The Edge Our college admission blog

Welcome to Your 2016-2017 Common Application!

by Rachel Katzman August 1, 2016



For those of you anxiously waiting, the Common Application is officially open and ready to use for this year’s college applications! Over the coming months, you will meticulously enter and review with a fine-tooth comb your personal, academic, and activities information. However, we want to focus on the section that just became available with the August 1st launch: Your Colleges!

It’s time to put your Admitster College List to Work!

We hope you’ve been using our College List Tool to research and create your personalized short-list of colleges and universities! Now, you get to take this list and put it into action! The first thing you will have to do is log into and create and store your username and password somewhere safe.

Then, you will want to click on “College Search”, where you can simply search for each school by name and add them to your list.  Once you have added all of the colleges you like (you can add as many as 20), click Dashboard and you will see your college list– it’ll be called “My Colleges”.

For each college, you will see four things: Questions, Assign Recommenders, Submission, and Writing Supplement (obviously, submitting is the last thing you want to do!). In order to understand the requirements of each college on your list, you will need to click on each college, and do the following:

Start with the “Questions”:  You want to carefully look at the Questions for each school. Here’s where you’ll see all the school-specific short answer questions, as well as prompts to enter things like your desired major or program. Oftentimes, entering a specific program (for example in engineering or the arts) will “trigger” some additional required questions and information. So it’s wise to enter in your major for each school (and maybe play with a few alternatives) so you can see you how a choice might impact what’s being asked of you in any given application.

Watch out for the “Other” Section: In many of the college’s Question section, you see something called “Other.”  I’ve seen this section contain straightforward questions, such as an honor code. I’ve also seen it be a somewhat hidden repository for longer supplementary essays. Some unfortunate students have not noticed these until they go to submit applications. Therefore, you should click through every single section, no matter how small it seems, making sure you don’t miss a thing!

Preview each Writing Supplement: Most of the time, this section includes the supplementary short essay questions. For example, you might be asked to elaborate on an extra-curricular activity, or explain your interest in the school. For strategies on crafting your responses, read this blog post.

However, oftentimes, colleges might have more extensive essays that are just as long as your college essay! You’ll be wanting to get to work on these quickly, as it may impact your topic selection for your Common App essay (as you generally should not write about the same topic in two essays).

Don’t over-rely on the Dashboard View: This is a helpful tool, for sure. It’ll have a symbol for each school that requires a writing supplement. As we’ve learned, since these supplements sometimes appear in the Questions section,  the Dashboard might inaccurately not list a writing supplement for each school. Again, this is why you need to carefully go through every section!

While the Dashboard presents application deadlines for each college, these are for regular decision admissions only. You will be responsible for tracking any earlier deadlines, such as Early Action, Early Decision, and Merit Aid scholarships.

Know when to work off-line: For any written content beyond the essentials, I’d highly suggest moving off the website and onto a separate document. You don’t want to accidentally submit rough drafts or lose work during a crash!

Word Count and Character Count: As you manage these written components, pay careful attention to the directions on each prompt.  Most questions will have a clear word count (very rarely is it unlimited). However, many short responses will often have a character count, or even a line-count. This implies that they are looking for precise responses (I’ve helped more than a handful of students edit an eloquent 250 word short essay to a pithy 250 character statement.)

So, now that you’re in this year’s application- have some fun, poke around, and most importantly, get organized. If you start to feel overwhelmed, we are here to help you succeed! Our college advisers have expert knowledge of each school and their requirements, and can give you the extra support you need to submit impressive applications to each school on your list!  Remember, we offer a free consultation to any new client (rising seniors- we’re looking at you!). 

