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I Know it’s Winter but its Time to Think About Summer

Summer provides the best opportunity for students to separate themselves from the pack.

As the number of students applying to colleges continues its upward trajectory, so, too, does the need for students to make an effort to distinguish themselves from their peers.

So how do you get noticed? Doing something meaningful over the summer is one of the most effective ways to have your application stand out. You don’t need to travel the world or cure cancer, but it is important to make sure that whatever experience you choose is substantive.

A new book, first edition, has recently been released that is a treasure trove of 800+ summer opportunities. The Ultimate Summer Program Guide for high school students, by Jennifer Williams Taylor and Joyce Wong is an 823 page hard-copy book that is a comprehensive index of summer college programs across the country.


This is a great time for some self-reflection and to identify potential academic and professional aspirations.

Academic programs: Summer programs at universities are a great way to demonstrate more serious interest in an academic area. These programs are not inexpensive and they won’t typically help a student “get in,” but they often provide very rich life experiences and can help a student test the waters and determine their level of interest in a specific major.

Internships/job shadowing: For parents, this may be a time to lean on friends and family members for an internship, or to support your child’s self-reliance by encouraging them to make calls on their own behalf. Contact human resource departments at companies and organizations of interest. These experiences can be as brief as a few days – or if you make a great impression, it might last throughout the summer and into next year.

Starting a business: The summer is a great time to be an entrepreneur. Figure out what you like to do. Do you have a special skill? Put together a plan, design a Web site, print business cards and hit the pavement. You might be surprised at the support you receive as a young, enterprising student. Even better, collaborate with a friend; half the work, half the investment and twice the fun! The skills you learn working with and for other people are terrific life skills that will serve you well in college and beyond.

Find a job: Colleges appreciate that many students need to work. Working demonstrates maturity, responsibility and often is a great source for a letter of recommendation. Some employers even offer tuition assistance programs for employees.

Community service: Opportunities are usually plentiful, and many scholarships are based on volunteer work within your community. Find a nonprofit that speaks to your interests and see what its needs are.

An added benefit of doing something distinctive this summer is that these experiences will often ignite the spark for creative essays.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte.  Send questions to:;

Tech Tools for Counselors in Elementary & Middle Schools

As part of its 2016 revision, the ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors took special care in researching and providing specific guidelines related to the use and inclusion of technology in the 21st century school counseling office, as they recognized the critical role that technology plays in a counselor’s ability to more effectively communicate, evaluate and assess the learning and engagement of counselees, and to simply have a more extensive repertoire of resources availed to them in their support of student growth and development. While school counselors may believe that the inclusive of technology into their program will distract from the soft skills generally associated with the profession, the following anecdotes from counselors at different levels demonstrate how technology can enhance your program.


Many school counselors present interactive lessons with various grade levels to provide strategies to encourage students to be honest and truthful about sensitive issues such as bullying, rumor spreading, and violence prevention.  An interactive and anonymous way to have students enjoy and feel comfortable participating is by using “Plickers”.  Plickers (Paper Clickers) is a real-time assessment tool that allows educators to poll students without the need for student devices. In order to scan students’ responses, you must install the Plickers mobile App. Plickers is available for free on Google Play Store and the iOS App Store.

Years ago, I imagined sending photos to the parents of our smiling Kindergarten and new students. Now it can easily be done!  This year, when parents sign up for “Remind”, this and so many other gains can occur! Counselors enhance their communication with parents of students who need them most.  Remind is also a free way to send text messages to a group of parents; but their responses are individual and only seen by you!  An instant and effective way to collaborate with families and support students!

Many teachers at the elementary level use “Class Dojo” to create a positive class community and increase the home-school connection. School counselors can also become part of that same class community by checking Dojo points earned by students and groups. By helping these students create classroom goals, they may attain the positive feedback from Dojo input that can be shared with families!

Upper Elementary/Middle

A couple of years ago, I organized a “New Students” group with several new boys who came from a variety of backgrounds. Coming from private schools, an urban setting, cross-country, and even new to America, the common thread was that these sixth graders were trying to find their way through a 600 students per grade level school, a new town, and even a new culture.

In group, we broke down the topics into five main themes: locker tips, navigating the cafeteria, making friends, being organized, and miscellaneous tips (ex: don’t have to change for PE class, but sneakers required). We developed a list of helpful hints in these five areas. Each student then picked one topic to create a comic using StoryboardThat, a free, online storyboard/comic strip maker. It was incredibly easy to navigate, and the students enjoyed making the comics! I then put the comics together so we could share these helpful tips with other new students.

