Count Down to College Essays

In just a few months the current class of high school juniors will begin working on college essays, making this an ideal time for self-reflection. This is a good time for students to begin to identify what makes them who they are and what they would like to highlight for the admissions office. The college essay is a tool to complete the student’s narrative and makes a very important contribution to the college application.

Selective colleges want to gain perspective about a student’s writing ability. Since writing is a required skill at the college level, writing proficiency is highly valued and can also be viewed as an indicator of future college success. During what is often a brief review of a student’s college application, the student has an opportunity to capture the attention of the admissions officer through their skillfully crafted essay, proving their prowess.

The essay should also reveal something about the student’s personality. The admissions office deliberately builds their freshman class in an effort to construct their college culture. They would like to know if the student fits in. This is the time for students to reflect on who they are and convey that definition to the admissions office through their essay. The admissions office wants to become acquainted with the student and the student’s high school transcript doesn’t tell them enough. This is the time to highlight what makes the student unique, always focusing on the positive of course, and don't be afraid to get personal!

The college wants students who have something to contribute. Student activists or those involved in service work, for example, can help to build the college’s reputation. These students contribute by creating change on campus and in the community. The essay can be used as a tool to illustrate what the student can give back to the college community.

The task of an admissions officer, or the review committee, is not an easy one during application season. They often lock themselves in a room to read tens of thousands of applications. You can just imagine their frustration over their obligation to read countless unsatisfactory essays. Conversely, you can think about what an appealing diversion the occasional well-written, revealing essay provides. Make sure your essay is one of the good ones.

Some practical advise regarding college essays:

·      Do not write they way you speak. Writing is considered one of the highest forms of communication. The student should attempt to show sophistication in their writing style and avoid slang. Phrases like “freak out” and “messing with each other” are not likely to impress those reading your essay.

·      What you write about is as important as how you write it. If you can convince your reader that you are likable, your essay will serve you well. Weave in a subtle message about your character if possible. If you are respectful, compassionate, hard working, or possess integrity, share that!

·      It may be a good idea to read examples of other college essay but do not try copy the style of the ones you’ve read. Be original. Be yourself.

Perhaps most importantly, help is available to guide you through the entire college process, including your essay. You don’t have to do it alone. Contact CollegeGPS to learn how we can help.




The Important Differences Between ED, EA, and RD.

If you are the parent of a high school junior and want to give your student an opportunity to get into the college of their dreams, it is vitally important that you understand the differences between early action (EA), early decision (ED) and regular decision (RD) and their impact on your student’s chances of acceptance and when you need to start to make it happen.

Early decision (ED) gives students a better chance of acceptance, if the cost of college is not the driving factor in the college selection process. Admit rates can be as much as 2 times higher!  This is a binding agreement that is not right for every family and requires students to have their completed applications in order by the colleges’ set deadlines, which are much earlier that the regular decision deadlines.

Early action (EA) is an option, and possibly a better one, for students who feel uncomfortable with making a commitment to 1 college without knowing their out-of-pocket cost or having a chance to compare offers from other colleges.  It is a good way to show colleges your level of demonstrated interest, which can be a significant factor in gaining acceptance. Applications must be completed by the colleges’ set deadline, which are, again, much earlier than the regular decision deadlines.

Regular decision (RD) is an option for students who did not plan early. They face an ocean of competition. This is a good option for students who haven’t earned their best test scores and might need to schedule another test date, or who haven’t secured their letters of recommendation. They may not have written their college essay or decided where to apply. I think you can see the disadvantages piling up.

Unfortunately, many students and their parents find out far too late that they are at a disadvantage in the college application process.  Waiting limits every family’s options. Give your student the help they need to navigate the final phase of the path toward college. Contact College GPS for a complimentary college meeting or phone call. We're here to help and guide your student through this turbulent time.





My Grown Up Christmas List

As a college planner and the mother of a high school senior, I see the challenges students and families face regarding college every day.  I have lived through the process of trying to inspire and motivate my daughter to take the steps that will ensure her acceptance to her best- fit college.  At times this has been frustrating for both of us.  We have argued.  Both of us have cried.  We have agreed to disagree on several occasions.  Being the parent of a high school senior during the college application phase is not an enviable position.  It is, perhaps, the most stressful and anxious phase of parenting.

