The College Admission Scam shows how destructive it is for a student’s character and sense of self.

As I read about the recent college admissions scam, my thoughts went to the kids whose parents were participants in this behavior and what they knew of it—or were they even asked about it?

Thank goodness, in my 28 years, first as a Harvard Interviewer and later as an independent college consultant,  I haven't encountered such parents. But the message these parent’s actions deliver is so counter to the way I was trained by Bill Fitzsimmons, Dean of Admissions at Harvard. We want students with top numbers of course, but we also want them to have a well developed sense of ethics, students with character—honesty, kindness, consideration for others, and the list goes on.

Unfortunately, I wonder how the children of these parents involved in this college admissions scandal, can ever emerge from this with their character intact, or was character development even part of their early training? If not, how very sad.

When I first meet a student who comes for college counseling, I begin with who they are as a person, and together we look for their strongest character trait with accompanying examples of it in action, then how to use it in any college interviews and also as their application’s personal statement essay. This is the way to distinguish themselves from other applicants, and in this process, they will have been the deciding factor—not their parent’s money for how they got into an elite college.

 I notice a different attitude once we have begun to do this work—more confidence, less fear of the process of getting into college. And the confidence builds as time passes. Even they notice that they feel very competent and confident to handle visiting colleges, introducing themselves to professors, admissions officers—anyone they meet when they are touring the colleges.

All I can hope is that something changes for these kids mixed up in this college admissions scam, and that they find people who will give them another example of how adults with character conduct themselves, and use that information to guide their life choices.



Who you are as a person with all of your outstanding character traits, qualities, and ways of being in this world are important and help you describe yourself to others—especially College Admissions.

Regardless of the colleges you choose, these schools need to be able to distinguish you from your competition in order to admit you. If you choose a top school, you will be among applicants with very impressive grades, test scores and activities. If you apply to less challenging schools, you will still be competing with others who have similar qualifications. So it is imperative that you find a unique way to set yourself apart from your competition.

Brainstorm with your parents who know you best and may remember incidents which you have forgotten, Since colleges are interested in finding out who a student is, this is the time to self-promote—nothing arrogant or phony—just an honest, straight-forward self-portrayal.

Here’s how you do that. You develop a competitive edge or "Who Am I"—a verbal self-portrait which features your most outstanding character trait with accompanying examples to show that quality in action.

Here’s an example a former student used.

He wanted to get across the fact that he was a ”Leader who knew how to both motivate and inspire others." He began his essay this way…

“And so my fellow constituents, since you have elected me your President, here’s what I propose. I looked out at the people sitting in front of me, all seemed to be awaiting my every word. The great hall where we were located echoed my voice which I tried to raise to presidential proportions. 'We live a very self-indulgent life—yes, I see some of you are shaking your heads in disagreement—be honest, we have the best of everything here at a school where our father’s attended and their fathers before them. My proposal is this—we share the wealth—we go to a public school in Harlem, choose a grade—say 9th, bring them to our school for a semester, and take our 9th grade to their school. NO, no please, let’s behave the way we were taught—Think what a terrific opportunity for both schools—we help them and they help us to understand what needs to be done to improve their lives, their education. We can all be leaders in this effort. I’d like to see a show of hands willing to help me make this happen. WOW, you take my breath away—only 5 who disagree.'

He then takes this essay into more personal terms and explains how he marketed this idea to the School Board, and was turned down until last week, when they said—"'make it happen. We have changed our minds.”And what that change did to his sense of self and where he wanted to take his life.

So remember—dig deep and find your most outstanding quality—then find a way to introduce the quality in action, hopefully making it clear in your example just how it affects your actions. Good luck, I’m sure you will do yourselves proud.

What NOT To Do When Writing Your College Essays

There is an article in the NYT about essays which show exactly what you DO NOT WANT TO DO with your college essays. 

There are 5 essays:

The 1st essay tried too hard to be creative and use impressive SAT words. I'm left wondering who is this young man and what does he offer a college?

2nd essay--It's a young woman whose farmer father wanted a boy she thought. Same problem--who is she?

