial aid office organizes and maintains its web page. Often, these sites are little more than a parking lot for information or a list of links where key information might be located.  This “parking lot” approach presumes that students know what to do with each piece of information.  Unfortunately, that is exactly the info that students need most.

“Yes, I do use financial aid. I’ve had ups and downs with the financial aid office. When you have complicated situations, they’re really good with helping you understand your financial aid and why you got a particular scholarship. I just wish the financial aid website was better with giving information instead of having to call them.”

Unfortunately, in some instances students find going to the financial aid office a difficult experience. The two responses below portray two situations where students have become reluctant, or worse, to go to the financial aid office – the very place where they have to go to resolve financial problems when they arise.

“Financial aid depends on which person you get. Sometimes they will be nice and respectful but if you don’t get a person like that, they will have an attitude and act like you’re doing something to them when you’re not.”

“Personally, because I’m a person of color, I don’t really like the financial aid office because they’re kind of rude. We’ve expressed this to staff and residence life because they need to be more welcoming. Because I’m a person who has a scholarship, I don’t always have to go to them, so I avoid that.”

Finally, institutional financial aid policy can actually undermine a student’s efforts to improve their financial situation and complete college with less debt. Most common is the act of “folding in” external scholarship money. Folding external scholarship money into a student’s financial aid package means that if a student wins additional scholarship money from a private source, the institution will reduce that student’s institutional financial aid by the same amount so that the student is charged the same amount as before. Institutions that engage in this practice ultimately hurt many students who are struggling financially to make college work.

“I think my biggest complaint about (my college’s) financial aid is when I got an additional scholarship my third year they reduced the amount of money they were giving me so that I was paying the same amount for the next year.”

This practice is the clearest indication that an institution’s policies are not aligned with the student’s best interest.  Unfortunately, this philosophy of financial aid packaging is common.  If you only ask one question of a college’s financial aid office during your college search, make sure you know what they do when you earn a private scholarship.

What can we conclude from this brief overview of student responses regarding financial aid offices? First, many financial aid offices are composed of hard working and wonderful staff members who put substantial effort into helping students stay enrolled and avoid financial trouble. Students and families can ask the questions outlined above to identify the financial aid offices that will be most supportive and helpful. Second, the warning signs of a financial aid office that is less supportive and helpful start with evidence of long wait times during the busiest times of the year without any clear effort to resolve this overload. The last thing a student needs is a seemingly endless waiting room experience that can cause conflict with class schedules and other important learning events. Third, this sense of disorganization might reflect a deeper philosophy that prioritizes waiting for students with problems to show up over proactively helping students prepare to navigate financial aid systems, rules, and procedures. Financial aid offices that tend to wait for students to show up are often more likely to leave students feeling disrespected and put down.

Counselors can help students and families to make the most of their campus visits by providing a list of specific offices that will most impact the student’s experience on that campus.  Financial aid can be a critical turning point in helping students succeed in college or adding to their anxiety about how they will ultimately pay for college.  By focusing on the way that a financial aid office interacts with students, handles the ebb and flow of traffic at different times of the year, and takes a proactive or reactive approach to supporting student, counselors can make a crucial difference in helping students and families assess an important part of a college campus.

Mark Salisbury, Ph.D., spent 25 years in higher education as a coach, admissions counselor, instructor, and academic dean.  His research on college students and organizational design has been featured on NPR and WNYC and has been published in the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed.  Dr. Salisbury launched TuitionFit ( in 2018 to empower the public to create college price transparency through crowdsourcing and sharing information.

Creating a Senior Packet

One of the things you can do to help your Seniors is to create a Senior Packet for them. This can be their go to document that includes everything they will need this year to get ready to pursue that next step in life.

Erika Levet, a Counselor at Baton Rouge Magnet High School in Louisiana, has created a great Senior Packet for her students that can be used as a template on what you should include in your schools packet.

Here is a Table of Contents showing what is included in their packet:

Senior Counselor Information – Should include all contact information for each Counselor in the school and which students they work with (Last Names A-D, Freshman & Sophomores, etc.)

Senior FYI – General information about requirements they will need to fulfill in order to graduate

Dates to Remember – Holidays, Test Dates, Prom, Graduate Date, etc.

Graduation Requirements/Transcript Audit Form – Credits needed to graduate and a grid showing classes needed to fulfill requirements

SCOIR – Information about their College Guidance Management System

Selecting a College – Some guidelines for selecting target schools, safety schools and reach schools

College Visits – Some tips and ideas for selecting Colleges to visit

ACT/SAT Test Dates & Deadlines – Might also consider listing some test prep companies they can choose from for added help

Scholarships – List of some scholarship sites and list of local scholarships available specifically to students from your High School as well as broader national scholarships. Include direct URL links

Scholarship Request Information & Request Form – Guidelines and the blank form to submit to teacher and counselor

College Visits – Guidelines and list of any upcoming visits as well as a link to the online calendar where visits will be updated regularly

Common App – Link to the common app and an overview

Coalition for College – Similar to common app with link and an overview

State Student Hub if any offered in your state specifically

FAFSA – Overview with a direct link to the application

Teacher Recommendations – Guidelines for how the student should approach asking for Teacher Recommendations with deadlines/dates

References – Links to references such as The College Board, ACT, etc.

This is a great document to put together and when completed it is recommended to include it online on your Guidance page on the school’s website.

Here is a link to Baton Rouge Magnet High School’s excellent example –

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