Thinking About Next Year's Classes

by Becky Georgenes

Senior College Counselor, Road to College

Former Princeton University admission officer 


High schoolers usually need to pick their classes for the following year in or around March. But it’s good to start thinking about what you’ll take now.


I always encourage students to think longer term about their program of study – not just for the upcoming year but for the rest of high school. You don’t need to make any official decisions yet, but just start thinking of your path. Begin with the list of course offerings that you should easily be able to find on your school’s website.


Next, start at the end, and think backwards. What are your goals by the time you are a senior? If you hope to take an AP class or two (or five) as a senior, then you should try to take an Honors class or two (or five) as a freshman if your school offers them.  If you hope to take AP science classes as a junior or senior, check to find out which math classes you will need as a prerequisite. If you hope to double up on a languages by junior year, then check to see what your school’s graduation requirements are in various subjects (including electives) as you might decide to drop a subject once you have fulfilled the requirements so that you have room for a second language. Discuss these ideas with your guidance counselor.


Students at some schools may have limited opportunities to take AP classes, often because of scheduling conflicts, so as you are thinking about what you might take, be sure to have a backup plan. If you get shut out of a class for any reason, think about your alternatives. Could you take an online class? Or could you take a course at a local community college? And remember, if you are ultimately unable to take a class that you had hoped to take (perhaps your school’s only AP Chem class meets at the same time as AP French), then your counselor could explain the conflict to colleges in their letter of recommendation, or you could make note of it in the “Additional Information” section of the application.


And finally, when deciding what trade-off's are OK to make in order to pursue a certain course of study, just think about how you would explain it if asked in an interview.  For example:
Why did you stop taking Spanish after sophomore year?”


“Well, I know that I want to major in Computer Science in college, so I want to take an academic program heavy in math and science in high school.  But I also want to take as many tech classes as possible that my high school offers – this includes both of the AP Computer Science classes as well as the Digital Art and Media courses. In order to do this, I had to make some choices. And as result, I had no room left for Spanish.  I hope to be able to begin taking Spanish again in college.”


So think about your long term plan. Choose courses wisely. And remember, high school is a great time to try new things as you start to determine which path you hope to take in your future.

Some Essay Pet Peeves - from someone who has read a lot of essays

By: Becky Georgenes

As an Admission Officer at Princeton University, it was my responsibility to read and evaluate 25 applications a day.  And on a good day, I could get through 20 or 21.  Needless to say, I worked a lot of weekends. As a college counselor for Road to College, I am still reading essays, but now it's typically multiple times. And I give suggestions to students on how they can refine and revise their work. Here are a few of my pet peeves that hopefully you can learn from. 


LEAD  pronounced "leed"is a verb in present tense .  You could say, "I am going to lead a rebellion one day in the future." 

LEAD pronounced "led" is a noun. You could say, "My joke went over like a lead balloon." 

LED pronounced "led" is a verb that is the past tense of lead. You could say, "Last year, I led a rebellion."  

DON'T SAY:  "Last year, I lead a rebellion."  or more likely:  "Last year, as captain, I lead my team to victory."  That is just wrong. 



You don't need to write phrases such as: 
"I believe, I know, In my opinion, To me, In my mind," etc.  You are saying it.  So the reader knows it.  (And you don't want to waste precious words on unnecessary phrases.) 

For example, instead of saying:  "I think that the courses that such-and-such university offers are...." Speak with confidence and just say it. Don't say that you think it.  (And while you are at it, use active verbs.) 

"Such-and-such university offers courses that...." 


You will hear all sorts of advice on what to write about and what NOT to write about.  Some people say, "Don't write about your service trip. Don't write about divorce. Don't write about death." etc. etc. 

My advice is this: Just write your story. Be authentic. Use the essay as an opportunity to let the university learn more about you and your character. If your story is about your service trip, your parents' divorce, or the death of your grandmother, then that is OK.  Just write it in a way that only you can.   


And finally.  Enjoy the process. It's a nice time for reflection. Make the most of it. 

Finish August Strong

Finishing August Strong

By Chuck Hughes

Former Harvard Admissions Officer


As we reach mid-August, schools are beginning across the country, and it is time for students to compile a check-list of where they are in the application process as homework, fall activities and high school senior year descends upon them.  There is still plenty of time to meet deadlines, but here are a few check-list items to consider.