Admitster’s School Partnership Program

by Katie Z, Ph.D June 23, 2016


College Coaching For Every Student

If you’re an administrator or guidance counselor at a high school in the United States, there’s a decent chance that your students have little or no access to a college counselor. The National Association for College Admission Counseling, using Spring 2012 data (from the nationally representative High School Longitudinal Study of 2009), reported that:

  • “Less than two-fifths of counselors indicated that their school had a counselor whose primary responsibility was college applications or had a counselor whose primary responsibility was college selection”, and
  • “About half of counselors (54%) reported that their counseling department spent less than 20 percent of their time on college readiness, selection, and applications.”

diplomas smallStudent-to-counselor ratios vary greatly by school and by state, but the national average is an unfortunate 471 students to 1 counselor – click here for more details. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights reported that, across the country, one in five high schools completely lacks a school counselor! And that’s not all. A 2015 Survey by Achieve, Inc. reported that “of the 767 college instructors from four-year and two-year colleges, universities, and technical institutions”, 78% believed that high school graduates are not well prepared for higher education. This New York Times article sums the situation up well: “… public high schools across the country struggle with staggering ratios of students to guidance counselors.” Grim.

There is a great deal to consider when pondering college admissions strategies for each of the individual students at your high school – not only in terms of thinking about where to apply and whether each senior has a finalized college list that is robust and well-balanced (in terms of reach, target, and safety schools), but also whether students would be advised to apply early action or early decision, via the regular admissions process, and/or to schools with rolling admissions policies.

Along these lines, the 2016-2017 Common Application Essay Prompts have been released, but what is the best college essay writing strategy for each student? Should students take the SAT or the ACT, and how can they best prepare? To further consider are the backgrounds and personal stories of your students (and how to make that uniqueness shine in their respective college applications), the financial aspects of applying to and attending college, individual circumstances (e.g. being cognizant of the resources that are available to first generation students as they engage in the admissions process), course enrollment advice, thoughts regarding who would be best suited to write letters of recommendation, issues pertaining to social media, gap years, college tours, fly-in programs, summer plans – the list goes on and on, and taking into account all of the above for each of your students is certainly a tremendous undertaking. It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin!

On top of everything, there has been a complete whirlwind of changes in the college admissions world over the last few months. More schools are becoming test-optional; changes have been made to the FAFSA;  the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Making Caring Common project released its influential Turning The Tide report; and the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success has emerged on the scene (e.g. these 58 colleges and universities will accept the Coalition application for the upcoming admissions cycle)!

What are you (the school principal or guidance counselor) to do? After all, college counseling has been shown to have a significant impact on college access and should be an important aspect of a student’s high school experience. Still, with time, personnel, and other resources often strained, how can a high school’s administration bring such a program, emphasizing individualized attention and college guidance, to fruition?

Admitster’s Partnership For College Success Program can help. College coaching for every student in your school? Flexible, customized guidance and support? Comprehensive services for schools, students, and families? YES! Click here to learn more about Admitster’s school partnership program, helping every student to succeed on their journey to college.

Journey-To-College Websites To Know

by Katie Z, Ph.D May 11, 2016


As is the case with any adventure on which you embark, preparation is the key to a successful journey. Those of you who are currently on the trek towards college can attest to the fact that there are many ups and downs along the way. Studying for and taking standardized tests can be stressful! Securing financial aid can be daunting! Finding your best-fit schools, keeping your GPA up, securing great letters of recommendation, working on draft after draft of your college essays, chiseling out time in your busy schedule to volunteer while also engaging deeply in your extracurricular activities, figuring out how best to show admissions officers that you really do care about others, that you have grit and perseverance, that you exemplify characteristics of a real leader, that you’re brilliant and unique, and that you’d be an awesome addition to their incoming freshmen class – it sometimes feels a bit like this…



…and you’re doing all that you can just to keep from capsizing! Well, nobody said it would be easy. I can promise you, however, that the journey to college will be worth it in the end. That moment when your acceptance letters begin to arrive (along with some rejections, I would suspect) is one of which you can and should be proud!

