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

Early Decision Pros and Cons

Posted by Neal Schwartz on December 22, 2016

Early Decision Pros and Cons;

Photo courtesy of Adweek


Early Decision and Early Action are relatively new terms for many of today’s parents.   Most parents did NOT apply ED or EA, yet today a great many students do.  In The New York Times article The Plague of Early Decision, Frank Bruni references a Massachusetts high school that has a whopping 86% early application rate. 

Like many parents, my knowledge of ED was limited.  It wasn’t until I spoke to my college roommate a decade ago that I found out that he had applied ED and viewed it as one of his biggest life mistakes.  Once he was accepted early in his senior year, he stopped working. This brilliant, inquisitive student had transformed into an academic couch potato. His freshman year in college was a disaster because he hadn’t taken his work seriously and developed some horrible habits.   Fast forward a few decades, and Early Decision is now referred to as a “Plague.”  Try telling the parent who just shared their child’s college acceptance on Facebook (sporting the college’s T-shirt/sweatshirt) that this achievement is something to be cautious about, and they will un-friend you.

Pro’s of Early Decision:

They get into their first choice school – Yea!

  1. Student may get into a more competitive school by committing ED;
  2. No more applications to fill out, no more dollars to spend on applications or trips to visit schools;
  3. Student can “relax” and focus on their schoolwork, internships, etc.

Con’s of Early Decision:

For Accepted Students:

  1. Student is now committed to this school and may decide later that they would rather be someplace else;
  2. Student may “relax” so much that they stop working academically, and there is the potential to get “overconfident;”
  3. Financial aid awards are not decided until later, so the student has committed to a school they may not ultimately be able to afford.

For Rejected Students:

  1. Student’s who have put all of their eggs in one basket, and then get deferred or rejected, now look at every other college as the booby prize.
  2. Student's may feel that they have completely failed and this can be a huge blow to their self-confidence.

 New College Admission Trends:

Along with the increase in students applying early and to many more schools than those in the past, many apply to “safety” schools and are shocked to be rejected from what they thought was a sure thing. While colleges have enjoyed the increasing number of applicants, which reduces their publicized acceptance yield, it is in their best interest to increase the actual number of accepted students who enroll. Today, the enrollment rate is a closely viewed statistic that can “sway” prospective students.


The Bigger Picture:

Frank Bruni, who has written the book, Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be, and a number of articles about college admissions, closes the recent New York Times article with: “I wonder, too, how many came to regard higher education as one big board game that’s about attaining prestige rather than acquiring knowledge.”

In working with prospective parents, it seems that the prestige of a school is often considered far more than a college’s specific programs. The goal is no longer to find a school where a student will grow the most, both intellectually and personally. While there is no question that in some industries prestige does influence, after my long career in the corporate world I would still look at many other employee attributes first, including character, value to the company, performance, innovation, personal skills, etc.

The early process is neither all good nor all bad.  It just needs to be framed properly as one tool that can be utilized in the college admission process.  What matters most is whether the student finds the best “fit” to learn, grow and succeed post college.


If you have an early 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

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