At the Middle School level, I noticed that our students were having a difficult time transitioning from elementary to middle school.  After polling the needs of the students, we drafted an in-person lesson to address the fifth grade.  Study Skills, Behavior, Social Life, the Schedule, and Locker Tips were the main points to cover.  Sixth Grade students worked collaboratively to draft the tips and then practiced their presentation skills to their group.  Following the lessons, I invited students who were comfortable with public speaking/acting to create a movie to be shared online and with future transitioning middle school students.  After receiving permission from teachers and parents, we walked around the hallways and filmed in various locations.  The students even assisted with editing the imovie including music and titles!  This technological tool was shown at Back-to-School Night and was a great hit!  Incorporating the five minute video clip of real middle school students into work presentations or guidance lessons enthused members of the staff, students, and families in the community.

  • Date March 11, 2019

Making the Most of Every College Tour

Here are a few tips for your students on what to look for during a campus visit and how to make their college decision a little easier.

It’s a daunting task trying to decide on the college or university where you should spend the next four years. Everyone always says that “college is the best time of your life.” So how do you make sure that you don’t spend the best time at the wrong school?

One way to make a better choice is to make the most out of your college tour. However, it can be difficult to determine whether a particular campus is the right school for you by a mere two-hour tour. Plus, after a while, all those visits start to blend together, and it can be hard to keep track of each school’s pros and cons. That is why it is important to know what to look for and what to do on each college tour to ensure it is the right fit for you.

Visit on a school day

First off, if possible, schedule a tour on a day that students have classes. You will have to miss a day of high school (such a bummer!), but it’s hard to judge a campus when it is a ghost town. When you go on a school day, you will see different student organizations’ booths set up, the activities students participate in between classes, and even students’ favorite places to study and relax. It’s a lot easier to judge the feel of a school when you get a preview of what a typical school day may look like.

Have lunch in the cafeteria

You should take advantage of the free meal and eat in the cafeteria. This way, you will get to see how the food is and even talk to current students eating there, too. When you are in the cafeteria, ask students what they like and dislike about their school, why they choose to go there, what fun things there are to do on the weekend in town, what opportunities are out there for students inside and outside of the classroom, what the best residence hall is, and what some fun traditions are. It might be nerve-racking asking to eat with college students when you’re still in high school, but most students will be happy to help you out—if not, that’s a red flag. They will be honest and not try to “sell” you on the school. Plus, they’re going to tell you things that the website or brochure may not—for example, what are students’ go-to places on the weekends or the best place to get something to eat late at night.

Go on your own campus tour

After the tour, go look around campus again. If there was something that really interested you on the tour, visit it and spend more time there. For instance, go back to the gym, and ask how many pick-up basketball games there are in a week, or go back to the school’s art exhibit, and find out more about each work and the art program. There is no way you can fully experience the school in a day, but if you take your time and go back through it on your own, you will have a better idea whether it is the proper fit for you.

Be a student for a day

If you have the option, stay the night, and attend a class or two. This can’t be emphasized enough! When you stay in a residence hall, you will truly get an idea of the school’s culture. You will hear what students talk about, go to their typical hangout spots, and see what it’s like to be a student there. When you audit a class or two that interest you, you will have a better understanding of what the classroom dynamics are like, such as whether it’s discussion-based, the types of assignments you will receive, and what questions current students are asking in class.

When it comes time to finally choose a college, it can be overwhelming yet exciting. It will be where you call “home” for the next four years and where you will make lifelong memories. More than that, it will lay the foundation for your personal and intellectual growth. If you make the most of your college tour and carefully weigh your options, choosing the right school for yourself should be easier, and you can rest easy knowing that you will be at the right place.

Interview with Holly Bennetts, President of the Michigan Association for College Admission Counseling

Have your juniors been dreaming about attending the biggest brand name college in your state? Are they considering some of the Ivies, small, liberal arts colleges nearby or far away from home? Do they have the information they need to make an informed choice about where to apply to college?

As you may already know, your students can get a front-row seat to the world of college – with accurate information about admissions – at one of the many National College Fairs throughout the country, sponsored by NACAC. Your students can often attend additional workshops on paying for college, selecting colleges, or how to fill out an application.

I caught up with Holly Bennetts, President of the Michigan Association for College Admission Counseling, to get some best tips for working a college fair so your students can get what they need. Please share these tips with your students.

Why should a student attend the National College Fair?

“College Fairs are an excellent way for students to learn more about schools within a particular state and out of state. It’s great practice to ask questions and interact with college admission staff in a low-risk environment.  Colleges love to speak to prospective students and help them find their post-secondary path.”

What should students do when they arrive at the college fair?  

“Go outside of your comfort zone.  College fairs are a great opportunity to learn about different types of schools and figure out where you belong! Plan to visit 2 to 3 schools from each school type.  That means, visit with a small liberal arts college, visit with a large institution, visit with an in-state school and an out-of-state school and check out a community college. “

What type of questions would you recommend a student ask college reps? 