As for the arduous journey, there are some wonderful resources out there to help you along the way. Consider the above photo. The situation looks grim, I concede, but now let’s consider that the two adventurers have taken a canoeing skills course (e.g. how to navigate one’s canoe through rough waters), that they are both exemplary swimmers and are outfitted with life jackets, that the canoe was designed specifically to handle rocks and rapids, that the two men had the good sense to pack all of their belongings in waterproof bags, and that those bags are secured properly in their canoe. Suddenly, we aren’t as apprehensive when thinking about what happens next. College admissions is no different! If students and their families take advantage of the resources that are available to them, and prepare as best they can before embarking on (and during) their pre-collegiate adventures, chances are excellent that everything will work out well in the end.

Today I want to bring your attention to some great resources, websites that can really help you along the way and to which I find myself constantly referring the students with whom I work. Readers, these websites are the strong canoes, waterproof bags, life jackets, and important how-to and know-how resources of the college admissions journey! From A to Z …

  1. Of course, Admitster must be mentioned. We’re working to help level the college admissions playing field and offer free, online, do-it-yourself college counseling tools: The College List Builderaccurate predictions of your admissions chances at your top-choice schools; and the awesome What If? Engine, which allows you to play around with hypothetical situations to see the impact these changes have on your chances of admission at the schools on your list (e.g. how do your admissions odds change at different schools if you, for instance, slightly boost your GPA, take on a new leadership role, or spend a few hours more each week volunteering?)! To access these free tools, you need only spend ten seconds registering an account with us. Admitster is also proud to offer affordable services – I speak of admissions advising, personalized help with putting together your college list, our college essay reviews, and tutoring and test prep services. Through these offerings, Admitster helps you (students and parents) to own the journey to college. Finally, our awesome school partnership program, Partnership For College Success, offers college counseling for every student!
  2. Net Price ExamplesCollege Abacus (and Pell Abacus, if you qualify for free or reduced-price lunch) is a tremendous resource for calculating net price estimates at the schools on your list. Remember, when thinking about where to apply, you should never rule out a school based on its sticker price! The net price (tuition & fees MINUS aid & benefits) is the number that counts, and College Abacus is the website that can show you those calculations of net price. To give you a quick example, these two randomly-chosen colleges (above) have similar sticker prices but look at the difference in the net price calculations for this student – they’re significant!
  3. CollegeScorecard SkidmoreIn writing the 2968 Series for this blog, I often direct readers to statistics from the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard. The scorecard is meant to improve transparency and does a great job of giving you snapshots of the potential schools on your list, including statistics on the ever-important graduation rate, the average annual cost for federal financial aid recipients, including by family income (the example on the right is for Skidmore College), the percent of students receiving federal loans, and retention rates, among other important information. The scorecard also shows you how the school compares to the national average on each of the different factors being reviewed.
  4. The FAFSA4caster, brought to you by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), is a great online tool to check out – “FAFSA4caster will help you understand your options for paying for college. Provide some basic information and we’ll estimate your eligibility for federal student aid!” 
  5. If standardized tests are not your forte and/or you’re just curious to learn more, FairTest has compiled a list of over 850 schools around the country that are test-optional – click here to access the list of test-optional colleges and universities!
  6. If you’re a student-athlete who hopes to continue playing in college, then NCSA Athletic Recruiting is an organization to know about! They help student-athletes to connect with college coaches, provide valuable information about the recruiting process, and help student-athletes to find scholarships and grants, recognizing outstanding athletic achievements. NCSA also offers a recruit-match technology, to “help ensure that athletes choose schools that are a good fit for them athletically and academically”, and an iPhone app that “lets you stay connected to coaches and NCSA no matter where you are.”
  7. A smart way to gain some insights into whether a school will be a great fit for you is to check out the college on This website is home to college reviews written by current students, allowing you to “access insider guides to every aspect of campus life with thousands of unbiased student reviews and ratings.” You can, for instance, learn more about a college’s academics, dorms, weather, party scene, food, on-campus parking, and local area, to list but a few examples!
  8. is a great way to earn money for college, starting as early as 9th grade. As is written on their website, you can “instantly earn micro-scholarships for achievements in class, sports, clubs, and more.” has over 150 college partners and “if you are accepted and choose to attend one of those colleges, the micro-scholarships you earned for that particular college are automatically added to your financial aid package for that school.” Click here to learn more!
  9. Scholar Snapp Solution, which was first developed by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation back in 2008, works to help you increase your access to college scholarship funds. How is this accomplished? As is stated on their website, “The Scholar Snapp Solution will help you complete applications faster by pre-populating basic information requested in all scholarship applications and will help you find money for college by matching your data with the qualifications of various scholarship providers.” In other words, this online tool provides users with the resources needed to both find scholarships and make it easier to apply for them – nice! To read more about it, click here.
  10. Finally, we get to Z – ZeeMee is helping students get seen by colleges! You simply sign up with them, and then upload videos, photos, and documents to your account. You can then add your ZeeMee link to your college applications (they’ve even teamed up with The Common Application, making it easy to add a ZeeMee field on your Common App) and admissions officers will have access to it! Like Admitster, ZeeMee is working to level the college admissions playing field, writing on their site, “Regardless of your background, we want you to have the ability to tell your unique story and showcase what you are passionate about, without having to pay a single dime.” Cool!

