Bribery Scandals, College Debt, Adversity Score, Oh my!

Posted by Neal Schwartz on May 29, 2019


Right on the heels of the College Bribery Scandal is the SAT Adversity Score.  Just when parents are absorbing the meaning of the college admissions missteps, there appears to be a new concern.


What does an adversity score mean for my kids?

What is it, and should I care?


The College Board recently announced their Environmental Context Dashboard (ECD) as a new admissions tool.  It includes information on a student’s neighborhood and high school.  The College Board quickly pointed out that the term adversity score was coined by the media and not by them.  It was designed to provide admission officers with better context about the student’s school environment.  It also shows how a student’s SAT compares with other students at their school.

For those who typically have a geographic disadvantage due to tough neighborhoods and questionable public schools, the prospect of a “fairer” way to be noticed is fantastic.  If a student scores 400 points higher than their peer group, that is worth something.  If just measured against a national ranking, that same student might be denied and forgotten. 

For those who live in an affluent area with great schools, the initial reaction is surprising.  From the emails I have read from the more entitled communities, there has been an initial backlash. The concern is that coming from an affluent area will result in a low adversity score and hurt a strong student’s admission chances. But parents shouldn’t be so quick to react.

What unsubstantiated conclusions from fear, uncertainty, and doubt, can be drawn?

  1. If it was difficult for top celebrities to get their kids into college without bribing, it must be tough to get the best kids into the better schools.
  2. If my kid has a low adversity score, that will hurt their chances of admission.

I am fortunate to have two perspectives: I work with some of the brightest and most affluent students in a wealthy area, while also volunteering with equally smart and engaging students who live in a tough city environment.  The college essays about travel and fulfilling life experiences, versus those that talk about getting robbed, shot or tending to younger siblings while parents work two jobs, tell very different stories about very different backgrounds.

The students who have demonstrated excellence, academic curiosity, and are likely future college contributors, will still get into the schools that best fit them.  Those who have risen above the norm, with more environmental handicaps, will now be recognized as a potential student, rather than being off the radar screen.

This holistic and realistic view of a student’s standing has merit, and it can benefit both the affluent and the less fortunate. The college I attended had a relatively small diversity factor, but it was big enough for me to meet someone from one of the worst inner-city New York areas at the time (Bedford Stuyvesant).  It was because of Bobby that I was able to learn about myself, while at the same time gain a great friend and some perspective about my place in the world.  Bobby was on the committee for picking the student graduation speakers.  I was far from valedictorian status, but I wound up winning the contest and speaking at our graduation.  I remember my visit to his apartment in the housing project, meeting his mom behind a multitude of locks on the door. This time, I was the white minority target in my walk to and from his apartment. For those moments, I knew what it was like to be different.  I also remember his trips to my house in the burbs and his joy in just hanging out on a lawn chair.  Bobby helped me out, and I will never forget what he did.  Fast forward to my corporate years and the ability to relate, interact and understand customers and peers from around the country and around the world, which was invaluable.  Bobby benefited too.  He became a successful dentist.  For both of us, the college and the community turned out to be a win/win.

In summary, I think the adversity score is a great thing.   It will better prepare students for the world as it is and will continue to be.   

There will be much more written about this adversity wrinkle in the weeks and months ahead.


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Topics: college prep, college process, SAT/ACT, college scandal, college cheating scandal, college bribery scandal, SAT prep, adversity SAT score, operation varsity blues, environmental context dashboard, SAT adversity score, college board

Are test prep classes as good as private lessons?

Posted by Neal Schwartz on April 25, 2019


This question comes up every year, along with the dandelions and daffodils.

The end of every school year tends to bring a barrage of academic review and prep classes held at local organizations such as religious institutions and colleges.  There is often a buzz about whether the class will close out, since everyone your child knows seems to already be registered.   So, it begs the question:  Is a Regents/Finals class the best thing? 