Ask about financial aid, academic interests and favorite activities. You can start by asking college reps how colleges award scholarships and financial aid.  Typically, the price that is advertised for a college is not what most students pay, so ask what the average net price is for a school.  If you have a specific interest academically, ask about the program.  The most popular major for a student entering college is undecided, so ask colleges how they help students figure out what they want to do.  If you have a favorite activity like MUN, Robotics, Ulitmate Frisbee, ask if the college has a club similar that you can join!  You might also ask what a typical student does on weekends and consider talking about how you can arrange a campus visit to learn more.    

What should your parent do at the college fair?

Parents should sit back and let their students take the lead!  If, as a parent, you want to learn more about a school your child is looking at, check it out online, or ask a question with your student’s permission.  Talk about this with your child ahead of time.  Your student will likely stumble over their words and forget to ask a question or two, but this is an excellent opportunity for them to learn self-advocacy skills.   When I speak with college representatives, few tell me about a great conversation they have had with a parent; most will share about great conversations (even if they are awkward) they have had with a student! 

The college fair can be overwhelming. What should a student do with all the information collected at the college fair to make it useful?

After the fair, go through your materials and look to see if there is a school you would like to learn more about.  Go to the school website and sign up for more information.  If there were colleges you particularly liked ,and you have a contact person from the fair, send a follow-up email thanking them for their time.  When you send the email, make sure you include a greeting, and write your name at the end.   Visit with your school counselor or school college advisor to learn about the application process for the schools you are interested in.

There are so many booths and just a little bit of time. Which ones should a student visit? 

Visit schools that don’t typically come to your high school; use this time to reach outside of who you would normally see.  If you are not sure who comes to your school, ask your school counselor.  This is an excellent time to expand what you know.  Visit schools you have never heard of. With over 4000 schools in the United States, there are bound to be schools that you have never heard of that may be perfect for you.

What are your 3 best tips for making a college fair work for any student?

  1. If you always thought about a big school, pick one or two small school booths to visit. Look at the list of schools participating before you arrive.  Select the schools you definitely want to visit. Look outside the schools you normally would think about.  Pick schools from different size and location categories – you might surprise yourself!
  2. Talk to your counselor before you go to the college fair. Have your questions written down and bring something to take notes.
  3. Follow-up with schools you were interested in by speaking to your school counselor, joining the mailing list on the college website or sending an email to the representative that was there!

About the Author

Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop, a strategic communication and writing services, specializing in teaching writing for college and graduate school admissions, and teaching and writing for businesses and nonprofits. The Wow Method has been used by students to write application essays and resumes; by business owners to create blogs, websites and other communication materials; and by English teachers to improve student writing skills. Wow can even help you write a great poem or short story. If it involves words, Wow can help! Email your questions to

3 Things High School Students Should Think About When Searching for Summer Jobs

3 Things High School Students Should Think About When Searching for Summer Jobs

Spending your summer working is a valuable use of your time. You will make money, friends and contacts that may assist you in the future. You will learn important skills such as time management, money handling, responsibility and how to deal effectively with disgruntled customers. A summer job can also boost your self-esteem, introduce you to a potential future career and help you get into college. Before you run out and take the first job you can find, here are some things to consider when choosing your summer job.

1. The Job You Choose Sends a Message to Colleges.

Simply by listing a particular job on a college application, you are highlighting specific personal attributes, interests and skills. College admission counselors are always impressed by students who have consistently maintained summer jobs because they can infer that these students are responsible, mature and committed to something beyond video games, YouTube, and hanging out with friends. Although all jobs will enhance a college application, students should be conscious that any job they list on their college application sends a message about who they are. Each job suggests a different set of personal attributes, areas of interest and soft and hard skills which will differentiate one applicant from another. An admission counselor may reasonably assume that a student who has spent a summer waiting tables has topnotch interpersonal skills and the ability to multitask. A student who spends the summer coding is likely to be self-reliant with the ability to think logically and abstractly. Working for a charitable organization may demonstrate a student’s values and sense of community. All of these summer jobs bode well for a student’s college application but each sends a distinctly different message about the student. Be aware of the message you want to send and choose your summer job accordingly.

