The College Prep Bucket List

Posted by Neal Schwartz on December 11, 2018

What has changed about competitive college admissions over the last decade?

With college acceptance rates at an all-time low, qualified students need to find a way to show why they are unique and deserving of admission.

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Topics: College Applications, High school Activities, Community Service, college admissions, admission advice, college prep, college advice, college process, college activities plan, SAT/ACT

Avoid these 9 college process mistakes

Posted by Neal Schwartz on November 01, 2018

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.

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Topics: College Essays, College Applications, college admissions, early decision, admission advice, college advice, college open house, college process, college visits, college fairs

Should You Apply Early Decision?

Posted by Neal Schwartz on September 04, 2018


What is early decision?  what is Early action?


why do schools offer ED?


should you apply early decision?


what is the downside of applying ED?


What is ED 2?


Any further ED advice


I was recently interviewed by what to do online about the topic of Early decision.  The questions are above. 


To view the article, click here.



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 Applications, college admissions, early decision, admission advice, college advice, early action, early decision 2

How to excel in a holistic college admissions process

Posted by Neal Schwartz on July 26, 2018


How to differentiate two students when they look so much alike

HOlistic college admissions and its relationship to "personality"

 You have heard the story about the valedictorian that didn’t get into some,  or even all, of their schools.  If "the best of the best" can’t make it, what about your daughter (or son) who is not the valedictorian?  “What do they want from these kids?, I wouldn’t get into my school if I applied today! This whole college admissions process stinks!” These are just a few rants that you might offer to whoever is within earshot. 

With top schools rejecting 80-95% of qualified applicants (as determined by GPA and SAT/ACT scores), there is certainly enough credible basis to be uncomfortable with the process. The irony is that there are more than enough colleges in the U.S. that will fit well for your son and daughter, but the upwardly mobile effort to get into the “best” schools is driving the continuance of disappointment for today’s applicants.


What is meant by Holistic Admissions?

Simply stated, holistic admissions is the usage of more than just metrics to determine admissions.  GPA and test scores alone do not take into account other subjective factors like:  diversity (geographic, racial, economic, sexual), application essays, recommendations, high school curriculum, legacy, extra-curriculars, college needs (maybe they want to boost computer science this year), etc.

The downside of a holistic review: It can promote bias, secretiveness, and distrust.  It is easy to hide the real reason for rejections behind the word “holistic”. What is often heard is that, “we have so many qualified candidates, and we would like to accept them all.  The parent is left wondering, why not my kid?  If it was just the metrics alone, rejections would be easier to understand. It becomes complicated when top schools receive applications with perfect GPA’s and near perfect test scores. This raises questions about fairness.  When you take the metrics out of the equation, there is less of an argument since no one really knows how a particular college makes their acceptance decisions.

The upside of a holistic review:  A student who may not come from the top 1% or a major metropolitan area or the best high school can be judged on their individual and distinctive merits.  Students who will contribute to the overall health and vitality of a campus can be recognized and rewarded, rather than the high scorers who may contribute only by scoring well on tests.  A campus filled with vibrant, active and engaging students, not just those who are good test takers, will attract other such students onto campus. 

Distinguishing students by "personality” is the answer to giving them the best possible chance of being admitted to even the best schools. Does the student have a “story”?  She is the one (Fill in the blank: helped with the senatorial campaign, created a fund me page for a new technology product, pulled that kid out of a burning car, won the national robotics competition, was the bat girl for the Red Sox, was on American Idol, etc.) The best stories, or "tags" are those that are genuine and unique.

How to get tagged and stand out from the Pile of applicants--it's not just about community service any more. 

Since extracurriculars and/or specific diversity characteristics may not be enough to distinguish a student during the application process, how does one get “tagged”?  My view is that a student can earn their tag by doing something outside of the mainstream; even something outside of school.  Just a decade ago the “building homes in Nicaragua” approach was a distinctive community service tag.  Community service programs have evolved into structured programs that you can sign up for, like a teen tour and over time have lost much of  their “tag” value.  With so many students planning their community service, it is hard to distinguish those that are genuine.  It is not that community service is a bad thing; some students benefit greatly from their experience, but sometimes it is a bit forced. More important, when it is not as genuine, the college admissions community notices.


How many tags do you need?


Decades ago, students were advised to be "well rounded".  To be an All-American was to do so many things - the more the better.  To be captain of the football team and class president and a volunteer in the local nursing home was the ultimate.  Then, about 15-20 years ago, it was all about being passionate about one thing and be great with that one thing.  Sure in today's world you can be "tagged" or "passionate" about many things, but sometimes the variety dilutes the strength of the impression and the secondary tags get lost. It is just unrealistic to think that someone can be active and excel in an abundance of activities.


What about being a legacy? 

Certainly, there are still some cases of legacy that may influence the admissions decision, but these are often only cemented with true personality as well as impressive tags.  In today’s iphone driven world, those who can communicate well with others, (not always follow the path of others, and not be hampered by their age), can generate a distinct advantage.  Those who already offer some notoriety provide promise for the college as well.  

the power of the essay:

If your son or daughter wasn't the best in the state for fencing and didn't cure cancer over the summer, what can they do?  Other than moving to Idaho to claim a geographic advantage, the greatest platform to showcase one’s personality is through the essays.  Describing what was learned from a year- round job at a local business, as well as the learning and insight that occurred, can be valuable enough to distinguish a student.  


