How Many Colleges Should Seniors Apply To?

People tend to like answers with hard-and-fast numbers, but there really isn’t one to answer this application question. To satisfy that craving, though, I’ll say that it’s generally advised that seniors have 5-8 applications to submit to colleges.


Remember that the number of colleges your teen applies to isn’t the important thing – it’s making sure that the colleges are a good fit that really matters, and that the list is very well-balanced overall.

Let’s start there

The College List – Finding the Right Balance

The goal is to be sure that your teen is applying to a mix of colleges across three main categories:

“Safety” schools

These are colleges that your teen will have no problem getting into based on academic standings. Your teen is above average as compared to other students who are admitted. Consider applying to 1-2 safety schools.“Range” schools

These are colleges that are in the same range academically and typically admit students with similar standings. Think of your teen as being average academically as compared to other freshmen at the school. Consider applying to 2-4 range schools.

“Reach” schools

These are colleges that will be more of a challenge to get into with your teen’s qualifications, but they’re not entirely out of reach. Your student’s academic profile is in the bottom 25% of those who are admitted. Consider applying to 1-2 reach schools.

Know Where You Stand

Your teen needs to take a look at their own academic profile, which includes GPA, class rank, and ACT or SAT scores.

Once you have that, head over to a site like College Board’s BigFuture to check out what specific colleges post about what they’re looking for statistics-wise within these markers. This will help determine whether the college is a safety, range or reach school by how they measure up to the average admitted student.Remember that it’s not too late for your teen to upgrade their standings in comparison to others at these colleges! Things like getting tutoring, enrolling in a test prep program, and getting deeper into extracurriculars can help make them more marketable for the schools she’s considering.

Let’s continue the discussion! Thoughts on this post? Please leave a comment below!

What Colleges Actually Mean By “Holistic Review”

Let’s talk about holistic review.

My guess is that you’ve already seen these words on a few college applications or websites. And while you might get the gist of what it means, you’re not alone if you’ve been wondering what “holistic review” is and how it relates to your student.Basically, holistic review is when a school makes a decision about a student based on their application as a whole, rather than solely on their academic background.

While grades and test scores still matter (a lot), the applicant pool is increasingly competitive each year. Because of this competition, it’s no longer enough for colleges to base their admissions process solely on a student’s academic achievements.

Although this might seem overwhelming at first, this is really great news for students! In addition to their grades, students can really focus on highlighting their interests/extracurriculars/volunteer work/jobs/special circumstances/etc and it will all factor into the admissions decision!Translation: You can stand out to admissions offices by telling them what makes you, you!

Sounds way easier than stressing about whether your academic background will be enough to get you through, right?

So what’s considered in this holistic review process? Here’s a general list of things that can be considered, but really just about anything can factor in!

  • Class Rank
  • Academic Background/GPA
  • Test Scores (SAT/ACT)
  • Achievements, Awards, Honors Orgs
  • Special Accomplishments, Work, and Service (Both in and outside of your high school!)
  • Essays (This is where you can REALLY show them your personality. Letting them get to know you and hear your voice in your essays is huge!)
  • Special Circumstances (This is really helpful if you’ve experienced anything that might have affected your academic performance, including socioeconomic status, a single parent home, family responsibilities, overcoming adversity, cultural background, race and ethnicity, language spoken in the your home, health-related issues for you or your family, learning differences, and the list goes on!)
  • Recommendations (These typically aren’t required, but it doesn’t hurt to have a few from your teachers, organization leaders, or other reputable leaders who can vouch for you as a person/student/worker/etc.)
  • Competitiveness of Your Major (Don’t forget to take into account the popularity of your major at each school you’re applying for as this can seriously impact the competition between applicants.)

That’s A LOT of information that goes into an admissions decision.

I know it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or even discouraged by everything on this list, but it’s important to remember that holistic review can only benefit your student!

The purpose is to cover as much ground as possible within a short application – kind of like a first date.

And, very much like a first date, it’s just as important to relax and be yourself as it is to put your best foot forward.

Let’s continue the discussion! What are your thoughts on holistic review? Please leave a comment below!

What Is Summer Melt?