2. The Most Valuable Job is Not Necessarily the One that Pays the Most.

Value your summer job based on the paycheck, but also a means of laying the groundwork for a future career. Although the amount of income a student earns during the summer is important in meeting college and personal expenses, there are other benefits of summer jobs that might prove to be more important and lucrative in the long run. A job which sends a strong message about a student’s skills, interests or values may help the student get into the college of his or her choice. The contacts made at a summer job, whether with the other employees, the manager or owners of the business or the customers, can prove instrumental in creating a network that opens up future job opportunities. For example, an endorsement from a summer employer might lead to an internship during college, which then can lead to a career. The transferable skills one learns or hones at a summer job can also be very important. The ability to handle time pressure and interact with all sorts of people that one might gain in food service or retail will likely be very important as one inevitably encounters similar dynamics in a future career. As you search for a summer job prioritize those jobs that will give you more than just a paycheck.

3. Some Jobs Won’t Hurt Your College Prospects, But They Won’t Help Much Either.

Choose variety over consistency and consider pursuing new opportunities even if a job it readily available at your family’s business or by returning the same job you had last summer. All jobs will add some value to a college application. But, some jobs carry more weight than others. College admission counselors are looking for standout students to fill their classes. Let the jobs listed on your application help them understand how you stand out. Students should avoid repeating the same job summer after summer. A variety of jobs will necessarily expand the student’s range of experience and skills and maximize networking opportunities. Also, seeing the same job listed summer after summer without apparent advancement could lead a college admissions counselor to conclude that the student lacks motivation or is unwilling to seek new challenges. Changing jobs to explore a field of interest or to stretch horizons beyond the familiar will be more impressive to admissions counselors. Although working for Mom or Dad can be a valuable experience, it also can be interpreted in a negative light. Simply put, when Mom hires you, it doesn’t say much about how impressive you were in the interview. It’s easy to get hired at the family business. If you already have the family business on your resume, it’s time to try something new.

The key to getting the most out of a summer job is to think ahead about what the job will do for you aside from providing you with spending money. Go in with eyes open, make an affirmative choice, stretch outside your comfort zone and then bring your best self to the job every day. Don’t think of this experience as “just a summer job.” It is an opportunity that could launch you into future successes.

Michelle McAnaney is the founder of  The College Spy, a full service independent educational consulting firm that assists students and families across the US and internationally with the college selection and application process. Prior to founding The College Spy, Michelle was a guidance counselor and educator for more than 15 years, including serving as the Director of Guidance at two high schools, an adjunct college professor and a GED tutor. Michelle holds a master’s degree in school counseling and a bachelor’s degree in human development. She recently completed UC Irvine’s certificate program in educational consulting and is a MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) Certified Practitioner and a NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) Master Practitioner. Michelle visits over 40 colleges each year so that she has first-hand knowledge of the colleges and universities her clients will be considering. You can find her on FacebookTwitterInstagram and LinkedIn.

National Six-Year Completion Rate Reaches Highest Level, 58.3 Percent, Since the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center Began Tracking

The overall national six-year completion rate reached 58.3 percent for the fall 2012 cohort, an increase of 1.5 percentage points from the fall 2011 cohort, according to the newly released National Student Clearinghouse Research Center report, Completing College: A National View of Student Completion Rates – Fall 2012 Cohort. This is the highest percentage rate in the six years that the Research Center has been tracking the data.

This is the third year in a row that the overall completion rate has grown. The comprehensive rate includes both full-time and part-time students attending two-year and four-year institutions combined. The completion rate grew across the board, for all students regardless of gender, race and ethnicity, age, or enrollment intensity.

“Coming on top of last year’s gains, these across-the-board improvements are some of the most encouraging data on student success that we’ve seen in a long time,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director of the Research Center. “Retention and completion rates have increased because students have access to more of the programs, tools and support they need to succeed.”

Six-Year Outcomes for All Students, Students Who Started at Four-Year Institutions, and Students who Started at Two-Year Institutions (N=2,264,759)

The completion rate for two-year starters increased 1.7 percentage points to 39.4 percent whereas the rate for four-year starters increased 1.1 percentage points to 67.8 percent. The longitudinal trend for four-year publics was especially noteworthy, where there was a 5 percentage point increase in overall completion rate, from 60.6 percent for the 2006 cohort to 65.7 percent for the 2012 cohort.

Some of the most notable increases were observed in the rate for black and Hispanic students who started at four-year public institutions. The total completion rate increased by 1.6 percentage points to 47.6 percent for black students, and 1.7 percentage points to 57.4 percent for Hispanic students. These increases surpassed the growth observed for Asian and white students, whose completion rate grew approximately one percentage point from the fall 2011 to fall 2012 cohort. Although these gains are promising, Asian and white students continue to graduate at much higher rates (76.7 percent and 72.1 percent, respectively) than black and Hispanic students.

Similar gains were observed for black students who started at two-year public institutions. Although black students continue to have the lowest two-year completion rate at 27.5 percent, their overall completion rate grew by 1.6 percentage points. The increase in the completion rate for Hispanic students who started at two-year public institutions was smaller, less than 1 percentage point (35.7 percent).

