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Expert Opinions on the College Admissions Process
by Dave Berry

When College Students Need Counseling Help

This past week, I saw a news story about a freshman at Penn State University who, on the first day of classes, climbed a tall construction crane and fell to his death. It was ruled a suicide.

No one may ever know why this bright and likeable young man chose to end his life. These types of stories are all too common on today’s college campuses.  The difficult part about detecting depression and other psychological issues among college students is exacerbated by the students’ separation from their families’ most times sensitive and overseeing eyes.

Young people, especially sensitive teens, can be affected by any number of negative stimuli in college. Perhaps two of the main agents of depressive effects might be alcohol and drugs. The issue of college drinking is in the forefront of today’s collegiate headlines. Drugs, while not as high profile as alcohol, can be easily obtained on campus. The recent legalization of marijuana in some states has certainly increased its use by college students.

So, what should a college student do if s/he finds him/herself experiencing the effects of anything from a chronic case of “the blues” all the way to full-blown depression? The answer to this is something that every collegian and his/her parents should know. That answer is college counseling services, which are there for the express purpose of preventing tragedies like the one mentioned above.

Almost all colleges have counseling services that are available to all students and covered in the price of tuition and fees.  Students should take advantage of this opportunity even if they are not
feeling as if they are experiencing mental health problems. Counseling services often offer helpful advising for students who are concerned about substance abuse (current or potential), eating disorders, or adjustment to college academic or social life. Plus, there are often support groups for many other types of issues, such as  sexual abuse, bereavement, and  LGBT concerns.

college psycological counseling

What do college counseling services offer? Let’s take a look at some sample programs. More »

Posted in College Life, General, Parents    

Packing It In for College

Many colleges have already started classes. Others won’t receive students until after Labor Day, which arrives early this year. If you’re a college-bound freshman-to-be who has yet to depart for your halls of ivy, you may be wondering what all to take and, perhaps more importantly, what not to take.

Well, in the spirit of saving you the expense of hiring an 18-wheeler moving van, allow me to advise you about the art of packing for college. Take notes! (Incidentally, if you’re a high school senior who will apply to college this fall, or the parent of one, you should take notes too. You’ll be surprised how fast late August gets here next year.)

Most new college students pack way too many things when they prepare for that first year away on campus. The problem is that they many times forget to take some important items that will come in far more handy than those galoshes that Mom secretly slipped into your bag. A while ago, I was interviewed by a reporter for a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania newspaper about the art of packing for college. The article was sagely entitled “What to pack for college and what to leave behind.” I say “sagely” because the “art” of packing includes knowing what to pack and, perhaps more importantly, what not to pack.

My wife and I are eight-year veterans of college packing. We have a son and a daughter who went through the college years with tons of stuff shuttling between their college homes and ours. Now, many years after their graduation, a good deal of all that stuff takes up space in our downstairs storage areas, a tribute to this family’s pack-rat syndrome.

packed van

The challenge comes in knowing what to leave behind. One of the best ways to determine what you need to live is to do a “lifestyle inventory.” A lifestyle inventory is a chronicle of what you use in your everyday life to maintain your current standard of living. It involves taking some notes and pausing for thought, but the result can be quite practical. More »

Posted in College Life, General, Parents    

Three Words of Wisdom for College-Bound Students

Are you headed to college this month or next? Parents, do you have a son or daughter who will leave the nest and fly to a campus somewhere? If so, those college-bound young people should ponder and remember a few wise words during their pass through higher education.

No, those words are not eat, drink, and be merry. According to keynote speaker, business author, sales and marketing strategist, and former dean of student affairs, Jeff Beals, writing in LinkedIn, those words are responsibility, authority, and accountability.

three words

How do Beals’ three words relate to those going to college for the first time? What do I have to say about them (if you’re interested in my opinion)? If you want to know, read on. More »

Posted in College Life, General, Parents    

School Starts in August. What to Do?