Tags are as important as essays are.  But, tags should not necessarily be repeated again in the essays. The key is that tags and essays must be genuine to help the best students with their admission efforts. 

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 Essays, College Applications, college admissions, admission advice, college acceptance rates, college advice, tags, holistic review, personality

A senioritis and post-graduationitis primer

Posted by Neal Schwartz on May 17, 2018


Senioritis and Post-Graduation-itis and their Impact on College

Senioritis-(definition from Urban Dictionary):

A deadly disease that strikes high school seniors. This disease makes seniors wear really smelly clothes, over-style their hair, and boys not care about shaving anymore. It also allows seniors to make excuses for not coming to school repeatedly, and it also allows them to party and get drunk as hell like college kids until they get in trouble with the police. Only cures are to put them in college or graduate.

After many high school seniors gain acceptance to their intended colleges, a pervasive and dangerous fog often becomes part of their daily life.   Years of working hard and doing all the “right” things have finally paid off, and they have reached the pinnacle.  They have achieved their objective of getting into a great school, and their friends have done the same.  Many students find themselves wanting to take their foot off of the accelerator and just relax.  Don’t they deserve it? The answer is that they should enjoy their success and relax a bit, BUT they should also remember what got them to that pinnacle can also become unraveled in a short period of time.  Ask any athlete, business professional, etc., whether they can just stop after succeeding. This conversation can be a tough one for students to hear, especially when the accolades are still ringing in their ears.

Not every student gets senioritis, but when enough seniors do, it can become contagious, infecting others nearby.  

When does senioritis occur?

This “disease” typically coincides with the college acceptance letter matching the student’s selected school.   Thanks to Early Decision/Early Action, senioritis can occur as early as December 15th of their senior year and can extend to regular decision notification in March/April.  The range of time for senioritis can be up to five months long. 

What are the risks of senioritis?

  1. Student’s offer from their selected college can be rescinded
  2. Student can develop bad habits related to school
  3. Students can develop bad personal habits

What dumb things do some students with senioritis do?

  1. Drink and post their “red cup” activity online
  2. Fail classes that risk High School graduation
  3. Cheat on tests because they didn’t study






OK, so they finally graduated high school and are nine short weeks away from college orientation. What can go wrong now?  The answer from a parent of three is that this is the most difficult time of all.  


Risk:  Out of school and secure with the next step—college—parents become the only remaining influencing authority.   For the first time, a parent may discover that their angelic son/daughter will flex their wings to remind mom/dad that they are now a college student.   Basically, they will tell their parents to get off their back.  The student is fearless and independent. The parent will say something akin to, “While you are still under this roof, you need to do what we say.”  What occurs during the summer is something far different from senioritis, although it may look the same.  Students are now in an official transitional phase; they are NOT in HS and they are NOT in college.  This is purely an emotional state, with serious highs and lows. Students may embrace or distance themselves from HS friends and then either embrace or distance themselves from new college Facebook buddies.   Imagine a 13-year friendship that abruptly ends when one of them decides to move on. Emotions run high. 


Students can be wrapped up with a lot of feelings with the allure of college looming.  And yet, there is still the parent factor.  For some students, getting away from home is the best thing that could ever happen; others will be heartbroken to leave their home and supportive parents.  What makes post-graduation-itis so tough is that there is such a wide range of emotions.   Students are morphing, and it can be upsetting to them and those close to them.


Although post-graduation-itis has an enhanced emotional element of leaving something behind while moving towards something else, it still has the same set of common risks described above:

  1. Student’s offer from their dream college can be rescinded
  2. Student can develop bad habits related to school
  3. Students can develop bad personal habits


Things you can you do to parent through this situation:

  • Use facts to back up your fears
    • Use the Harvard example of rescinded offers (
  • Ask them if there is anything on their Facebook or Instagram feeds that might look offensive
  • For Senioritis:
    • Watch them “roam” and test their independence, but don’t be afraid to ask where they are going
    • Try to engage an older sibling to stay in touch with them
    • Find time to celebrate their wins and keep the parent-child bond strong and active
    • When they think about sleeping late or skipping school “because everyone else is doing it,” be thoughtful with your answer
    • When all else fails, re-state: “Not as long as you are under this roof”
    • Encourage their friends to come over your house so you can monitor what’s going on
  • For Post Graduationitis:
    • Same as above, but remind them that during this time, they need to start being that great college student BEFORE stepping onto that campus
    • Find time to talk to them about the tug from HS friends and the desire to make new friends. Discuss their fear of leaving what is safe and known, to venture into the new and unknown
    • Encourage them to embrace their long-term HS friends, and share what it was like for you; talk about your feelings and experiences
    • Give them time to feel uncomfortable and uncertain, yet excited all at the same time
    • Take that last family vacation before college starts
    • Use the summer to buy items needed for college


I can attest to the fact that senioritis exists, as does post-graduation-itis and that I never could have imagined my kids getting this disease.   Just be forewarned that the environment for seniors is ripe for them to do the uncharacteristic, to be different.   Stay in touch and help them manage this transitional period in their lives because they are likely to be uncomfortable and unsteady with the unknowns of sailing off into uncharted territory.


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 advice, senioritis

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