On the surface, the cost per hour seems to be a no-brainer. But there is a bigger picture to view.  In fact, some teachers will hold review classes after school, which may be even more cost effective. But let’s look at the pros and cons of the class approach.  You can extrapolate this approach to SAT and ACT test prep as well:

Pros for test prep classes

  • Lots of hours; so, price per hour seems attractive
  • Lots of content
  • Unmotivated students will go on their own if other classmates are going

Cons for test prep classes

  1. Not geared for your son or daughter’s specific questions or needs
  2. Class schedule may not fit their schedule
  3. If classes are missed there are typically no make-up opportunities, and some content will be lost
  4. Depending on what content your child needs to master, the time allocated for certain subjects could be either excessive or inadequate
  5. Some children may not feel comfortable asking questions in a classroom setting
  6. Most students are not able to focus on one subject for hours at a time, especially for all day cram sessions
  7. Due to the volume of students, practice tests and oversight for individual students are limited
  8. Students, historically, don’t feel compelled to do their “homework” in a class held outside their school
  9. Wide range in success rates


When students have multiple exams to focus on, the class approach may not be the best thing for them.  Certainly, for the student who is already starting with a 95 average, a class may work to maintain or improve their score. The top students are the ones who may drive the class conversations. But for the struggling or mid-range student, they are not likely to get the specific attention needed to improve their score.

How can I be so bold with my statements?   When I first started with my test prep business 15 years ago, I set up classes for test prep.  I quickly found that I wasn’t doing the best thing for our students from a results perspective, since each student had a different set of topics they needed to master.  But more significant was the scheduling, which was so difficult to manage when students missed a class.  Once I moved from classes to individual/private sessions, student scores improved substantially.  Additionally, we have helped countless students AFTER they got lost with the larger classes that they had taken elsewhere.

Class Premise:

100% of the content is covered:  Since you don’t really know what each student knows and doesn’t, a classroom teacher’s approach has to be to teach everything quickly and make a value judgment about what “most” students need to know. 

Private Session Premise:

Cover just what that student needs to know. Have the student take a baseline test to get a specific idea of what they know and don’t know.  Let’s assume that they know 80% of the material.  Now you can focus only on the 20% they don’t know. 

The private approach is much more efficient.  At the end of the school year, and particularly during  junior year of high school, time is precious.  Getting students the review that fits their abilities and desires, while at the same time giving them more time to do other things, can be a life-saver.

The test prep scenarios that I describe above become that much more significant for SAT/ACT prep.  Whereas, a couple of points may not matter for one subject area in school, the impact of an SAT or ACT score can be a huge difference on the range of colleges to which they can apply.   


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Topics: college prep, SAT/ACT, NY State Regents, SAT prep, ACT prep, High School Finals, test prep classes, one-on-one tutoring, private tutoring

The lesson from Tiger’s Win in the wake of the College Scandal

Posted by Neal Schwartz on April 22, 2019


“The biggest takeaway for me is the reminder of the truism that golf is the sport most like life, because it is played on an uneven surface and everything is on you. So good and bad bounces — and self-inflicted mistakes — are built into the game. And so much of success in golf, as in life, is about how you react to those good and bad bounces. Do you quit? Do you throw your club? Do you cheat? Do you whine? Do you blame your caddie?”   - Tiger Woods and the Game of Life, by Thomas Friedman, NY Times 4/15/2019

Tiger’s recent comeback win at the Masters captured everyone’s attention just a few weeks after the college admissions scandal broke.  Both events were game changers and made us re-examine how we view things.  From a college counselors’ perspective, there is a connection.

Thomas Friedman pointed out just how masterful Tiger's recent achievement was and broke down why golf is one of the most demanding and difficult sports.  In short, it has many factors that come into play, and the ball is almost always sure to take a “bad bounce.”   The photograph of a golf course from just 500 feet up will not show the difficulty visible at ground level.  The Four elements Thomas refers to—physics, geometry, geography and psychology—all come into play on a golf course. Confronting all four at once is a very challenging task.





Like the aerial photo, many parents also view the college process as an easy-to-understand endeavor; it looks manageable from above. 

The recent metaphor of “snowplowing” through problems for one’s children, draws attention to parents who do everything they can to remove all obstacles in their child’s way to ensure their success.  They believe that if their child studies the right mix of physics, geometry and geography, they will “master” the academics, get straight A’s and perfect SAT/ACT scores. Add in some volunteer work to show community service and they will plow over all of the other candidates and get to their destination.