I remember clearly that when I was in high school (heck, even as far back as junior high school), the waning days of August were a bittersweet time for me. I had a love-hate relationship with school. I loved being together with all my classmates who became scattered over the summer, but I hated the thought of homework, tests, and my loss of freedom to lie in our hammock under the apple tree in our back yard and lazily read Archie comic books while following Mickey Mantle’s quest for the Triple Crown.

In our neighborhood, we had a late-August ritual: harvesting apples in my friend’s apple orchard. They were the really big yellow kind. We called them “banana apples.” My friend, Sam, and I would help his parents and some neighbors fill basket after basket with these carefully grown apples. They took good care of those apple trees and after a few days and evenings of work, all the baskets were filled and the tree branches had sprung skyward, free of their fruity burden. We all took a brimming basket home as payment for our labors.

Those days are long gone and so are those apple trees. Every late August I remember the mixed feelings I had as we picked those babies. It was like we were harvesting not only fruit but also gathering or thoughts about the school year that was about to begin. If you are a high school student, even a junior high school student, maybe you share the same feelings that I had back in that orchard. Preparing to go back to school after a long (well, maybe not-long-enough) summer can be a chore. What should you do? How should you think? What will you need? How can your transition from summer bliss to homework and tests be made easier?


Just yesterday, I received a helpful message entitled Tips on How High School Students Can Prepare for the First Day of School. These tips came courtesy of Frances Kweller, CEO of Kweller Prep, a learning incubator specializing in test preparation. Although there’s nothing in them about picking apples, you may find a nugget or two that can help you roll out of your hammock and settle into your new classrooms. Let’s see what these tips (and my comments) can do for you. More »

Posted in College Admissions, General, Parents    

A Quick Quiz And A Question

In my college admissions counseling work, one of the key issues I face is how to get these young people to know who they are and how they think. Of course, they may think they know who they are, but few are directly aware of why they think the way that they do. This awareness of self-identity is a crucial tool when they are presenting themselves to their prospective colleges. I have developed a two-step process for dealing with this. I call it “a quick quiz and a question.”

Here’s the assignment I give:

I would like to get to know you better. Thus, this little exercise should help me do that.

First, the “quiz.” It won’t take long at all and I think you’ll enjoy it. Please go to and click through the 72 questions on that page. This will take only a few minutes. Honest!

Note: Please don’t spend a long time pondering your answers. Just go with your immediate gut reaction for each one. This will render a more accurate result. When you’re done, click “Score it!” and then copy and paste the results page (please include the “preference” numbers that appear for each of the four letters) and send it to me. After I see that, I’ll send you some profiling information that I think you’ll find fascinating.

Second, here’s a short question I’d like you to answer for me. Please be as honest as possible.  Don’t tell me what you think I want to hear, but, rather, exactly what’s in your heart. Be as brief or expansive as you wish. (This is a variation of a one-time Princeton University application essay prompt.) Here goes:

- What is your true passion?  If you could spend a full year doing any one thing, what would that one thing be?

(Again, even if you would say, “Sitting on a beach playing ‘ing’ on my iPad,” that would be fine by me. I’m just trying to dig for what most passionately interests you.)

Okay. That’s my Quick Quiz & Question assignment. There’s no rush on this. Take your time and get to it when you have a chance. This will kick off our essay work.

guy at computer

Once I get the results of the quiz, I send some deeper detail to the students. Here are some examples of that. More »

Posted in College Admissions, College Search, General, Parents    

“Free Ivy Education”: A Deceptive Headline?

I receive a regular roundup of Web-published stories from LinkedIn every week. The other day, I got one that featured this headline link: How I Attend/Attended Yale & Princeton for Free. My first reaction to seeing that was something along the lines of, “Oh, here’s a student from a family whose household income is below the magic ‘free-ride’ level.” Then I clicked the link and saw the details.