Fall Testing Deadlines: 

The August 26th SAT registration deadlines have passed, but the September 9th ACT late registration deadline is August 18th, so there are still a few days to register if you have yet to do so.  Deadlines for Future ACT and SAT dates are:


ACT Date                                                         Deadline                                           Late Deadline

September 9

August 4

August 5-18

October 28

September 22

Sept 23-Oct 6

December 9

November 3

Nov 4-17


SAT Date                                                          Deadline                                           Late Deadline

October 7

September 8

Sept 27

November 4

October 5

October 25

December 2

November 2

November 21


Essay Planning:

By the time school begins, we encourage students to have as much essay work completed as possible; however, if you were to prioritize your writing, do you have a draft of your main personal statement and drafts of supplements for your early and rolling applications ready?  Trying to have 3-5 schools’ worth of essay writing completed, or more, completed by September 1 can take huge burden off a student considering the school work that often awaits students come the start of the school year. 


Communicating with Colleges:

While not every school is interested in hearing from students directly, there are a growing number of private universities who are looking at how students engage their admissions office in trying to determine a student���s genuine interest in the institution.  For those schools that offer admissions officer’s contact information on their “connect with us” pages, we highly recommend sending an email introducing yourself, asking pertinent questions of interest and learning whether someone from their admissions office will be visiting your school or area. Remember – if you choose to send an email to a school – your communication should be strong and not haphazard. Poorly written emails or ones crafted without much thought as to what interests you or matters to you regarding a school might have some deleterious impact on your application. With that said, we like for our students to communicate to schools about their genuine interest.


Early Applications and Rolling/EA Applications:

Many students are finalizing their list and are trying to make sense of what to do – EA vs. ED – but we want students to think about schools that might offer early action or rolling responses to applications in the hopes of hearing news earlier in the process. Rolling admissions schools like Indiana can turn decisions around within 4-6 weeks, and EA schools will let students know between December 1-December 31.  We encourage students to have 1-2 colleges that are “likely” on their list with these application deadlines/process with the hopes of having one or two YES responses prior to the January application deadlines. It can make a world of difference to know you have been admitted to a few schools before the New Year begins.


Complete the Common Application/Coalition Application ASAP:

We want all of our students to have the common application data pages, the activities list and all supplemental questions for early applications completed by September 1, as this is an easy way for students to get into the application groove if procrastination is setting in with the end of summer approaching.


Email Teachers and Counselor in Regard to Recommendations:

As school gets closer, teachers and counselors are beginning to return to campus to respond to questions and to make themselves available to students. I think it is important to check-in with teachers in particular to make sure you share with them when you are planning on submitting your early applications, particularly if you are looking for some early feedback with rolling applications. The school will have some requirements to produce your transcript and counselor letter, so we want to make sure that those materials are completed in early September, so you are not waiting for the school to complete their parts in order for your applications to be evaluated by your early/rolling schools.


You still have plenty of time and more than two months before the November 1 deadlines, but you want to keep in mind that colleges appreciate students who are on top of deadlines and can submit their applications early to help spread out the reading.

More Thoughts on Essay Writing

Thinking About Your Common App Essay 

By: Becky Georgenes  

Senior College Advisor, Road to College - Former Princeton University Admission Officer

After the admission officers read your essay, you want them to know you better, to have an idea about what sets you apart from other strong applicants. Imagine that after reading the essay, the admission officer has to write two sentences about you.  What would you want him or her to say?  If you think your best characteristics are flexibility, compassion, and a sense of humor, then be sure that your essay conveys that.

Admission officers spend day after day reading application after application. They can be recent college graduates, or seasoned university employees; trust that they are dedicated to learning about you as an applicant. If you write an essay that makes the reader look forward to finding out where you are going with it, then you have given the admission officer (and yourself) a real gift.

There are a couple ways to go about deciding what you want to write about for your Common App essay.

* You may already know what topic you want to write about. So think about the topic, look at the prompts, and see what fits in a way that will give you best opportunity to share what is meaningful about your story. If you pick this approach, just be sure that you are answering the question.


* You may not know what you want to write about, but you may find a prompt that intrigues you and gets you thinking. If you choose this approach, then be sure that you are not only answering the prompt, but you are using it as an opportunity to let the college learn what is important to you.