Have you come across any other websites/resources that were extremely useful to you as you navigated the choppy college admissions waters? If so, please let me know about it in the comment box below! I love hearing about new resources, tools, and ideas that make the journey to college a little less stressful and a little more fun…

College Acceptances 2016

by Katie Z, Ph.D April 29, 2016


Below you’ll find a sampling of schools where students using Admitster’s services were accepted in 2016. These schools range from rural to urban, from East to West, from small to very large, from less selective to highly selective, from NCAA Division I to Division III, and from liberal arts to public institutions. You get the picture – the schools are just as diverse as the students who applied to them.

We couldn’t be prouder of our students’ acceptances! 


University of Alabama



Arizona State University



Hendrix College

University of Arkansas

University of Central Arkansas



California Institute of Technology

Harvey Mudd College

Pitzer College

San Jose State University

Santa Clara University

Soka University of America

University of California – Davis

University of California – Irvine

University of California – Los Angeles

University of California – San Diego

University of California – Santa Barbara

University of California – Santa Cruz

University of San Francisco



Colorado College

University of Colorado – Boulder



Connecticut College

Quinnipiac University

Sacred Heart University

Trinity College

University of Connecticut

Wesleyan University



University of Florida

University of Miami

University of South Florida



Georgia Institute of Technology



DePaul University

Loyola University Chicago

Monmouth College

University of Chicago

University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign



Purdue University



Iowa State University

University of Iowa



Tulane University



Colby College



Johns Hopkins University

Salisbury University

University of Maryland



American International College

Assumption College

Becker College

Boston University

Brandeis University

Curry College

Eastern Nazarene College

Harvard University

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

MCPHS University

Merrimack College

Mount Ida College

Northeastern University

Salem State University

Simmons College

University of Massachusetts – Amherst

Western New England University

Wheaton College

Wheelock College



Augsburg College

The College of Saint Scholastica

Macalester College

University of Minnesota – Duluth

University of Minnesota – Rochester

University of St Thomas



Missouri University of Science and Technology


New Hampshire

Franklin Pierce University


New Jersey

Princeton University

Rutgers University


New York

Colgate University

Cornell University

Fordham University

Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Hunter College

Ithaca College

Long Island University – Brooklyn

Marist College

New York University

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Skidmore College

St John’s University – New York

SUNY – Albany

SUNY – Buffalo

The City College of New York – Grove School of Engineering

Union College

University of Rochester


North Carolina

Davidson College

University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill



Case Western Reserve University

Oberlin College

Ohio State University



University of Oklahoma



Reed College



Carnegie Mellon University

Lafayette College

University of Pennsylvania

University of Pittsburgh



Belmont University

Vanderbilt University



Baylor University

Houston Baptist University

Rice University

Trinity University

University of Houston

University of Texas – Austin

University of Texas – Dallas

University of Texas – Tyler

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Homeschooling And The College Admissions Journey

by Katie Z, Ph.D February 24, 2016


It was not so very long ago that I was standing in line at the grocery store, waiting to pay, when a headline on a nearby magazine caught my eye. It read: “Homeschool Got Me Into Harvard – Why The New Road To The Ivy League Just Might Lead Through Your Living Room.”  Really! See?