But, like the golfer who may have it all together on the driving range, there are things that can get in the way during the game.  Similarly, despite all the discipline and hard work that a student puts in for school, they can misstep in their application work. Still, there are clearly times when the college decisions don't make sense. The student may have done everything correctly, presented themselves well, but in a supply and demand situation, other factors come into play. 

Applying to school is a lot like golf, which is a lot like life.  There are so many bounces, turns and changes.  Does the student really understand the differences in the schools to which they are applying? Did they approach a college contact in a way that benefited them? Did they do only what they were asked to do in school, or did they venture beyond those walls? How did they deal with adverse situations (Like when the ball didn’t bounce quite right or landed in the water)?

Those parents who were arrested last month may have had the best intentions for their kids, but in the end, they still cheated.  When they doctored up pictures and hired professional test takers, they made egregious errors—they didn’t allow their kids to play the game on their own and deal with the bad bounces. 

Thanks to Tiger, we were reminded how difficult the journey can be and that, in the short term, you may not succeed.  Life is difficult, college admissions is also a tough process but deserves to be played fairly.  Even the best in the world don’t always make the cut.  But that doesn’t mean that they won’t be successful sometime down the road.  

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Topics: college admissions, admission advice, college prep, college advice, college process, college selection, college scandal, college cheating scandal, college bribery scandal, golf analogy

College Admissions Scandal Ramifications

Posted by Neal Schwartz on April 10, 2019

The college admissions scandal and its consequences are still developing. this huge story will have ripple effects throughout the U.s. and the college admissions landscape.

What has happened so far:

  1. Parents have been arrested, brought into court, and some have already plead guilty.
  2. Some parents have been put on leave or terminated from their jobs or professional organizations.
  3. Some students have had their acceptances reversed, and some are being removed from college.
  4. Colleges have tightened up their due diligence in qualifying candidates for admission.
  5. Public opinion has mostly frowned upon this uncovered criminal behavior.

The long-term effects are: 

  1. Compliance reviews at every college will be fast-tracked, and procedures will likely be revised.
  2. The overall college process will be re-examined.
  3. There will be Increased distrust for the college admission process 
  4. Even more pressure from” snowplow” parents to find ways to get their children into the top colleges, “legitimately."
  5. The College Board and ACT will tighten up their procedures for test day monitoring, especially in the smaller test room settings for accommodation (extra time) testing.


Probable Effects on the Admission Process:       

There was already a notable decline in admission rates for the top tier colleges.  This decline is primarily due to the fact that more students are applying for the same number of seats: College ready population exceeds available college spots at top tier schools.

  1. Quicker Access to college applications: The evolution of the common app and the coalition app has made it easier to view individual college application requirements.
  2. Easier Access to college information: College sites are more robust and can engage families and students more easily than in the past
  3. College graduates are sometimes underemployed: A greater emphasis will be placed on having a robust college plan and major.

But after the scandal the following is likely to occur:

  1. Some families will go into a panic mode, adopting the logic of, “If high profile celebrities and high-income earners felt compelled to cheat, this must mean it is REALLY impossible to get into the top colleges” therefore:
    1. We must apply to more schools than we thought.
    2. We need to work even harder on the SAT and ACT test prep effort.
    3. We need to be uber involved in the complete college process. 
  2. Advantages for the privileged (i.e. children of legacies) may disappear.


I have already heard of parents adding more colleges into their child’s college list.  The irony here is that this will only continue to reduce the already low admission rates and put even greater stress into the process.


The theory of adding more colleges to the list  is a volume game—knock on more doors and one will surely open. I believe it should be a quality game.  Students/Parents/Advisors should encourage:

  1. More realistic choices that fit the student.
  2. Assuming #1 is accurate, work harder to understand those colleges.
  3. Adopt a methodology for Early Decision and Early Action choices.

In summary, students should research the best fit schools more diligently rather than just adding more schools to an already extensive and unmanageable college list.