Whatever approach and whatever topic you pick, know that there are no right answers. You should look at this as your opportunity to show what makes you special – about how you think, what you have experienced, how you see the world, how you see yourself, and how you express yourself in writing.  And be sure that you give yourself plenty of time to write your essay. It will most likely go through several iterations and drafts. It’s fine to show it to others, but try not to get too confused by too many opinions.  Take everyone’s advice with a grain of salt.  Ultimately, what you submit as your essay is your decision.

The Campus Visit

Posted By: Lisa Cynamon Mayers, Senior Admissions Consultant

Although I think it best to visit colleges while school is in session, summer is an easy time to schedule visits. You won’t worry about falling behind in calculus or missing the big game. You’ll also find yourself more likely to be traveling in general.  This presents a great opportunity to schedule a visit while you’re out of town. Even if you’re only a freshman or sophomore, if you find yourself in a town with a college, go take a look. Get some experience touring, chatting and learning about college life.  Visiting helps you hone your preferences so that when the time comes to make The College List, you’ll be ready.

Some tips to get you started:

Prior to Arrival

Research – Before you make hotel reservations and start buying plane tickets, spend time doing some serious research. Visiting colleges takes time, money, enthusiasm and a sense of humor. It would be impossible to visit every college you are remotely considering, so get organized, do your research and visit those schools that will help you reach your ultimate goal — admission to your first choice school.

Where To Visit, Part 1– If you are considering applying to any school early decision, you must plan a visit to campus. How can you sign on the dotted line that you will attend this school, if admitted, when you’ve never even seen the place?

Where To Visit, Part 2 – If you are undecided and overwhelmed by all of the college options available to you, it can help to visit a few schools to get a sense of what you like/dislike. Visiting a large state school, a small liberal arts college and an urban campus can give you different pictures of what college can be like. Even if you ultimately decide against applying to any of these schools you visited for research purposes, the time will be well spent if the visits help you determine the places you
would like to be.

Schedule Your Visit, Part 1 – Contact the admission office, via the phone or web, to schedule your visit. Admission offices want to know that you are coming to visit so they can help you make the most of your visit. It would be a shame to plan an entire visit and not realize the admission office is closed for the day. Plan ahead!

Schedule Your Visit, Part 2 – It is best to visit campus when school is in session and students are not frantically preparing for final exams. Summer is a popular time to visit colleges, but remember that the campus won’t be buzzing with normal activities or current students over the summer months.

Coordinate Multiple Visits – Let’s say you’ve decided to visit Ultimate University, your first choice school. It would be smart while you’re in Ultimate City, or on your way to Ultimate City (if you’re driving), to also visit a couple other schools. Make the most of your travels and try to see as many schools as you can, especially for comparison sake.

The Campus Visit

Information Session – Generally schools offer a group session in which an admission counselor (and sometimes a faculty member and current student) discusses basic information about the school. The presentation is often followed by a question-and- answer session so it’s a great opportunity to learn more about the school.

Tour – Typically tours are given by current students. Depending on the size of the campus, the tour can last anywhere from 45 minutes to well over two hours. This is your best opportunity to get a guided tour of the school. You might even have the chance to see residence halls and dining facilities.

Interview – Some schools offer prospective freshmen (that’s you) the chance to interview during a campus visit. Determine if you can interview while you are on campus and knock out a couple of birds with one stone.

Observing Classes – You might be thinking why on earth would I want to sit in on a class when I’ve planned this whole trip to get out of going to class. Point well taken, but don’t you want to get a glimpse of what college classes will be like? You don’t have to stay for the entire class — sit in the back and try to observe for a short time. Note the interaction between students and faculty and get a feel for college classes.

Food – Explore the different on-campus food options. You’ll probably end up visiting over lunch or dinner anyway, so you may as well try out the food while you’re there. Some schools will even give you a meal on them. Who can pass up free food?

Staying Overnight – Schools are going to have widely varying policies on the overnight visit. If you know a current student and can stay with a friend while you’re visiting, that’s always a good idea. Also, you may be able to arrange a visit through the admission office. The overnight visit is one of the best ways to really and truly experience a school. You’ll get to see the campus without parents and get a feel for what “real” students do.

Special Visit Days/Weekends – Almost every college and university offers special visit days/weekends. This can be a great time to visit campus. Just think, you’ll get to meet tons of potential classmates. Pay attention to your mail and to the school’s websites for information about these special open houses.