“The rise in completion rates for black and Hispanic students is encouraging,” said Lorelle Espinosa, vice president for research at the American Council on Education. “To close equity gaps, it will continue to be important to focus attention on strengthening those institutions that enroll the most black and Hispanic students, including the nation’s minority serving institutions.”

Six-Year Outcomes by Race and Ethnicity (N=1,661,399)

Unlike most federal and state numbers, this comprehensive completion rate includes all students: full-time and part-time, of all ages, at two-year, four-year, public and private institutions, as well as those who graduated after transferring to a new college or university. The National Student Clearinghouse data covers 96.8 percent of college enrollments across all postsecondary institutions nationwide.

Report Highlights

  • The national completion rate for the fall 2012 cohort of first-time post-secondary students is 58 percent.
  • Black and Hispanic student total completion rate increased considerably, to 48 and 57 percent, respectively, for four-year starters.
  • Completions at four-year institutions for students who started at two-year schools rose to 15.8 percent, an increase of 1.1 percentage points

Here is a link to the complete study which is available for download:

NACAC Survey about Community College & Transfer Students

High school counselors generally feel prepared to advise students about community colleges and believe these institutions offer relatively easy application and enrollment processes. However, results of a national survey conducted by NACAC showed that many counselors feel less knowledgeable about transfer policies at area four-year colleges and about comparisons of community colleges to for-profit colleges.

Other key findings include:

Counselor Preparation

  • In general, counselors felt at least “moderately prepared” to advise students about community colleges, and they were the most prepared to discuss the process of applying to/enrolling in community college. However, fewer than 40 percent felt very prepared about important topics such as local community college transfer policies and for-profit college comparisons.
  • Slightly more than half of counselors (55 percent) had received professional development on advising students for community college enrollment in the past three years.


  • A large majority of counselors strongly agreed that community colleges offer relatively easy application and enrollment processes (82 percent), strong vocational/technical programs (72 percent), and cost savings for a bachelor’s degree (80 percent). However, most counselors reported less positive attitudes about the academic rigor of community college coursework and the ease of transfer to four-year colleges.
  • Counselors at public schools were much more likely to strongly agree that community colleges offer rigorous academic coursework when compared to their private school counterparts (42 percent compared to 23 percent).
  • The highest levels of stigma were reported at private, non-parochial schools. Counselors at more than half of private, non-parochial schools indicated that community college transfer was very stigmatized among parents/families (61 percent) and students (53 percent). Nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of survey respondents from private, non-parochial schools reported that community college transfer was very stigmatized among the administration, compared to only 10 percent of private, parochial schools and four percent of public schools.

Download the research brief. 

Five Recommendations on How to Become a Stand Out School Counselor

1. Promote a Safe School Climate

Safe, inclusive, and positive school climates provide students with supports (i.e. social and emotional learning).  How can school counselors do this effectively?

Some suggestions include…

  • Listen. People need to feel heard. Students, parents, teachers, secretaries, even the principals.
  • Assist students in developing social and emotional competencies like self management, resilience, and decision making. 
  • Refer students with complex social, emotional, and behavioral needs for psychological testing, mental health services, and other educational services.
  • Assist your administrator in addressing the root causes of disciplinary incidents;  preventing future disciplinary concerns;  reintegrating students returning from suspensions,alternate schools, or incarceration, and maintaining a safe, inclusive, and positive educational environment. 
  • Involve students and student advocates in maintaining a safe, inclusive, and positive educational environment through such programs as peer mediation or restorative justice.

2.  Get Involved in Staff Development and Training

Some suggestions include…

  • Provide school staff with ongoing training in evidence based techniques such as conflict resolution and de-escalation strategies to decrease classroom disruptions.
  •  Provide cultural awareness training to all school personnel.
  • Train school resource officers in cultural competence, child development, conflict resolution, privacy issues, and mentoring.
  • Train students to become peer helpers to extend your services in the school.

Start a Peer Listening Program in Your School

  • Connect with the other counselors in your district, not just your department. Start a PLC/PLN (Professional Learning Community/Network), meet on a regular basis to discuss common challenges/solutions/ community resources, share ideas, materials and encourage each other. This is beneficial at  every level but even more at the elementary where counselors are often on their own. It takes leadership and initiative to start one and keep it going.
  • Grow as a professional and submit a session proposal to speak at a conference. (Can’t afford to go?  Check out the School Community Counselor Scholarship on the Counseling Geek’s blog!)
  • Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate!!! With teachers, counselors outside your school, community members, students. Also consider moving up to admin, counselors have great insight that is missing in administration.
  • You see a need and you fill it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a counseling group, a parent workshop, a newsletter home, or a holiday help program.