It’s summer!!

It’s finally heating up in most places and you might feel like you’re figuratively melting. But did you know that ”summer melt” means something very different for colleges?Each year, colleges require students to submit an enrollment deposit to enroll as freshmen in the fall (usually by May 1, but this year June 1 for some colleges). After that deposit deadline passes, colleges count up the number of deposits they have and decide whether they need more students to fill their freshman class. If so, this may lead them to admit students who are on their waitlist!

Although those newly admitted students probably have already sent deposits to other colleges, they’ll now tell the other colleges that they’re no longer going to attend. Which leaves that college with an empty seat, and so on and so forth. That’s summer melt for colleges – students, who had originally sent their deposit, deciding later to withdraw their enrollment and causing the college to fall short of their freshman class goals.This is especially important to keep in mind right now as the pandemic has created anxiety of all kinds, including for enrollment managers. Predictions of students deferring college enrollment or staying closer to home has admission directors eyeing their waitlists. Counselors are anticipating students may hear from more colleges about waitlists and other offers even late into the summer. 

What does summer melt mean for you?

Well, it means that if you were on the waitlist at a school, you might get admitted. And although unlikely, it’s possible that you could get a revised financial aid package from a school that admitted you.

This may prompt you to rethink your enrollment choice. However, unless it’s an admission offer from your dream college or a truly unbeatable scholarship award, you are probably better off sticking with your original deposit. Remember that you spent a lot of time weighing your options when you made that initial decision.Don’t second guess yourself unless there is a very compelling reason! Stick with what your gut tells you and look forward to freshman year with excitement.

Let’s continue the discussion! Thoughts on this post? Please leave a comment below!

3 Ways to Help your Teen with College Planning

You’ve spent years volunteering in the classroom, cheering from the sidelines at baseball games, and moving between ballet lessons and doctor visits. So it’s tough to know just how much (or how little) you should be helping your high schooler plan for college. This is the first real adult decision your kid will ever make…and it’s kind of a big deal.

No wonder you’ve got that eye twitch.

There’s an optimal balance for your role in the process. Here’s how you can help support your teen in the most impactful ways possible, without being an overbearing helicopter parent:

  1. Assist with the overall process.

The college admissions process is definitely not intuitive. Your teen doesn’t know what they don’t know, but you can help with the structure needed for effective planning. And you know what? You don’t know what you don’t know, either. Make sure you sign up for my email list and check out the College Planning Timeline checklist for help with that.

  1. Help with calendars and deadline tracking.

Unless your teen is crazy-organized and manages time uncommonly well, it’ll be helpful for you to aid in keeping track of the myriad of dates, schedules and deadlines needed for admissions testing, application submission and all of the little things in between. Here are a few things you should help keep track of:

  • The standardized testing plan (SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests, AP exams) and any preparation needed
  • Meetings with the guidance counselor
  • Dates for college visits and campus tours
  • College application deadlines

Check out my 4 Tips for Staying Organized with College Planning post for more support with tracking all of this!

  1. Act as a coach, not a player.

While you’re going to be quite involved in this process, remember that you’re not applying to college – your child is. You should offer guidance, direction and encouragement, but you definitely shouldn’t be directly playing the game. This is, ultimately, your teenager’s admissions process and school choice, no matter how much your legacy at UC Davis might appeal to the admissions officers.Remember to listen to your teen. Hear what they want from the college experience and offer support to help them get to those goals. Keep their excitement up for what’s to come.

And most importantly – don’t panic! The college admissions process is a stressful time for your teen and adding more pressure on top of that would be detrimental. Know that, as long as your teen has a well-balanced list of colleges to apply to, they will get into a college that will be a good fit for them.

The real world is filled with deadlines, complicated forms, scary choices. Know where to draw the line with admissions, and let this be your teen’s first big win!

Not so easy balancing this, is it? How are you involved in college planning with your high schooler? Leave a comment below!

3 Ways to Get Attention from the High School Guidance Counselor

If I’ve learned anything in the past from the families I’ve worked with for college planning, it’s that high school guidance counselors are busy. REALLY busy – and it’s no wonder: according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the national ratio of students to school counselors is 470:1.