After doing a quick scan of the content, I immediately thought of an old Steve Martin standup routine where he effects the loud voice of a TV pitchman and blurts out, “How to be a millionaire and not pay any taxes!” Then, after our curiosity is aroused, he puts his hand over his mouth to obscure his next statement, spoken almost imperceptibly: “First, get a million dollars …” This is what I call a “give ‘em a leg then take it away” approach by the LinkedIn headline.  (For the benefit of those of you who never heard of the famous old pro football player, Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, that’s what they used to say about his illusive running style. He would “give you a leg” (fake one way) and then “take it away” (change direction untouched).) You might call this headline a bait and switch, but, the article is worth your time to investigate.

The author, Tamra Simmons, President of Corporate/Entertainment Affairs, opens her article with this, in reference to her Elroy Hirsch-like headline:

NOOO your eyes did not play tricks on you with the title of this post. I attended /attend Yale and Princeton for free and now [sic] enrolled in taking classes online at Duke university, for free! Not because I was the first one to discover the cure to some unknown ailment, not because I put together a plan that even NASA scientists couldn’t believe, but all because I diligently search for opportunities at lower cost and found how I could continue learning and evolving at no or little cost.

elroy hirsch

Now there’s a introductory paragraph to grab your interest. Let’s take a closer look to see what’s really going on here. More »

Posted in College News, College Search, General, Parents    

Elite Colleges = Elite Bang for Your Bucks?

This is a popular argument topic with which I have some personal experience. I probably don’t have to tell you about the cost of college these days. It’s stunning. Over the past decade, many families have begun to question their ROI (return on investment) from so-called “elite” colleges. Those would be the Ivy League institutions and perhaps those stretching across the Top 25 or even Top 50 schools, as ranked by such “authorities” as U.S. News.

Anyway, I mentioned that I have some personal experience, as a parent, with the “value” of elite colleges. In my particular case, that experience comes from our son being admitted to and graduating from Princeton University. My being an independent college admissions counselor certainly didn’t hurt our son’s admissions process. I was able to articulate and coach the various components of the considerable task that faced him.

He applied to and was accepted at four schools, quite a few less than the trend these days, where high-performing high school seniors are applying to 10, 15, even 20 (!) colleges. Our son’s four were Princeton (Early Action), Cornell University, Haverford College, and Swarthmore College. Of course, getting the late Dean Hargadon’s famous “Yes!” letter in mid-December of his senior year made his remaining three Regular Decision applications eventual moot points. They were helpful, though, from an informational standpoint in the area of financial aid. I learned a lot about the relationships among school size, endowments, investment-per-student, and need-based aid.

One of my regularly touted maxims over the years for high school students has been, “Get into the best and most expensive college that you can.” My rationale for this is essentially “Follow the money.” Once again, my personal parental experience comes into play regarding our son’s college process. He was accepted not only at Princeton (EA), but also at Cornell, Haverford, and Swarthmore. He waited to enroll at Princeton until after the remaining three schools had played their hands in financial aid. This is where I learned a lot about the power of huge endowments.

Princton pic

At the time we filled out the FAFSA, CSS Profile, and Princeton-specific financial aid forms, our family income was quite modest, so we were concerned about being able to pay for our son’s college. This is the plight of many families as they wade into the realm of higher education. But, we shouldn’t have been as concerned as we were. More »

Posted in College Admissions, College Search, Financial Aid    

Less-Than-Beautiful College Campuses

Have you done any college campus visits yet? Many high school juniors — even sophomores — and especially seniors use the summer to travel to the schools to which they’re thinking about applying. Prior to visiting, thanks to the mail bombardment most colleges unleash on high school prospects, most colleges appear to be quite gorgeous. Those expensive, glossy, full-color brochures tout their respective institutions’ images with unabashed glitz.

Have you ever noticed that a lot of them seem very much alike? If visitors from another solar system came to Earth and found a bunch of these slick marketing pieces, they would no doubt report back to home base that America’s higher-education institutions have the following characteristics:

  • students are tall and thin; they dress smartly and smile frequently
  • most colleges and universities are located in “Sun-belt” areas where clouds are rare
  • classes are small and seminar-like and held on lush, green lawns
  • a beautiful lake is the visual center of most campuses; ducks and geese abound
  • the architectural theme is “Gorgeous Gothic” with spires and arches galore
  • and so forth and so on.