3.  Become a Advocate for Yourself and All Students

Some suggestions include…

  • Provide clear, appropriate, and consistent expectations for all students, not just a few.
  • Advocate for providing positive interventions in the school discipline policy over student removal.
  • Promote equity and continuous improvement among the student body.
  • Be consistent in collecting data to prove your interventions are working.
  • Collect data to track progress in creating and maintaining a safe and inclusive educational environment.
  • Recognize that it is the best profession in the world and you are fortunate to serve students everyday sometimes never knowing the impact you have made. You have the opportunity every single day to make a difference in the life of a child. It doesn’t get any better than that.
  • Talk to local politicians about what your role looks like.
  • Get involved in social media PLNs (twitter is a great place to start, look up #scchat #hscchat #escchat
  • Get involved in your local branch of your association and your state association.
  • Find your “why”! There are going to be horrible, tough days you may even feel like quitting but know your why will make those hard days manageable! Plus give you a goal to work towards. Have a celebration folder for the rough days too! Self-care is essential. Plan it into your life! We can only help others if we help ourselves first! We must put the oxygen mask on us before others!!
  • Take care of yourself so you can be “present” with your students and help them navigate their mental health.
  • Get out of your office. Walk the halls at lunch. Get to know the kids and make yourself visible and approachable.

4.  Teach Students Needed Skills for Success in Life  (2018 resources added here)

Some suggestions include…

  • Consider teaching your students survival skills needed for the 21st Century.  Consider such events as an Adulting Day Event.  Want to know more?  Check out my post on creating an Adulting Day Event.

Create Your Own Adulting Day Event

Career and Technical Letter of Intent Signing Day

Many student are not recognized at award nights, college signing days, or honor ceremonies. Consider creating a Career and Technical Letter-of-Intent Signing Day.” At this ceremony, students and company representatives sign letters of intent regarding conditions of the students’ employment, training, and compensation. 


College Signing Day

For students who want to move to a college or university, consider a College Signing Day Event. Follow this guide to create your own College Signing Day to celebrate future success.

College Decision Day Ideas

5.  Meet Regularly With Your Administration and Offer Your Expertise and Support 

Some suggestions include…

  • Make an effort to get to know your principal as a person.
  • Give support to your principal on decisions he or she makes.  The support you give will come back your way!
  • Build trust by keeping your word, being student-centered, and keeping your principal informed. 

See more about your relationship with your principal…it’s pretty important.
You Matter in Your School: Evaluating the Counselor-Principal Relationship

This post was made by Cynthia Morton on her great blog – For High School Counselors. Check it out at –

How to Appeal a Financial Aid Letter

How do you appeal a financial aid letter?

Should you appeal a financial aid award?

What kind of college awards can you appeal?

I directed these financial aid questions to Mark Kantrowitz, a nationally recognized financial aid expert, who has just published a book entitled, How to Appeal for More Financial Aid Awards. Mark is publisher and VP of research at, who has been quoted in roughly 10,000 media articles.

I was pleased to have an opportunity to conduct a Q&A with him on appealing financial aid awards. Here are my questions and his answers:

Are parents underutilizing the ability to appeal financial aid awards?

Many parents think of the financial aid award letter as a done deal, with no opportunity for an appeal. Others think they can bluff their way to a better deal using their skill at bargaining. Neither is correct.

Only about one percent of students receive adjustments to their financial aid packages because not enough families appeal for more financial aid, and of those that do, many approach the process incorrectly.

Successfully appealing for more financial aid requires an understanding of the financial aid process. College financial aid administrators have the authority to make adjustments to the data elements on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or to the cost of attendance when there are special circumstances that affect the family’s ability to pay and their cash flow.

Special circumstances include financial circumstances that have changed since the year upon which the FAFSA is based and anything that differentiates the family from the typical family.

Financial aid administrators are not mind readers. They will not know about a change in income or unusual expenses unless you tell them. But, if you do tell them, they can make adjustments that can lead to a better financial aid package.

A key benefit of the switch from prior-year income to prior-prior year income on the FAFSA is that it sensitized families to changes in income, causing more of them to appeal.

That one-percent figure is discouraging! How did you get it?

There have been some surveys of financial aid administrators and students that suggest a 1% rate (albeit higher at higher cost colleges). I also analyzed data from the federal National Postsecondary Student Aid Study.

Very selective private institutions often claim a very high appeal and professional judgment rate. While I believe that they are higher, due to the higher cost, the numbers I’ve heard are just not believable.

What is the first step parents should take if they want to appeal a financial aid award?

If a family wants to appeal a financial aid award, their first step should be to call the college’s financial aid office to ask about the process.

Some colleges have a form for the family to complete. This form collects information about the most common special circumstances. It helps the college perform a holistic review of the family’s financial circumstances.