A Smart Decision by Harvard

I'm glad to hear that Harvard took this decisive step. As a professional who has worked with a number of highly accomplished kids who did not get accepted to Harvard, I can't help but feel for them as those coveted Harvard spots were taken up by students who, at a minimum, participated in such stupid and and just plain wrong behavior.  As a parent, I want to immediately remind  my own teenage children that their actions both online and off, have big consequences - for themselves and for those they may be harming.

Letters of Recommendation

Which Teachers Should I Ask? 
By Becky Georgenes  - Senior College Counselor, Road to College.  Former Princeton Univ. Admission Officer. 

Juniors:  As you are buckling down, preparing for final exams, there is one thing you shouldn't forget about - Letters of Recommendation. 

Most selective colleges want to see two letters of recommendation from teachers of Core subjects (Math, Science, Social Studies, English, or even Foreign Language). You don't have to decide yet, but it's a good idea to ask at least one teacher before the summer. Pick someone you have had for a teacher during your Junior year, a teacher who perhaps knows you better than most - maybe because you always go for extra help, or because this teacher also coaches a sport you play or advises a club you participate in.  Popular teachers get asked to write a lot of letters of recommendation - so be sure that he or she can say something unique about you. Many will ask you to fill out a form or perhaps write a couple paragraphs about yourself as a student. Even if they don't, you might want to provide them with a resume or a brief letter about what is important to you as a student and a person. Some teachers like to work on their letters of recommendation over the summer, so be sure that they have your contact information. 

Once senior year begins, you should quickly pick a second teacher to write a letter for you. If you happen to have a teacher that you have had earlier in High School, that could be a strong possibility. If it is a teacher who is brand new for you, just be sure you use every opportunity to get to know this teacher well right from the start. 

You should also think about subject matter when you are choosing your teachers. If you are planning to major in Math in college, then it makes sense for one of the teachers to be a math teacher. You should, however, consider asking an English or History teacher to write the other letter for you. Even if it is a subject that you are struggling in, if you have demonstrated extra determination, effort, or growth, that teacher still may be able to write a strong and supportive letter on your behalf. 

And finally, if you aren't sure which teachers you should ask, get some input from your guidance counselor. While you aren't able to read the letters of recommendation, your guidance counselors can. They will know which teachers do an especially good job in letter writing! 

Make Yourself Known

posted by: Lisa Cynamon Mayers, senior admissions consultant

former admission counselor: Washington University in St. Louis, Case Western Reserve University

I can still rattle off the names of my favorite applicants to Washington University where I worked as an admission counselor for three years. Even those students who ultimately decided to attend another college are still marked in my memory. I can recall how we first met-- on campus, at their high schools, in a group meeting-- and I remember with fondness these amazing young people standing at the brink of this great transition. In the midst of application madness, high schoolers and their parents often forget that admission counselors are human-- sensitive, extroverted, friendly, personable folks with feelings. At a deep level admission counselors are sensitive to the rollercoaster of emotions felt by applicants and their families. We are aware of the maelstrom of feelings that the process precipitates. At a large number of colleges, dare I say the majority, applications are individually read, i.e. by a human, not a computer, and decisions are made in a sensitive, sometimes gut-wrenching way. For this reason, particularly at the most selective schools in the country, it can be advantageous for prospective students to develop a relationship, a connection, with an admission point person.

Many colleges and universities divide their admission staff and the world into territories. An admission counselor is responsible for a given region which would include travel, application reading, and territory management. Imagine this, suddenly you’ve switched roles, you are no longer a high school student; you are an admission counselor. Your responsibility is to read thousands of applications from qualified students-- the majority of whom are prepared for your college-- and make admission decisions on these students. Given a group of students with comparable grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities, who would you admit: the student who made a favorable impression on you and interacted with you during the process, or the student you’ve never met who you can’t gauge level of interest or other personal qualities? Ding ding ding. Obviously the right answer is the student who has made a personal connection.

So how do you make this personal connection? The greatest impressions that students made on me happened naturally during an information session, high school visit, college fair, or interview. Some of you might not have direct access to an admission counselor. There may not be visits scheduled in your area and you may not have been able to visit every campus. Not to worry. You can still demonstrate interest and establish a personal connection with an admission counselor through e-mail and the telephone.  It is key to demonstrate your interest in the college and also convey to the admission counselor your unique qualities and personality. At the end of the day you want every interaction you have with the colleges on your short list to be meaningful and to make a positive impression.