Say WHAT?!!

Considering they also serve as psychological counselors, administrative support, arrange for student testing, and write hundreds of recommendation letters for students per year (a requirement for admissions to many colleges), it makes sense that students really have to work hard to get actual one-on-one college counseling at many schools.

Guidance counselors can really be a valuable resource for making the right decisions about college. So, how can you be sure your teen gets the help he or she needs?

Be the squeaky wheel.

Most students don’t take the initiative to set up an appointment with their counselor. Your teen should initiate a meeting, and then a follow up meeting, and another follow up meeting, and another – they should continue to pursue the relationship throughout their high school career. So many students fall through the cracks, especially at larger public schools; don’t let that happen! Once your teen shows this initiative, the counselor will take notice and will form a solid relationship from the start.


Arrange for a college counseling meeting EARLY.

Freshman year is not too soon for your teen to set up a meeting with the counselor! Planning for the next four years and getting some perspective on which courses to take, scholarship opportunities, careers and majors to consider, etc. will help your student to get headed in the right direction from day one.

Get involved, Mom – Arrange for yearly meetings with the counselor yourself.

When the counselor knows the parent is involved, it’s serious business! This allows your teen to receive even more advice and support. Go to meetings armed with questions.

Guidance counselors are not the only resource for students, of course. Your teenager should be doing research about colleges, internships, courses, scholarships, etc. on their own as well. College life is coming soon – best to prepare and practice now for the independence that will be there later!

Has your teen met with the guidance counselor at school yet? How has the counselor helped? Leave a comment below!

4 Tips for Staying Organized with College Planning

There’s a ridiculous amount of things to keep track of when you’re planning for college: testing timelines, college application requirements for each school, SAT/ACT registration deadlines, application deadlines, financial aid deadlines… (There are a million deadlines – I could go on for days.)

It’s helpful to have a few tools handy to make this unwieldy process a little more…wieldy. And to save at least a few hairs from turning prematurely gray.

1. Buy a crazy big, dry-erase wall calendar to see the entire year at once.

It’ll take a big space on your wall, but it’s an invaluable tool for getting a good perspective on what’s needed before those applications are submitted to colleges and tracking all of those deadlines. I use the At-A-Glance Wall Calendar in my office.

I add lots of things there, and it’s honestly big enough that your whole family could even use it! Get dry erase markers in multiple colors, and then use one color for different categories or for different members of the family. All of the college stuff on mine’s in black, vacations in green, personal to-dos in blue. You get the gist.

2. Have your teen register for a separate email account.

The floodgates will open with emails as soon as your student registers on the College Board website and takes the PSAT, and when you start signing up at different scholarship sites to learn what your teen’s eligible for. Seriously, folks – even Facebook doesn’t send you this many alerts.The best thing you can do is have your high schooler register for a separate email account to be used solely for the college planning process instead of using a personal email. Gmail is a great option because it’s so easy to create an account. Name it something like “” Just don’t forget about it and be sure to keep an eye on it!

3. Create a College Admissions binder.

Use this as a central place to save and file important bits of information, like the following:

  • Awards and honors received
  • Record of  extracurricular activities
  • Usernames and passwords for college applications
  • Brainstorming sheet for essay topics
  • Documents received directly from colleges your child is considering

4. Download mobile apps to help keep things in one place.

Online tools and apps like Evernote and Trello are helpful for organizing and tracking important college planning information and sharing with your teen. Google Drive is still my favorite, though – probably because I use it all the time and it seems to be a little more universal than the other two.

What organizational tips can you share to make the college planning process a little cleaner? Leave a comment below!

Planning for College: Are You Ready, Mom?

Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach eighteen.  – Mark Twain

You can’t argue that it would at least be easier.

As someone who’s been a counselor, a teacher, and a college planning consultant for several years – I feel like I’ve seen it all. But I’m also a mom to three college graduates, which means I’m able to put myself squarely in my clients’ shoes.

Every year, as I coach kids through the college process and I see how stressful it is for them when they are preparing for the ACT/SAT (holy cow…do I know a lot about that!) I’m reminded of how challenging the whole process is.