3rd essay--it's all about his dad--who isn't the college applicant.

4th essay--She does tax prep--interesting premise but could be stronger. She tells us a lot about her clients, instead of telling us who she is and why she has chosen to do this work

5th essay--it's all about her grandmother--who is not the college applicant.

When you write your college essays you want to use a conversational tone as though you are talking with a friend. You do not use big $50 dollar words to get your points across. You use normal speak. This is a common problem.

Colleges are not interested in how impressive, unusual, dedicated, driven or compassionate your dad, mom or grandmother are. They want to know your qualities and how and why they show up in your life in your descriptions. You might drive home the point by bringing up these family members but not dedicate the essay to them.

Please remember--you must make a case for why a college should be interested in you--you do not do this by pointing out the assets, winning qualities, or character traits of family members. You focus on who you are and why a college should be interested in you. FOCUS ON WHO YOU ARE!

How To Prepare For Your College Tour

Before Your College Tour:

  • Go to the college website—check out the tour route and the Guide’s name. 
  • Before the tour, especially if this is a favorite school, contact several friends who attend there and set up an over-night and day on campus (attend classes, eat at the dining hall, get a feel for dorm life.)

What To Do While You Are On Your College Tour:

  • Arrive 5 minutes early, try to get to the head of the line. Introduce yourself. Make sure to have a notebook with you—write down all the places the tour guide will show you, and any questions you need answered.
  • Find out where the following are: the Admissions Office, sports areas (gym, pool, exercise facilities), freshman dorms and upper class dorms, dining halls, science and art labs, and health center. Pick up a college map of important locations.
  • Contact the professors who are teaching the subjects of interest to you and when they are scheduled.  Ask if you might sit in on their classes. At the conclusion of the class, spend some time with the professor if possible for a Q & A.
  • Check over your notes, see if there is anything that needs further clarification and get those answers before you leave the campus.

After Your Tour

  • After the tour has concluded, set up an appointment with an Admission’s Officer. During the interview describe your most important quality with examples that shows it in action which gives Admissions a way to see you as a valuable candidate.
  • Remember to thank all those people you met on your college tour and any others along the way who helped you.



Now, what do you do? First step—understand your school’s position—will they support you? You need them, so find a way to get their support. You may need a therapist to help you unravel why you did what you did for which you were given this punishment. Hopefully your parents are understanding and supportive.

Once you have made some headway in figuring out your problem, you need to take some time away from the stresses of applying to colleges—take a Gap year. During this year, find a volunteer position which shows you have learned from the experience. This is a crucial step, because you have broken the trust with your school. That is what caused them to put you on probation or suspend you in the first place.

Therefore you need to do something to let your high school know you have changed, and prove to a college that you have learned some valuable lessons. 
So, the kind of volunteer work you choose should be in a position which has as it’s most important element trust—giving back to society. Work with the ACLU, Juvenile Justice Programs, where the work you do is based on trust. That way you get an opportunity to really show how deeply and completely you have learned.


Being put on a college Wait List means that you haven't made the sale. The college isn't sure about you—whether you are the right addition to their next class. So what should you do? Sitting at home and waiting for a college to come after you won't make it happen. Sometimes miracles do occur, but don't wait for one.

You must actively go about impressing that college with why you should be accepted. How to do this?

VISIT THE SCHOOL—and let them know you are coming.
Schedule an overnight while there (hopefully with someone you know who will put you up), if not, ask them to recommend someone.

VISIT CLASSES—find classes which make sense for your intended major and attend them.

Sign your name wherever possible—you want a record that you were there.

ASK FOR AN INTERVIEW—even if you already have had one. Try again, even if they say no. Once you are there, see if you can pop your head into the Admission's office and say Hi.

Write a snail mail letter (which will go into your file) and a duplicate email telling the college 3 reasons why you love their school and what you can do for the school if admitted.

Add any of your latest grades (if good), and any awards, interesting developments, etc. since you sent in your application.