My daughter is fortunate that I know the steps required in creating her successful college plan. Most families are not as fortunate and find themselves drowning in a sea of confusion.  The lack of information and support for parents renders them incapable of helping their children navigate one of the most important and most expensive decisions of their lives.  

I shared with a colleague today that without my knowledge of college planning, I would have made the tragic mistakes many families make regarding college selection.  I would have steered my daughter away from colleges having a high cost of attendance because I would have assumed those schools to be out of my financial reach.  As a result, my daughter would have had fewer choices and would have been forced to attend a school I could afford, rather than the school where she would have received the education I want her to have, where she would have experienced success, and she would have graduated in the shortest time possible, having minimal, if any, student loan debt.  My expertise in college planning prevented me from from making those mistakes.  Today I congratulate my daughter on her acceptance to her best-fit and first choice school.  She has worked hard and deserves my recognition.  While we wait for her award package to become finalized, we have reason to believe that her award will cover most of this single mother’s worries.  I am happy for both of us.

The journey my daughter and I have taken together has been challenging.  Having the knowledge that she will soon land safely where we both want her to be gives me peace of mind and is the best Christmas gift I will receive this year.  I wish all of you that same kind of peace this holiday season. 

If you find yourself stressed out and worried about college, getting the help you need will provide peace of mind and is as simple as contacting College GPS: or pick up the phone and call  me (732) 841-5262.  Wishing you all the peace and joy the holiday season brings and have a happy, healthy and prosperous 2016!


Lisa and College GPS








The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success

The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success consists of 81 member colleges: some private, some public, some are even Ivy Leagues.  They share a common goal of making college an attainable goal for low income, underrepresented students by making college more affordable while improving the application process. Their new application will be free and will allow students to apply to many Coalition schools at once. The new application will be available summer 2016. They are also attempting to create a new college planning culture by forcing students and families to rethink their timeline for college planning. Their hope is that students will embrace the process in 9th grade rather than waiting for the fall of their senior year.

 The Virtual College Locker:

 The implementation date for the new virtual college locker is reportedly April 2016.  The virtual college locker can be thought of as an academic Dropbox for students.  It began as a tool of self-reflection for students and has now evolved into a tool for the member universities to evaluate students on a deeper level, looking beyond GPA, test scores and class rank. Students will be able to post writing samples, homework, videos, artwork and anything they can think of to highlight their unique strengths. The Coalition is encouraging guidance counselors to monitor the virtual college lockers.  As you can imagine, they are less than thrilled over the prospect. Students have control over who can see their locker and are encouraged to invite any mentors they may have to give advice about the quality of what they are sharing.  No big red cups allowed here. Members of the Coalition will be looking at the VCLs to illustrate character, capability, intellectual curiosity, and their commitment.  They now claim that they will look exclusively at material that will become part of a student’s application. The VCL was designed to be a collaborative platform for teachers, guidance counselors, students, and even community members.  It is available for students beginning in 9th grade.  This will be one way the Coalition shifts the college planning timeline.

Criteria of Member Colleges and Potential Consequences:

 1.    Acceptance to the Coalition requires member colleges must all have a 70% 6 year graduation rate. This will leave out many public colleges that serve the students they claim to want to help, typically possessing lower graduation rates. 

2.    Private schools must meet 100% of financial need.  If the schools are not need blind, they won’t  have to admit students who need financial aid when funds run short.

3.    Public schools must provide affordable tuition to in-state students. So they don’t have to provide affordable tuition to out-of-state students? Affordable tuition seems like a rather subjective term to me.  When I questioned an admissions officer from Rutgers University, she told me it hasn’t been clearly defined as of yet but that it has something to do with a student’s projected income in relation to the typical amount of student loan debt students usually graduate with.

Further Analysis:

The Coalition hopes to improve the application process and probably should have stopped there. It makes no sense to devise another step that relies on technology, which underserved students will have limited, or no, access to.  It seems likely to me that all other students will benefit and that this new application will create another hurdle for students who would benefit from better guidance and help filing financial aid forms, and college applications.The VCL will create a competitive environment where students with access to technology, proactive parents, and good counselors will shine. Whether we agree with this new application process or not, we will have to follow the procedures set forth by the Coalition if we want our students to attend any of the 81 desirable member colleges.