Other colleges will ask the family to write a letter to the financial aid office. This letter should summarize the special circumstances and the financial impact of each special circumstance on the family’s ability to pay for college.

The family should also gather documentation of the special circumstances. The best documentation is independent, third party documentation that provides information about the special circumstance and the financial impact on the family. Bills, receipts, and letters from people who are familiar with the family’s situation are especially helpful. The appeals process is driven by documentation.

Who should parents contact? The financial aid office or the admission office?

The financial aid office is responsible for need-based financial aid. Thus, an appeal based on the family’s inability to pay should be directed to the financial aid office.

Merit scholarships are usually managed by the admissions office.

What are the essential elements of a successful financial aid appeal?

A financial aid appeal is more likely to be successful when the special circumstances are due to factors beyond the family’s control. One-time events that are not reflective of the family’s ability to pay during the award year are also likely to result in a successful appeal.

The success or failure of a financial aid appeal depends on the special circumstances and the documentation. The purpose of the appeal is to inform the college financial aid administrator about financial circumstances of which they were not aware. The appeals process is based on information provided by the family. If you provide the financial aid administrator with information about financial circumstances that affect your ability to pay for college, you are more likely to have a successful outcome.

If the family is honest and the special circumstances genuinely affect the family’s ability to pay for college, the college financial aid administrator will try to find a way to help the family, even if the special circumstance is one for which the college does not normally make an adjustment.

With most schools not meeting the full demonstrated financial need of a student, what will prompt a school to offer more assistance?

The financial aid appeals process is formulaic. If special circumstances affect the family’s ability to pay, the college can make adjustments to the data elements that are used by the financial aid formula to calculate the expected family contribution (EFC). The EFC is then used to calculate the family’s demonstrated financial need. The financial aid package is then based on the demonstrated financial need.

A change in the inputs leads to a change in the outputs.

A college that does not meet the student’s full demonstrated financial need will still leave the family with unmet need. But, an increase in demonstrated financial need will lead to an increase in financial aid. The unmet need may therefore be smaller than it was before the adjustment.

With preferential packaging a reality – students whom colleges want receive better financial aid – will the decision be heavily colored by how academically attractive a student is?

The decision to make an adjustment does not depend on the student’s academic performance, nor does the amount of need-based financial aid.

The amount of financial aid is based on the student’s demonstrated financial need. A successful financial aid appeal will lead to an increase in the amount of financial aid.

How the financial aid is allocated among the different types of aid, such as grants and scholarships, student employment and student loans, will depend on the college’s packaging philosophy. Depending on the college, an increase in financial need might lead to an increase in grants or an increase in student loans or student employment, or a mix.

Generally, a college’s packaging philosophy has a baseline approach to allocating funding among the different types of financial aid. Preferential packaging may tweak the amount of gift aid relative to this baseline.

Who makes the ultimate decision about more financial aid? The financial aid office, the admission office or a combination?

Congress delegated the authority to make adjustments to the FAFSA and the annual cost of attendance to the college’s financial aid administrator. Neither the admissions office, the college president nor the U.S. Department of Education can override the decision of the college financial aid administrator. There is no appeal beyond the college financial aid administrator. The college financial aid administrator is the final authority with regard to need-based financial aid.

With many schools struggling to fill their freshmen slots, how would you advise appealing a merit scholarships award?

Decisions regarding merit aid may fall within the purview of the admissions office. But, often these decisions are formulaic, even automated, with very little discretion. The admissions office might be able to award merit aid to a student who fell short of the standards for merit aid, but subsequently improved their academic performance. But, unless there’s a spectacular development, like the student wins a prestigious award, the admissions office is unlikely to pull much additional money out of a hat.

So, the best approach to appealing for more merit aid is to let the college admissions office know if the college is genuinely your first choice and to provide the admissions office with information about any new developments that affect the student’s desirability. Also, provide the admissions office with information about colleges of similar quality with which the college competes for students and which have offered you a better financial aid package. Arm yourself with information about the typical amount of aid offered by each college. Know your net price at each college. The net price, which is the difference between the college’s annual cost of attendance and the gift aid (grants and scholarships), is the true bottom line cost of each college. And, if you don’t get what you want, be prepared to walk away.

Wouldn’t a major factor in upping merit awards be how a school’s freshmen deposits are doing? Wouldn’t higher competing awards be a major factor in getting a better merit award from a particular college? 

Colleges do a significant amount of budgeting and predictive analytics to understand their numbers. Just as students worry about whether they are going to get in, colleges worry about their yield and summer melt. But, if the college’s numbers are off significantly, they are not going to be able to fix the problem by making big swings in the amount of aid they offer. You might be able to get a few thousand dollars more, but not a few tens of thousands of dollars more. If the college offers too many students too much money, they will blow their budget, which can be just as bad as having too few students enroll.