Ask another strategic person to write an "introductory letter" (an alum, person of standing at the college, someone who will get their interest) stressing what you can do for their school (while describing your "who am I" which you have passed on to them).

If you are willing to do these things, you can make it off the List.
If you need, help, let me know.

Good luck!

Why Go To An Ivy League College?

What is so great about these top schools? Here's what I believe the number one reason is—the top professors teach there, and the students are very smart, so that the kind of education you will get in your classes—where your learning occurs is—as challenging and rigorous as possible.

Your brilliant professor opens the class with a provocative question about a topic being studied, then asks the class to give their points of view. Students are invited to use their reasoning and mental abilities to figure out how to answer or build on someone else's thoughts. There is never just one answer, but many (unless we are talking math or a science). 

What happens is that everyone has an opportunity to test out their theories, and points of view as they develop rationales for why they think the way that they do about a certain topic. Listening and sharing are the way these classes proceed. 

Opportunities to learn by thinking out loud is open to all. 

Why Should You Hire A College Consultant?

People often say, "I have a high school guidance counselor/college adviser, isn't that enough?" Not necessarily. 

If you have 15-20 students in your high school graduating class, and you get personal attention from the guidance counselor, then perhaps that's all that you need. However, you may want specific help from someone who gets to know you very well, and can help you understand your character traits and qualities. We can use these to help you stand out from other college applicants. Additionally, you can ask me any questions that you might be reluctant to ask your guidance counselor or teachers.

My Training

  • I have insider's knowledge. As a member of the Harvard Schools Committee, I interviewed and evaluated applicants for admission to Harvard, and gained a valuable perspective on how the admissions process works.
  • I sharpened my marketing and creative skills as both an Account Manager, working on a variety of products—Procter & Gamble, General Foods, and Revlon Cosmetics; and as a Copywriter winning 2 Clio awards for outstanding creativity. Using my marketing, advertising, and interviewing skills, over the past 28 years, I've helped hundreds of students find and gain acceptance to the right colleges and graduate schools for them.

  • My years in marketing and advertising have given me the skills and knowledge to quickly and perceptively focus in on exactly what you have to offer a college—your strengths, talents and special qualities.

  • I work individually with each student, and prefer to work directly one-on-one, not delegating to subordinates.  Thanks to skype I am able, after an initial face to face session, to continue my program with my students who are located all over the world.

I'm Different Than School Counselors. How?

  • Ideally, we meet BEFORE you consult with your school counselor in the beginning of your junior year. Why? So that you can put your best foot forward with them. I'll help you assist them in showing your best qualities when they write your recommendations later to the colleges.
  • High school counselors don't have the time, nor is it their role, to help you stand out from your classmates. I offer individual attention so that I can get to know you really well, help you develop and articulate your character traits and outstanding qualities, and how they show up in your life.
  • Together we develop a detailed self portrait which can be used as a guide for the common app Personal Statement essay. Also, you can use this for mock interviews as a prep for the on campus interviews with admission officers. Please try and get these on campus interviews. The colleges will say that they don't do them anymore, but they do, and I'll show you how to get them. 

Colleges and graduate schools need to be able to distinguish you from your competition in order to admit you. If you choose a top school, you will be among applicants with very impressive grades, test scores and activities. If you apply to less challenging schools, you will still be competing with others who have similar qualifications. So, it is imperative that you find a unique way to set yourself apart from your competition. I can help you with this.

If this process sounds appealing to you, give me a call (212) 794-1466, or email me.

Rethinking College Admissions Article- Does Frank Bruni of the NY Times Have it Right?

New York Times's, Frank Bruni, wrote this article: Rethinking College Admissions

A parent asked my take on this article and I said--"there are some undeniable facts to contend with--as long as money and power rule in our society, the idea that we are going to "turn the tide' in college admissions and focus on other important elements like 'caring for others, and happiness etc.' and relegate competition and bettering others to the background is a great idea. It's been a constant refrain for at least 15 or more years, if memory serves, but nothing really happens. So where are the changes? When will they be implemented? I'm still waiting."


