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. 
What I have noticed is that parents often separate college prep into two separate buckets:

Add this to your college prep bucket list

Once it’s time to write the application essays it’s too late to start thinking about extracurriculars and out-of-school experiences. Students should start early in high school devising a college activities plan, incorporating things about which they are genuinely passionate. This will make the writing of the main and supplemental essays natural, logical and real. Students will be rewarded for taking action beyond just the usual community service.  The key is to try things that not everyone else is doing.

What does a College Activities plan look like?

It could be something like:
⦁ Talk to Uncle John about his profession and shadow him
⦁ Explore leadership roles in clubs where you are merely a member
⦁ Take a summer course in an area consistent with interests or long-range goals. NYC offers an abundance of such classes
⦁ Get involved in a political campaign
⦁ Come up with a product idea and pitch it
⦁ Get paid for coaching sports to local kids 
⦁ Work in a local retail store
⦁ Work at a sports arena


Students are already expected to do volunteer work, and many colleges have made volunteerism part of their supplemental essays.  Merely being a volunteer because you have to doesn't make it special. If you do volunteer, take it to the next level: help raise awareness; contribute a new, workable idea; create a new revenue stream.

The challenge happens when you, as a parent, suggest one of these ideas. Students often resist, claiming you don’t know what you’re talking about.  They sense you are just lecturing them, and you feel you aren't being listened to. First, help them to understand why the activities bucket is important, and then, together, discuss their interests, and brainstorm various ways to meet their goals.

What should students do now to best position them for college acceptance?
The answer to this question depends on many individual factors:
⦁ Student objectives;
⦁ Do they want a top school or something less competitive?
⦁ Burden of extra-curricular activities
⦁ Are they “overloaded” or “underloaded”?
⦁ Maturity about their future
⦁ Are they really passionate about the activity or doing it because you want them to?

The key is to come up with a college activity plan that fits the student. The high school and college years are about learning and trying new things. It is not uncommon for the best and brightest students to be resistant to something new and different, even if it was something that they chose. It’s natural to feel uncomfortable when trying something new. Taking the road less traveled is great from an experiential perspective but can also be marked by missteps and lessons learned. As a parent, continue to prod your adventurous student forward, but at the same time be sensitive to their hesitation. If their likes and desires are met at the same time as they are aiming for their goal, they are more likely to stick it out and succeed.

To Do: Suggestions for the Winter:

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



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

What Successful Students do: Work Hard, Play Hard, Discover Hard

Posted by Neal Schwartz on June 27, 2017

Work Hard, Play Hard, Discover Hard; A framework for student (and Life) Success

#1 Question asked of recent college graduates:

Do you have a job?  That's the question a young adult, fresh out of school, will most frequently be asked.  

Years ago, the question might have been different, focusing more on where will they be working rather than if they will be working? 

Surprisingly, this question is the same one asked to students/families regardless of what college they attended.

$300,000 for college; More pressure to be "Perfect"


The reason there is so much pressure on students for their future has a lot to do with the fiscal investment.  In a recent article $300,000 For College?  Where’s That in the Bible?,  describes the difficult choice that many families are making:  choosing between retirement savings and their children's education.  It points out that with the high cost of college  it is nearly impossible for a high school student to save for all their college costs as was done decades ago.

With parents trying to get the best return for their investment, the emphasis is on striving for perfection in every aspect of their college prep.  Parents and students really want the same thing.   But, it's hard to be perfect, all the time.

So, student’s put pressure on themselves  and parents reinforce the need to succeed, adding even more pressure.   It reminds me of the old pressure cooker that my mom had, with a small valve to let some of the steam release out.   But, what if there is no release valve?

Everyone makes mistakes, but sometimes students believe that they are the only ones who fail.  That leads to pressure-packed schools with high stakes, both monetary and emotional.  Fortunately, many schools have instituted programs to deal with stress reduction.   “Learning to Fail” addresses the growing trend of coping programs that deal with student stress, depression and anxiety.






One historic adage: Work Hard; Play Hard

 What can students do to succeed but do it in a healthy manner?  It comes down to the old adage, Work Hard and Play Hard.   As a parent in an affluent community, I would venture to say that most understand the work hard portion of this balanced ideal.  Often, though, the Play hard aspect of the statement gets lost.  Playing hard in high school means participating in extracurriculars like theatre, athletics, music, robotics, etc. The key to playing hard well means doing something because they love it,  not because they think it will “look good” to  colleges.  A recent study , “Legacy, Leisure and the ‘Work Hard – Play Hard’ Hypothesis” , showed the benefit of working and playing hard.

learning that it is actually "OK" to Fail

But how about taking the adage a step further.  Why not: Work Hard, Play Hard and Discover Hard.   Colleges seek out the curious--those who will blaze new paths, make a difference and discover new things. 

Discovery is important.  By seeking new outlets, students can learn a lot about their passions.  Often, they will try new things and fail.  But that's OK, too.  Failure is a great way for students to learn resilience.  To know what you love and excel at, you have to also know your weaknesses. 

Work Hard, Play Hard, and Discover Hard is a good ethic to teach and nurture in our children and one that will resonate with colleges.  


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, learning to fail