Holistic College Admissions - Much more than the metrics

Posted by Neal Schwartz on December 07, 2023


holistic applICATION reviews vs. metric based reviews

 "who moved my cheese?" 


Did They get in?

If you know any high school seniors this holiday season, they are about to learn their fate for their early decision college admissions and maybe even their early action decisions.

The one consistent behavior is overwhelming happiness for those admitted and a range of emotions for those denied or deferred.

Statistically, the admit rates have been dropping precipitously at the most select schools. Students who did not consider the admittance advantages of early decision may have some significant mood swings.

Reminder: once colleges were practically forced to go test optional during Covid, applications increased dramatically, especially at historically selective colleges. Students who would previously have not considered schools due to their below par test scores had become more brazen. Some schools became experts in working through their algorithms to fine tune their yield and even went so far as to lower the actual number of admitted students and not just benefit from the application volume increases that lowered their admit rates.

For those familiar with the metric application review in other countries (or the way it used to be in the U.S. just about a decade ago), the move to holistic application reviews can be upsetting.

A typical metric application view: How can my son/daughter who had a 1550 on the SAT (or 35 on the ACT) with a 3.9 GPA, 6 AP’s and a multitude of extracurricular activities not get into every school that he/she applies to?

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Topics: college preparation, ACT, college admissions, admission advice, college process, college activities plan, SAT prep, ACT prep, college test prep, high school senior, high school junior, college application, holistic college admissions review, extracurriculars, extracurricular activities, AI

Importance of Extracurriculars after Supreme Court Decision

Posted by Neal Schwartz on July 18, 2023


Extracurriculars Still Matter for High School Students

photo courtesy of Byram HIlls High School Facebook page.  

Summer is a great time to get involved with extracurricular activities, a crucial piece of the college application!

There are 3 components that are valued by the most selective colleges:

  1. Metrics – GPA, Rigor, SAT/ACT, Recommendations
  2. Main Character Essays and College Specific Supplements
  3. Extracurricular Activities
    1. School-Sponsored Extracurriculars – Sports, Clubs, Theater, Dance, Debate, Model UN, Band/Orchestra, Math, Chess, Robotics, Science Research, Newspaper, Yearbook, etc.
    2. Other Extracurriculars that are local, but outside of school—volunteer, work, internships, summer courses, research, starting something (business, non-profit or for profit), working on a political campaign.

For rising HS Seniors, summer is the time to start college applications and look back and compile their high school year extracurricular activities. And this time is not wasted as most colleges weigh extracurriculars as a key factor in their college decision.  In fact, most colleges look for student involvement in activities through a lens of longevity and leadership. 

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Topics: college preparation, college admissions, admission advice, college process, college activities plan, SAT prep, ACT prep, college test prep, high school senior, high school junior, high school sophomore, college application, college freshmen, extracurriculars, extracurricular activities, high school freshman

Getting Ready for Final Exams – How to Study “4.0”

Posted by Neal Schwartz on May 04, 2023


Have we been taught the wrong way to study for all these years?

For high school students It’s the season for AP tests, finals, and tests like the SAT and ACT. But college and graduate school students are also going through the same study motions.

Notecards, crib sheets, highlighting, isn’t that what we are supposed to do?

A NY Times Opinion article “There Are Better Ways to Study That Will Last You a Lifetime” challenges the way most of us learned to study. The premise, offered by author Daniel T. Willingham: “Students get studying wrong because they don’t assess whether a method works in the long run. Instead, they pay attention to whether the method is easy to do and feels like it’s working while they’re doing it.”

Willingham’s focus in his assessment is that the superficial nature of how most students study, rereading notes, or textbooks, doesn’t get to the most effective goal of understanding the meaning of the content.

“And so, as students reread their textbooks, the increasing familiarity makes them think they are learning. But because they are not thinking about the meaning of what they read, they aren’t improving the knowledge that actually builds understanding.”

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Topics: college test prep, high school senior, high school junior, high school sophomore, college freshmen, high school freshman, study habits, final exams

Getting properly engaged (with extracurriculars)

Posted by Neal Schwartz on March 24, 2023



There is a lot of pressure for students to do extracurricular activities. Many colleges view EC’s as a critical element of the application. There are varying degrees of a student's engagement level: Is the student doing enough in this regard? Are they following their passions? Or are they doing the activity because they were told to?

I pose the following critical question to get to the core: Who owns the extracurricular activity?

It sounds like a crazy question…shouldn’t the answer be “Of course, the student owns it?”

But, consider the possibility that the parent owns the activity:

The image of a parent working on their elementary or middle school students school project is something many of us can relate to. To the parents, they may remember their own experience gaining assistance on building a volcano that used some type of baking soda to erupt or a 3D view of a scene from history—maybe something like George Washington crossing the Delaware River in a boat. Once the student is in high school, the academic grades become even more important—especially for college admission—and extracurricular activities compete for the student’s available time. It becomes tempting for some to take “shortcuts”. This may be simply a parent wanting to stem the tide of tears when a complex high school assignment is behind schedule and the student struggles to complete it in time. Time for Super Mom or Super Dad to step in and save the day!

From a practical matter, is the student the one asking how they can help volunteer for a community service organization, or is the parent the one that sets up the activity? Although most parents would say that “helping” their son or daughter is their only option, this support may include some long-term harm. What will happen when their kid is in college and the parent can no longer “own” or get involved with the activity?

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Topics: College Applications, Community Service, college preparation, college admissions, high school senior, high school junior, high school sophomore, volunteering, extracurricular activities

The 5 W's of College Visits

Posted by Neal Schwartz on February 16, 2023

college visits:

Who, What, where, when, and Why


One of the most revered times for a parent is the college visit. When done properly, it can be one of the best experiences to get to know your child beyond their activities and schoolwork. Most important is that the focus of the visit is solely on the child applying for colleges. It’s not about mom or dad’s busy career(s) or about a sibling and their life. Most importantly, it is about choice—the ability to choose any academic focus at any one of hundreds of colleges. Oh, and they will likely be living somewhere else for four years. And doing (or not doing) their laundry and making (or not making) their bed.

We are approaching the time of year when parents take students on college visits. I was prompted to write this particular blog post because it seems as if college visits follow some secretive set of rules. My thoughts are to try and bring some pause and reflection to the process with the hope of making it a more productive experience for all.

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Topics: College Applications, college preparation, college admissions, college tours, college visits, college counseling, high school senior, high school junior, high school sophomore, small liberal arts college, vacation week, college info session


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