Well, here's one solution.

Take a PG (post graduate) year at any of the many boarding schools which have a 13th school year. This way you will have a year beyond your senior year to improve your grades and find an activity which you can use to distinguish yourself, especially a sport, which now you have the time for which to excel. If you do excel, there is a chance you can be recruited by a college. That is an excellent way to find yourself in the enviable position of being "the chooser" rather than waiting to be chosen.

Here's what you do. Inform your current high school over the summer that you are planning on taking a PG year, and that you don't feel ready for college yet. Ask for their help in recommending schools where they might have contacts or find schools on your own.

Set up a game plan for September of your senior year--contact 5-6 boarding schools, visit them, fill out and then send in your applications by January 1st, or whenever each boarding school's application is due. Acceptances generally come out in April.

If you have any questions, please contact me and I will help you.


There are many in the college counseling business who feel that Skyping and video chatting with a student are just as good as in-person counseling. Although I certainly do both, I prefer being face to face with a student. Here's why.. because I can pick up on their energy much faster and more easily, develop good eye contact (great practice for interviews), tune in to the non-verbal cues (giving me more information about them that helps with their application process), diminish communication gaps and misinterpretations, and of course, eliminate the potential distractions around them and mechanical malfunctions of video.

I believe my ability to help my students is enhanced by how fast and thoroughly I can get to know them, and understand where their strengths and weaknesses are. Once I see those strengths, I begin to put the pieces of a puzzle called "who is this person?" together. Then I work with the student to figure out just how can we best show his or her most outstanding qualities, find a hook or frame that separates them from other applicants and then work on refining that verbal image. Can I do this effectively on Skype? Of course, but it is so much faster and easier in- person.

What do you think about in person versus Skype communication, particularly for an interview?

REJECTED STUDENTS this is information for you!

If you don’t get into the college of your choice, because you were rejected and must take a 2nd or even 3rd choice…..
what do you do? Obviously, you find your best option, realizing that you may want to transfer.

An important reminder—for those schools who wanted you, but you rejected, send them a kind, positive email letting them know that much as you liked them, you found a school more in line with your needs, thank them and leave them feeling positive towards you. You never know when you might want them—should you decide to transfer.

Here’s how to proceed:

For those who chose Early Decision or Early Action Admission--

If you are rejected-- find out why?Ask your Guidance Counselor or College Advisor to call the college/s because you need to know what this college or these colleges feel you are lacking, so you can make the necessary corrections, and enhance your chances when you apply Regular admission.

For those who chose Regular Admission—

If you are rejected by your first choice--you have very few options— Certainly you want to know why,  go to your Guidance or College Advisor and ask them to call and find out why. If nothing materializes, then choose and attend the most desirable school. Then decide after the first 3 months whether you want to stay, leave at the end of your first year or after your 2nd.
It is easier to transfer after your 2nd year(Sophomore) than your first because you have established yourself, made friends, joined clubs, developed relationships with teachers(who will recommend you) and gotten top grades( vitally important).

Equally important, you need to have a significant reason for transferring. Schools are not eager to take someone who simply dislikes her current school and wants out. Find an academic  area of interest at other schools which your current school does not have, or has only limited courses in that discipline. Learn as much as you can about this area of interest at the schools to which you are transferring. What courses are involved, who is teaching them, what’s the professor’s bio—really know your subject and what each school offers, and why it is such an important area for you—how does it fit into your major career choice?

Do visit the school/s to which you want to transfer, try to get interviews—perhaps the dept. head in your area of interest. Then, when you write the essay about why you are transferring from school A, and why  you want to transfer to school B, you have very important, well-thought out reasons to support your transfer.

Good luck.

Rape On Campus Is Not Just A UVA Problem...

From all I've read so far, it appears that UVA holds the title for most egregious in the incidence and manner of handling the rape cases on their campus. But this is not just an issue at UVA from what I've been hearing and reading.

Therefore, I think one way to stem the tide of rapes on college campuses is to involve the police and see that those offenders go to jail. What do you think?