The Gap Year

By Sara Cronin, senior admissions consultant

Former admission officer at Providence College and the University of Connecticut

As juniors begin to think about their time after high school many will consider post-secondary college plans.  Students often begin to think about big or small schools, far from home or close by, city or suburban.  One opportunity that some juniors may begin to explore is a gap year.  The idea of a gap year has grown in popularity over the last several years, and now Tufts University and other similar programs are making it an easier possibility.

A gap year is generally defined as an extended break between high school and college.  Often seniors in high school apply to college, get accepted, and then defer their admission for six months to a year.  The gap year experience can take on a number of different possibilities.  The year off after high school can be utilized to volunteer locally or abroad, travel, intern or work in a variety of settings.  Students who take advantage of the gap year experience often find themselves in a very different setting than what they would discover on a college campus. 

According to the American Gap Association, an organization that is an “accreditation and standards-setting organization for gap years that is recognized as such by the US Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission,” interest and enrollment is growing steadily in gap programs.  There are no definitive numbers regarding who is choosing to pursue a gap experience, but the overall trends show a significant growth in students taking time off prior to college.

The reasons that students pursue gap year opportunities vary widely. Some students feel they are not ready for the rigors of a collegiate academic experience.  Other students look to expand their horizons beyond the US borders before embarking on their collegiate careers in the States. While other students are looking to earn both money and experience prior to college.  Although the reasons may vary as to why students choose a gap year, colleges report that those students who take six months to a year before enrolling have a greater maturity towards and appreciation for the university experience.  Studies show that 90 percent of students who took a gap year returned to college within a year (Source: Wall Street Journal).

Tufts University introduced an innovative program a few years ago to give students a gap year opportunity. Tufts offers a fully funded "1+4" program that provides students an opportunity to engage in civic experiences around the globe.  According to Tuft’s website, the University and its Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service offer a bridge-year program, called Tufts 1+4.  This program provides a structured year of full-time national or international service before students begin their four years of undergraduate study.

Another gap year example is at Elon University in North Carolina, which offers a gap semester program available only to enrolling freshman.  This program provides students the opportunity to spend the fall semester in three diverse settings and then return to Elon for the winter term and spring semester.              

There are numerous groups and organizations that provide gap year opportunities.  Costs can vary as widely as the program options, but the overall goal is often the same: to expand one’s horizons, increase self-awareness and challenge one’s comfort zone.  A great place to start is with the American Gap Association which offers an extensive amount of information and accredits gap programs.

Summer is almost here ---- and I haven't figured out my plans yet!!

Summer is right around the corner. What do you do if you don’t have a summer plan yet?  

It’s always nice to organize your schedule around your family’s vacation or reunion plans.  Summer is of course an important time to relax and reconnect, and it is good to keep that as a priority.


In deciding what you do with the rest of your summer, you should just be sure you spend your time thoughtfully and purposefully.


Some high school students choose to do summer academic enrichment – and while it may be too late to sign up for some of the highly selective programs at colleges, there is likely still time to sign up for local summer academic programs if that is something you are looking for. It is a great opportunity to learn something that might not be offered at your high school or to get a jump on a class that you know will be challenging for you in the fall.


My own kids always have summer jobs in the coastal community where their grandparents live. They get plenty of time to spend with family, hang out and play with friends outside, and get all the benefits that come with having a job – including money!  They of course have to figure out how to balance all of this with whatever their pre-season sports schedule and academic fall requirements may be. Sometimes that includes spending time on SAT or ACT prep, or writing college essays.


Recently I saw a State Farm commercial on TV for a powerful new volunteering initiative called Neighborhood of Good. This site is a clearing house for volunteer activities in your area – they can be ongoing opportunities or one day events. I was particularly impressed by how people can search by interest and by location. Finding an opportunity in your area would be a great experience to add to your college resume, but even more importantly, it would be an excellent chance to use your free time to make a meaningful difference.   This is a real game changer.  Check it out! 


Neighborhood of Good

by:  Becky Georgenes 

former Princeton Admission Officer
Senior College Counselor 
Road to College