As the College Scandal Broke, College Planning of Westchester was asked to comment:  AS SEEN ON NEWS 12 Westchester


To Do: Suggestions for the Spring/Summer:

HS Juniors –
Develop College Activities Plan, Review Colleges, Put together a project plan for College Application 

HS Sophs –
College Activities Plan, Schedule SAT-ACT Prep for the summer

looking for the best college "Fit" ? :

Whether it is your first time or the 3rd time through the college process, avoiding some key mistakes can help increase the chances that you stay sane and that your son/daughter get their best college fit. 

If you have a high school student and want to get started on the right path, contact us at 914-273-2353, or visit us at: 


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Topics: college admissions, admission advice, college prep, college advice, college process, college selection, college scandal, college cheating scandal, college bribery scandal

SAT/ACT Prep and College Counseling: Which Comes First?

Posted by Neal Schwartz on March 11, 2019

Should students wait to start the college counseling process only after they lock-in their best SAT or ACT scores?

I get this question practically every day. What I find curious is that before I get a chance to answer the question, some parents answer it for me. Like many questions, the answer is, “It depends.”


 The Case for the Sequential Approach

Most high school juniors are overloaded with their academics, extracurricular activity, and test prep. If they are playing a demanding physical sport or have a lead part in a play, they can be fully absorbed with these activities. They are already overwhelmed/overloaded, and they need to focus on their test prep first. Introducing college discussions before they are ready is just going to bring down their success in these other important areas. So, this approach supports the premise that they should handle the college stuff AFTER they settle on their SAT/ACT scores.


 The Case for the Parallel Approach

If students wait until they have all of their test prep scores, they could be pressed into making some key decisions like college visits and college selection in a very tight timeframe. Also, getting them involved in seeing what colleges are looking for has the potential to motivate them to do even better on their SAT/ACT tests.


 The Case for the Random Approach

When there is no plan, the results will likely be random. The non-plan results in lots of starts and stops and mis-directions.

Key Considerations: 


In addition to deciding on the approach, is planning the timing for each of these:

If they wait too long using the sequential approach, they will wind up in a parallel mode.

If they start too early with the parallel approach, the student may spend more time focusing on schools that are not good or reasonable fits. Also, too much time spent too early could cause them to lose interest in both test prep and college process work.


Depending on when a student starts the process, there is a good chance that the following areas might change:

  • Area of study
  • Type of college
  • College Location



College Selection/College Visits:

There is tight link between college selection and college visits:

1st- Visit Category Schools – typically HS Freshman and Sophomore years

2nd – Visit Schools from an agreed upon list – typically Junior year

Although I recommend that early in the student’s college process, usually sophomore year, a family should visit “category schools,” (city/country; big/small; liberal arts/technical), the junior year college visits are more deliberate. It becomes clear when you start going through the process, that if you don’t know what colleges are on your list, it is impossible to visit schools. One wasteful trend that I see lately is families who just randomly pick a list of schools and just treat the visits like a family vacation. So, utilizing at least a practice SAT or ACT score is helpful in seeing if a school is reasonable. There are so many tools for college selection that this effort can be overwhelming. Lots of research can point to a school that seems to be a perfect fit, but when the student actually visits, they may scratch the school off the list.



The answer to when to introduce the college process to your son or daughter really is a judgment call based on their individual schedules, maturity level, and other factors. Basically, it is a personal decision and it is probably best to not follow the path of neighbor, family or school friends, as they are also putting together plans based on their child’s unique factors.

To Do: Suggestions for the Spring:

HS Juniors –
SAT-ACT Prep, Actual SAT-ACT Testing and College Activities Plan

HS Sophs –
College Activities Plan, schedule SAT-ACT Prep for the summer

looking for the best college "Fit" ? :

Whether it is your first time or the 3rd time through the college process, avoiding some key mistakes can help increase the chances that you stay sane and that your son/daughter get their best college fit. 

If you have a high school student and want to get started on the right path, contact us at 914-273-2353, or visit us at: 


Read More

Topics: college admissions, admission advice, college prep, college advice, college process, college visits, college selection