The college will have done a lot of analysis to understand why their numbers are off. If you are waffling on accepting the offer of admission for one of these reasons, you might get more aid.

If you have a better aid offer from a competing college, it can sometimes lead to a better aid offer from your first choice college. But, the competing college must be of similar quality to your first choice college and one with which your first choice college successfully competes for students.

If the other college is of lower quality, they may be using money to attract academically talented students. If so, your first choice college will not try to match their offer.

If the other college is of much greater quality, you’re likely to end up there, especially if they offer a lower net price.

So, it is only in the middle where you have a chance of getting more financial aid from a college, if you are likely to enroll if they improve the aid offer.

What suggestions do you have for appealing an Early Decision award?

The main reason why a college will release a student from the early decision commitment is if the family is unable to afford the college. So, first appeal for more need-based financial the same as you would with any other college. If the revised financial aid offer is still not enough, explain why to the college.

But, you should really never apply early decision to any college. Early action is ok, but not early decision. Early decision involves a commitment to attend if admitted. This prevents you from shopping around for a more affordable college.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is a nationally recognized higher education expert and financial journalist, who helps high school counselors and parents of teenagers understand how families can find good schools and cut college costs. Lynn, a former Los Angeles Times reporter, shares her knowledge through her blog (, her Amazon bestseller (The College Solution) and her online course for parents and counselors (The College Cost Lab). 

You can sign up here for her newsletter and receive a free guide on finding generous colleges. 

College grads expect to earn $60,000 in their first job—here’s how much they actually make

Each year, enthusiastic university commencement speakers tell students that the hard work they did in college will pay off if they simply continue to persevere.

But a recent survey from LendEdu highlights how some of graduates’ expectations are not being met.

LendEdu analyzed a College Pulse survey of 7,000 college students from nearly 1,000 colleges and universities and found that students, on average, expect to earn $60,000 in their first job out of college.

Most will earn closer to $50,000.

PayScale estimates the typical graduate with zero to five years experience makes $48,400. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) calculates that the preliminary average starting salary for graduates from the class of 2018 is about $50,004.

Each year, enthusiastic university commencement speakers tell students that the hard work they did in college will pay off if they simply continue to persevere.

But a recent survey from LendEdu highlights how some of graduates’ expectations are not being met.

LendEdu analyzed a College Pulse survey of 7,000 college students from nearly 1,000 colleges and universities and found that students, on average, expect to earn $60,000 in their first job out of college.

Most will earn closer to $50,000.

PayScale estimates the typical graduate with zero to five years experience makes $48,400. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) calculates that the preliminary average starting salary for graduates from the class of 2018 is about $50,004.

NACE data also indicates that college graduate starting salaries have recently seen a subtle dip. The organization estimates that the starting salaries of the class of 2018 were actually 2 percent lower than the average starting of the class of 2017 ($51,022).

Despite this statistic, there are many good reasons for college graduates to be optimistic. Wages are finally beginning to budge after years of sluggish growth and recent figures from NACE indicate that employers plan to hire 16.6 percent more members of the Class of 2019 than the previous year’s graduating class. That’s the biggest increase among recent graduates since 2007.

“If you’re graduating from college now, you’ve timed it perfectly,” Brian Kropp, vice president at research firm Gartner tells CNBC Make It. “It’s hard to think of a better labor market that you could go into.”

Historically low unemployment rates are forcing companies to hire more recent graduates. The unemployment rate for all U.S. workers is roughly 3.9 percent, but the unemployment for college educated workers is just 2.1 percent.

Kropp says this dynamic gives recent graduates considerable leverage when interviewing for jobs and negotiating for starting salary.

“The reality is, most companies will not hit goals in terms of the number of campus hires they want to hire this year,” explains Kropp. “What that means is as a campus hire, you have the ability to shop offers more than ever before.”

He continues, “A lot of companies will come in and say ‘This is the standard offer for new campus hires, associates, analysts,’ whatever it may be. But given how competitive the market is, they actually have a lot more flexibility in terms of signing bonus, in terms of bonus potential and so on.”

Additionally, research suggests college still pays off in the long run. In 2018, college graduates earned weekly wages that were 80 percent higher than those of high school graduates. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that Americans with a bachelor’s degree have median weekly earnings of $1,173, compared to just $712 a week for those who have a high school diploma.

The United States Social Security Administration calculates that men with bachelor’s degrees earn roughly $900,000 more over the course of their lifetime than high school graduates, and women with bachelor’s degrees earn $630,000 more.

This story was posted on CNBC by Abigail Hess

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