Here’s the article. From it, we learn that the girl on the magazine’s cover is named Claire Dickson. She was homeschooled throughout her childhood and, you guessed it, is now a member of an elite university’s freshmen class (Cough! Harvard! Cough!). The article also informs us that about 2.2 million students in the United States are homeschooled (i.e. about 3.4% of the American student body), and that this number is steadily growing. Further:

“To find out what elite academic institutions think, I call Matt McGann, director of admissions at MIT. He’s entirely optimistic: “The homeschooled students in our population are a great addition to the MIT community. They are students who are more likely to have designed their own education curriculum, and they may be more independently motivated to learn,” he says. “I think as the nature of homeschooling has evolved, colleges are seeing more and more homeschooling applicants who are appropriate for this environment.””

Another recent article, this one from NBC News, states, “While the percentage of homeschooled applicants is still tiny, admissions officers say their applications often stand out.” Let us not forget “that uniqueness is kind of the hidden currency of college admissions“! Indeed, more and more colleges, on their admissions websites, have information aimed specifically at homeschooled teens, as they work to further diversify their student bodies. See, for instance:

It is clear from these examples, and many more, that when homeschooled students apply to college they generally must comply with some additional requests, such as scores from SAT Subject Tests, a school-specific homeschooled information form (for instance, this one from Wheaton College), an additional application essay, and/or additional letters of reference. Admissions officers, of course, also expect to see applicants’ high school transcripts. Homeschooled students can meet this demand in different ways, for instance, in the manner suggested by Hillsdale College:

“Official high school transcripts come from a homeschool clearinghouse, guild, or association. If transcripts are unavailable, we encourage you to consider, offered in concert with the Home School Legal Defense Association.”

Furthermore, as Amherst College points out on their admissions website, “The Common Application also provides students with the Home School Supplement to the Secondary School Report. We highly recommend that homeschooled candidates submit the Home School Supplement in addition to the Secondary School Report and other required forms in the Common Application.” Curious to learn more about the Home School Supplement, I reached out to The Common Application for more information. They responded, “Once the home school counselor is assigned and ‘home school’ is noted in their account, they will then be required to answer a supplement in the Secondary School Report that is to be submitted with their transcripts, testing, etc.” Nice!

Also of note:

  • Admissions committees are oftentimes curious to learn more about why the decision was made to homeschool the prospective candidate – the college application essay can be a great opportunity to elaborate on these experiences!
  • Colleges will likely ask prospective students who have been homeschooled for a guide to the curriculum that the student used. Some schools, such as Vanderbilt University, will provide homeschooled applicants the option of completing a curriculum summary, such as this one, which they helpfully provide.
  • Some schools, such as Bowdoin College, will strongly recommend that the prospective student, as part of his/her application process, have an interview.
  • Other schools, such as Bucknell University, “encourage home-schooled students to enroll in a college summer program during the summer before their senior year, or enroll in a college course junior or first semester senior year.” Be aware that some colleges ask for these types of experiences, and then plan accordingly!

All in all, colleges will consider applications from homeschooled students on a case-by-case basis, and different schools will have different requirements for these non-traditional applicants. As Dartmouth College states on their admissions website, “Dartmouth receives many applications from home school students, and our holistic review process means we consider each applicant within the context of their educational environment, community, and opportunities.”

While homeschooling alone won’t get a student admitted to college (admissions committees will be looking to see that there was a strong homeschooling environment, one that provided the student with opportunities to excel academically and otherwise, and that the student is motivated and bright), those who have been homeschooled should be aware of the fact that opportunities for higher education abound. Do the research on the admissions policies at different colleges, work hard, and be sure to tell your unique story when the time comes to apply! And, of course, if you need any guidance or support along the way, Admitster can help you to own your journey to college!

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