Virtual College Exploration

College on a Hill, College admissions

The best way to get a feel for a college is to visit, get a tour, and spend time on campus.  Unfortunately, that’s not always possible, especially in the days of Covid.  Here are some ways to learn about a college from home.

  1. Virtual Tours – Most people are familiar with college Q&As and virtual tours put on by the school. Some websites that have good virtual tours are You Visit and Campus Tours
  2. YouTube – A good way to learn about colleges from a student’s point of view is through YouTube Videos. This is going to vary greatly on how informative and helpful it is depending on the video. If you start watching and aren’t thrilled, look for a different video.  You are likely to see lived-in dorm rooms, dining hall food, and other aspects of campus life as students take you around.  There’s a mix of students trying to make professional videos to students trying to be authentic and showing the behind the scenes tour of the college.
  3. Student Paper – The school you are interested in most likely has a student newspaper and you are likely to be able to find it online these days. Read a few issues to get an idea of what is important to the students on campus.
  4. Comparison – Knowing the data and how the school compares to others in areas that matter to you might be helpful. For those questions, I like Niche and College Data.  Beware of lists that say “best” of anything – you need to know what criteria they used when they created the list.  If their criteria differs from what you want to know, it isn’t a helpful list for your purposes.
  5. Get in touch – Start by getting in touch with an admissions counselor. If there are college fairs (virtual or in-person) there is often a good point of contact there or look on the school’s website and find out which admissions counselor works with your area.  Ask them a few questions you have about the school and ask if you can get in touch with current students or alumni to find out more information.

Likely, Target, Reach, Oh my!

College Campus Strathmore, college admissions

You may have heard different terms thrown around when talking about choosing where to apply.  There are several terms that mean essentially the same thing.  I’ll go through the three I use but the others are fine too.  Remember, that these terms are based on your grades and test scores.  There are other aspects that can make you more or less of a candidate for each school so this is just a baseline we use to make sure there is variety in your applications.

A likely school describes exactly what it is – a school you are likely to get into.  Another term you’ll hear is a safety school, I’m less of a fan of that term because it has a connotation of second (or less than) choice.   The school that is the absolute best match for you in every way could be a likely school, it doesn’t have to be more difficult to get into for it to be the best choice for you.

A target school is a school that your grades and test scores fall around the 50th percentile.  You have a good shot of getting in though it still could go either way.  You can find information on test scores and GPA on a college’s website, on your Naviance account, or on several websites including

Reach schools are any school that is a little more selective and your grades fall under that 50th percentile.  Also, any ivy league or very selective school is considered a reach school even if you have an amazing weighted and unweighted GPA, fantastic SAT scores, and a list of leadership activities to go with it.  Ivy League schools are not a guarantee for anyone.   Definitely apply if you are interested and you love it, but only if it is a great fit.  These schools are looking for students who will help enhance the culture of their school, and from one year to the next will have different qualities that they are seeking.

The number one goal is to find a few schools that are a great fit each student as an individual, then to make sure there is some diversity of likelihood in the group of schools that the student applies to.

Tips for Writing your Common App Essay

Women writing her college admissions essay

Below are some tips for writing your Common App Essay.

  1. Breathe. This essay is a chance for others to get to know you. Just relax and be yourself.
  2. Be specific. Don’t try to write about your whole life, choose one story to tell and stick to that topic.
  3. Start writing. Sometimes taking the first step of getting words down on a piece of paper is the most difficult. Start writing and perfect it later.
  4. Share with only 1 or 2 honest people. You do want feedback but you don’t want ALL of the feedback. Choose 1-2 people you trust to give you honest feedback and to ask you pointed questions to shape your essay.
  5. Be yourself. I know this was in tip 1, but it can’t be said frequently enough. The goal is for the college admissions counselors to hear your voice in your writing and to get to know you. Don’t try to guess what other people want to hear, you need to share your unique story. If a college doesn’t admit you for being you, then it wasn’t a great fit.
  6. Edit, edit, once more – edit. Over several weeks, you will edit your essay many times. Be ready to revisit, answer tough questions, narrow down, expand, explain, and change any aspects to improve it. Also, make sure you are the one to make those changes so they are still in your voice and you are happy with the results.
  7. Be proud. Once you and your trusted editors decide the essay is finished, it is time to be proud of it, leave it alone, and move on. You have plenty to stay busy during senior year, don’t keep revisiting something once it’s done.