I think back to how I felt when I was helping my own kids through it and how I wished I could have taken away the stress.I also know from experience how different the dynamic is when you’re working with your own kids. Emotions like anxiety and doubt start creeping in… Testing timelines, college searches, financial planning, empty nesting (gasp!) – you start to wonder if you’re really equipped for all of this.

It’s okay to feel uncertain. I promise you’re not alone in that feeling.

And that’s why I’ve started this blog.

Enjoy the moments, Dream Big and Embrace the Change

CONGRATULATIONS!!! You are the proud parent of a high school student. You and your child have made it through all the challenges those middle school years bring and your child is finally in the home-stretch of their secondary education. But with this big shift, comes big changes. Namely, the world of college prep.

I know you are thinking, “Wait, it was just yesterday that they were born and I was holding them in my arms, rocking and cuddling them. How has time flown by so quickly?” Now they are in this ever-changing, overwhelming part of their lives where getting into college takes over. Over the next few years, you will see your child transform before your eyes.  High school students are on a journey of their own, they are growing up and finding out more about their dreams and goals for the future. They learn to drive, go on their first date, start and making decisions that will direct their future paths. And with each passing year, they become a little more independent.

This is part of the growing up process. But never fear, just because your kid doesn’t need you to make their sandwiches anymore doesn’t mean you can’t still be a super parent! They are going to need your guidance for one of the biggest decisions of their lives: college.

It is during this wonderful time as a parent that you get to make some of the greatest memories, ones which you and your child will cherish forever.  I know what you are thinking, “How am I supposed to do that? College is around the corner, the admission process is competitive, it’s expensive and I want my child to have the best opportunities possible.  What can I do to help them, make sure they are getting the best advice and guidance possible?”


The biggest thing to remember is that you are the passenger on this journey. I understand how difficult that is for us as parents— after-all we have been in the driver’s seat for years.  Having gone through this process, myself with three different children, I get that. But it’s important to understand that letting them make their own decisions is part of their transition into adulthood. We have to remember that our child will be living, eating, studying and attending events on the campus they attend, not us —that is why it is important that they are in the driver’s seat. We need to give them the freedom to veer off what we perceive as the “charted course” and explore their options.


As you read this, it may be difficult to let go of being the one in control. Just remember, as the passenger you get to be the guide, the one who helps them through traffic jams, reads the directions, navigates the rocky terrain, and the one they turn to when the rubber meets the road.

Create A Digital Portfolio:

Admissions counselors want to see that a student has been pursuing their passions since before applying to college. A great way for your child to showcase their pursuits is with a digital portfolio. Work on creating one together! This is a great opportunity for you to help your students archive all the things they are going to do by taking pictures, videos, saving those awards and special projects that you love some much. Help them compile the info into an attractive package that will catch the admissions counselors eye.  Having all this in one place will save you and your teen from the headache of searching and trying to remember it all when it comes time to apply.  Create a digital portfolio where it is all stored and when they are ready it is at their fingertips and you will enjoy going through the memories together.

Find colleges that are close by and take a campus tour. Or if you are taking a family vacation, throw in a college visit.  If your child loves sports or the arts, attend a college event, so they can get a sense of what the programs will be like. This allows your child to begin thinking about the college experience and determine what qualities they want in a university setting. Try visiting a variety of schools and programs — big and small, public and private, so when the time comes they have a base point to go off of. Just remember, these initial visits do not have to be your child’s dream college. Keep it simple and easy for the two of you to enjoy the experience.

Help Them Find Balance:

Teens today have so much pressure to take every AP or Dual credit class available all while being a leader in 20 different organizations. Oh and did I mention that they might start a non-profit, business, research project or internship while they are at it? All of these things are important and help a student build their college application but it can also cause burn-out if they don’t know how to balance it all. Fortunately for them, YOU are your teens biggest advocate and supporter.  If you see them putting so much pressure on themselves it unhealthy or being stressed out all the time, intervene. It’s ok to give them permission to take a break or not be the best at everything. You can even suggest doing something fun and non-academic related together, as a way to blow off steam.