"From reading headlines today, one might think colleges have suddenly become hotbeds of protest by celebrated anti-rape activists. But like most colleges across America, genteel University of Virginia has no radical feminist culture seeking to upend the patriarchy. There are no red-tape-wearing protests like at Harvard, no 'sex-positive' clubs promoting the female orgasm like at Yale, no mattress-hauling performance artists like at Columbia, and certainly no SlutWalks. UVA isn't an edgy or progressive campus by any stretch. The pinnacle of its polite activism is its annual Take Back the Night vigil, which on this campus of 21,000 students attracts an audience of less than 500 souls. But the dearth of attention isn't because rape doesn't happen in Charlottesville. It's because at UVA, rapes are kept quiet, both by students – who brush off sexual assaults as regrettable but inevitable casualties of their cherished party culture – and by an administration that critics say is less concerned with protecting students than it is with protecting its own reputation from scandal. Some UVA women, so sickened by the university's culture of hidden sexual violence, have taken to calling it 'UVrApe'."

Read the rest of the article here 

Is This True? NYT Articles Says, "For Accomplished Students, Reaching A Good College Isn't As Hard As It Seems"

I'm both confused and concerned by this article. Based on my experience, I don't believe that the same number of top students are getting into the elite colleges as in the past. How did they make this determination? Did they get the information about the entire pool of university applications or just the ones that go through (which I've never heard of before)? 

"Earlier this year, Harvard announced that it had accepted 5.9 percent of the nearly 35,000 students who applied for admission to the class of 2018. The next day, Stanford announced an even more exacting 5.07 percent admission rate, the lowest in the university’s history.
Statistics like these have come to dominate the national narrative of elite college admissions, with each new batch of ever-more-minuscule success rates fueling a collective sense that getting into a good college has become a brutal, “Hunger Games"-style tournament that only the fittest survive.
That story is wrong. For well-qualified students, getting into a good college isn’t difficult. It probably isn’t that much harder than it was generations ago. The fact that everyone believes otherwise shows how reliance on a single set of data — in this case, institutional admission rates — can create a false sense of what’s really going on."
Read the rest of the article here



Ex Yale Professor Deresiewicz advises: For a good Education, Avoid the Ivy League.

Six years ago, in 2008, Deresiewicz participated in a Yale Admission’s process lasting all day to choose which applicants to admit. Even though this was only one day’s experience in the admissions process, it had a very strong effect on him and it appears to be the start of his upset with the Ivy League.

He began to formulate a belief which has come from many of his own students, hundreds of young people with whom he has spoken or those who have written him. This is all anecdotal to be sure, since he does not give us any valid documentation, impartial studies, nothing to give his words more credibility. Nonetheless he concludes “our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented, and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.”

He defines “elite education’’ to mean prestigious schools like Harvard, Stanford or Williams, as well as the larger universe of second-tier selective schools—but not Yale or his alma mater Columbia.  Why? He also includes all the private and affluent public high schools, tutors, consultants, test-prep courses, brand name grad schools and the jobs that come afterward, and even the parents who push their kids in this direction.

At least, he does admit his personal attitude about this subject—he went off to the best college that would take him like a “sleepwalker.”

I think he just woke up to the discomfort with the business he was involved in, and to put it charitably, would like to see this system become less elite and more democratic, but offers us nothing as options.

Here is a very thoughtful refutation of William Deresiewicz article—a Harvard take-down you might call it.

I believe the author Priyanka Menon, displays the kind of education one can achieve at an Ivy---the ability to carefully weigh the points this professor makes, showing their flaws and essentially showing us how he misses making a really good argument---so I’m even more in favor of what is taught there.

What do you think about the ex Yale Professor’s comments or the Harvard student, Priyanka Menon’s rebuttal?

Do you agree or disagree with either one? Do you have another point of view? If so, please share it.

Original article is here:

How Much Self Revealing is Too Much for Your Student?