See where this is headed? The bottom line: Don’t judge a college by its brochure. You must gather first-hand intelligence about the schools on your list by actually visiting. You must trod the sod to see what a college is really like!

Perhaps the most misleading impression that you might get about a prospective school is that one particular bullet point above that says:

- the architectural theme is “Gorgeous Gothic” with spires and arches galore

The truth may actually be more like “Sixties Reinforced Bomb Shelter Concrete.” Which brings us to the point of my article: Ugly American College Campuses.

ugly college building

There are a number of “Ugly College” articles out there, but I stumbled upon one that is vying for premier status: The Daily Caller Presents: The Definitive List Of The 17 Ugliest College Campuses In America. Let’s take a look at a few of the “sad seventeen,” along with excerpts from the sometimes hilarious Daily Caller comments (and BroBible). Let this serve as fair warning to those of you who may have some of these schools on your list but have not yet have visited. More »

Posted in College Admissions, College Search, General    

Getting A Fresh(man) Start

Be it hereby known to all Politically Correct (PC) Policemen … In this article, I will refer to a first-year college student as a “freshman” or, as a group, “freshmen,” regardless of their gender. I’ll leave the terms “freshperson,” “freshwoman,” or even “freshwomyn” to others more socially astute than I am. I’ve even heard PC addicts propose “fresh carbon-based unit” to further nullify gender bias, but I’ll save that jewel for a future opus.

Now that we have disclaimers out of the way, let’s get to the point of offering some advice to all of you about-to-be college freshmen out there. Your life is about to change in significant ways and you may need some tips on adjusting your behaviors and thinking in order to negotiate the major changes you’re about to experience.

In surveying the Web for inspiration on the the topic of getting off on the right college-freshman foot, I came across a solid roundup article on U.S. News: 10 Tips College Freshmen Should Know.

freshman move-in

Let’s take a look at some of these. I may even add a few comments of my own. More »

Posted in College Life, General, Parents    

Your Rising-Senior Summer: Taking Stock

August is on the horizon and will soon be here. All you rising high school seniors know what that means: school looms. Many of you have been actively involved in the college process already, having worked with your counselors to craft a meaningful and challenging course schedule. Your planning may have begun as far back as junior high school.

Most of you who are planning applications to competitive colleges, or even so-called “elite” colleges, no doubt began your planning in 9th grade, the beginning of your high school career. Your planning may have already included college visits and detailed research regarding finding the best match between your needs and colleges’ abilities to meet them. I’ve written at length here and on College Confidential about the preparation cycle, those actions that well-prepared applicants should take to make their college decisions count.

Speaking of preparatory actions, one of the best actions rising seniors can take, as you head toward the end of summer and the start of senior year, is to take inventory of where you are and where you’ve been with your overall academic and extracurricular profile. So, what I’d like to present today is a kind of “roundup” form into which you can put all the important data that comprises who you are as a potential college applicant.


The purpose of this End of Summer Inventory (pioneered by College Confidential’s Sally Rubenstone) is to give you a comprehensive overview, on one page, of what you have accomplished so far in your high school career. It also serves the dual role of showing you what you haven’t done and likely will need to do early on in your senior year.

So, if you’re motivated to take my advice and assess your accomplishments to date, copy the following form and paste it into a Word document. Once you have done that, you can begin to compile your data.

After you’ve finished entering all your information and double-checked it for accuracy, you may want to print out the finished form and give it to your school’s college counselor for his/her information. Granted, your counselor has access to all this information, but it is not likely available in such a convenient, concise format. This will also exhibit your proactive attitude toward your college goals. That may endear you to your counselor who, as you may recall, will be responsible for providing your school’s “flagship” recommendation for all your college applications. That certainly can’t hurt.

So, here’s the form. Consider its advantages and fill it out as completely as possible. More »

Posted in College Admissions, College Search, Parents