Good heavens! It’s hard to believe that any college applicants can be so misguided as to self- reveal in the manner described by this Assistant Yale Admission’s Director (article below), and several other college counselors. I don’t think this will ever be an issue for my students because of the way I structure our work. We immediately determine what character trait or quality defines them as a person and then we find narratives of these qualities in action in their lives. So when the time comes for essay writing, they have various excellent approaches. Without this kind of structure, I can imagine that many students will just talk themselves into writing drop-dead inappropriate essays that will get them rapidly rejected, which happened with those described in this article. See if you think any of these kid’s startling revelations have any merit, and if so why, if not, why not?

The article: NAKED CONFESSIONS OF THE COLLEGE-BOUND. Overshadowing in the Admission’s Essays by Frank Bruni in the June 14, NY Times.

"The Yale applicant had terrific test scores. She had fantastic grades. As one of Yale’s admissions officers... leafed through her application, he found himself more and more impressed. Then he got to her essay. As he remembers it, she mentioned a French teacher she greatly admired. She described their one-on-one conversation at the end of a school day. And then, this detail: During their talk, when an urge to go to the bathroom could no longer be denied, she decided not to interrupt the teacher or exit the room. She simply urinated on herself."

Her point was that she was not going to pull herself away from an intellectually stimulating conversation just to meet a physical need...

And his point in sharing her story in a recent interview? The same as mine in passing it along.

Read the rest of the article:

Choosing The Right Help For Your Student

It must be very confusing to high school  kids and their parents to figure out just who can be most helpful with college admissions? Is it the High School Guidance Counselors who must advise often 40-150 kids without the necessary time and ability to get to know each student’s unique story to help them stand out from others. Would this even be fair or appropriate to help only some students stand out from others in their class?

Then what about the independent college consultants, especially those who have been in the admissions offices of some of the top Ivy League colleges? They certainly know what admission’s offices are looking for, but do they know how to help a student discover what is unique about them so they will stand out from other students. Then do they know how to package and sell that student most uniquely and effectively  to gain admission?

That is done by marketing and advertising “know how.” The ability to find out what qualities, characteristics, abilities a student has which makes him or her unique, develop a strategy based on this difference, and then prepare that student to take advantage of this difference. This is a marketing principle I learned in advertising, and is how package goods has been sold effectively by companies for years. The same principle applies to students wanting to increase their chances of getting into top schools.

This is the governing principle of The College Entrance Specialist which I have used for 26 years to help my students get into the right colleges.


(Appeared in The New York Times May 29th article by Richard Perez-Pena)

I think the headline is misleading—this is what I think the author is really saying - Is Stanford toppling Harvard as the new “IT"  school for technology? And, how much does Harvard really care?

Stanford has its connections to Silicon Valley which gets credit for giving birth to giants like Google, Yahoo and Cisco, yet Harvard has MIT down the road in Cambridge and is planning offerings in computer science and engineering across the river in the Allston area of Boston. Both have good tech credentials. In this article, the writer thinks Stanford’s are more impressive. Depends on what a college/university wants to emphasize as their signature feature.

Harvard has always excelled in the humanities, feeling that Liberal Arts is the hallmark of  “real undergraduate” preparation, not so with Stanford where science is king. But does science make or break a school?  Which school makes the valid claim to being a “sink or swim” educational challenge?

Harvard students tell everyone how hard they work and how intense Harvard is, while Stanford students may work really hard but show everyone how laid back they are. My conclusion— both are valid.

What do you think? Read the article here.


Why Use A Hook To Introduce A College Essay?

Some advisors recommend “hooks” as creative options but don’t really make much of a case for using them.

I don't think the purpose of a "hook" was made very clear in this article. If there are 80,000 applicants to UCLA, and you want to be considered, you must find a way to stand out from the other 79,999. How do you do that? Take a good look at what you have to offer how would you sum up the most significant quality you possess? Perhaps, you are very determined. How can you show that quality manifesting in your every day life? Find a way to make that quality, with your example, be very appealing, convincing and extremely important, in fact, focus your essay on this quality. Use that example as the narrative which leads the reader to your outstanding quality. That's the way to approach a "hook"!