College Planning Blog

Welcome to Best College Fit (BCF) College Planning Blog, an ongoing discussion of the factors that impact the college planning process. This space will keep you abreast of critical planning strategies, introduce you to key resources and comment on timely issues that relate to your college planning effort. I look forward to staying in touch and seeing your comments as we progress through the college planning process together.

“BCF Readers’ Forum” 7.17.14

Periodically, I use this space to respond to questions I have received via email or during programs. My intent in sharing both questions and answers is to provide insight into the college-going process and stimulate conversation that leads to informed decision-making with regard to educational futures. As always, your comments are very much valued. To submit a question, contact me directly at

Dear Peter,
My son has visited a number of colleges this summer. After one interview at a highly selective college he received an email from the dean of admission thanking him for the visit and indicating that, based on the interview, he would be a strong candidate for admission. Since this school is emerging as one of his top choices, we were very flattered and encouraged by this communication. Is this something we can take at face value?

Dear Rob,
I wish I could give you a definitive answer. On the one hand, it is likely that your son would present credentials that would put him on that school’s “competitive playing field” as a candidate for admission. On the other hand, the message is likely a pro forma response to students who interview at that school. Keep in mind that the institution’s objective at this point in the process is to generate as many applications as possible in order to ensure itself a greater level of selectivity when applicants are eventually considered.

Dear Peter,
My son got an email from one of his top choice schools inviting him to campus for an on-site interview. Is there any advantage to the on-campus interview compared to the alumni interview near our home after he applies?

Dear Ellen,
Your son is well advised to take advantage of any interview that is offered by an institution to which he will apply. The on-campus interview is likely to be with a paid admission staff person who will be a decision-maker later in the process. It is always good to be known by someone who is involved in the decision-making! While the alumnus will not be a decision-maker, the fact that your son also appears for an “optional” interview with the alumnus speaks well to his growing relationship with the institution.

Dear Peter,
Can you offer any tips for “acing” the college interview? I have several coming up and want to be prepared.

Dear Jeff,
I understand the angst associated with any interview process especially when so much is on the line and you want to make a good impression. In reality, you need to think of the interview as a conversation between two strangers who have a mutual interest in getting to know each other.

It is important, then, that you arrive early, relaxed and in a positive frame of mind.

The interview actually starts with the introduction in the reception area of the admission office. A cheerful smile, good eye contact and a firm handshake tell the interviewer that you are confident and ready to chat. During the brief walk from the reception area to the interview room, the “small talk” about your trip to the campus or summer activity will often frame the exchange that will follow. Relax and see where the conversation takes you.

Be in command—and good recall—of your information (courses, grades, scores, activities) so you can discuss them when asked. If you have a resume or transcript with you, don’t introduce it until the end of the interview (as a leave behind); otherwise, it will become a distraction.

Finally, be prepared for the moment when the interviewer asks if there is anything that s/he needs to know about you. This will be your opportunity to discuss irregularities in your academic record or share important details of your life experience that might not otherwise appear on your application. Good luck!

Dear Peter,
Should my daughter ask for her teacher recommendations now or should she wait until classes resume in September of her senior year?

Dear Jill,
If possible, she should submit her requests now. Even if the teachers don’t start writing until September, they now have the benefit of time to consider what they might say. By the way, she should ask to meet with the teachers to make sure they understand her plan for college. Specifically, they need to know:

  • why she is going,
  • what she wants to study—and why
  • why she has chosen the schools in question
  • things she wants the schools to know about her

And, while she is at it, she might re-live some of the “aha” moments she experienced in their respective classrooms. In the process, she provides energy and personality that helps to shape the narrative that becomes her letters of recommendation.

Dear Peter,
When an international student completes grade 9 in a Chinese school, leaves the school with one month to go in grade 10 to attend school in Canada (or the US) and then repeats grade 10 before continuing through grades 11 and 12 in Canada (or the US), does that affect admission to US schools, particularly the option to be admitted to a selective school? Of course she will declare all education, but will not have a final transcript for grade 10 from China, only from Canada (or the US).

Dear Sheryl,
In my opinion, the decision to repeat grade 10 when coming directly into an English (or French) speaking learning environment from China makes sense as it enables the student to acclimate and further develop her language skills in the host environment. It will also be respected by selective institutions in the US as evidence that the student is committed to a strong college preparation. This assumes, of course, that neither English nor French were the languages of instruction for her in China.

While admission to any given selective institution can never be assured, the student is likely to bolster her credentials with enhanced language skills, thereby giving herself a better chance than she would have without the repeated year.

Dear Peter,
My son, a rising high school Junior, is captain of the varsity team and a national soccer program all-star player but he has a GPA of 3.48 and an SAT of 1980. A few coaches like him but he does not want to go to those schools. His high school is really tough academically, so playing soccer at such a high level killed his GPA. What are his chances of being admitted to highly selective colleges?

Dear Lee,
Your son’s academic credentials will enable him to compete for admission at most schools in the country. Without a substantial “hook,” though, his chances are no better than those of anyone else at the most selective schools. (For example, if a school admits one out of ten, his chances are no better than 10%.) On the other hand, if a college coach at a most selective school is very interested in him, his credentials are strong enough that he can be admitted. The key is to attract the attention of the college coach.

This summer will be important for him in that regard as most college coaches, including those at very selective schools, are trying to firm up their recruitment rosters by watching students compete in summer camps. He will know by the follow-up interest demonstrated in him by the college coaches if they have an interest in him. If he has not heard from them by the start of his senior year, then it is not likely he will benefit from their advocacy.

Dear Peter,
Is there a number of points, maybe 40, that one can tack onto a student’s PSAT score after adding the zero on the end to project, with reasonable accuracy, the SAT score?

Dear Scott,
Most observers project improvement of 60 points to the combined Critical Reading and Math scores from the PSAT to the SAT. There are never any guarantees, though. Hope this helps!

Dear Peter,
My son is looking at colleges where his verbal score is above average range, but his math is below average and his writing score is about average. If the school is test optional, should he report his scores even though his math score is on the lower side of average for certain schools?

Dear Lyn,
My rule of thumb with optional test submission scenarios is to submit only when the “super-score” affords the candidate a clear advantage. I don’t sense that would be the case for most of the schools your son is considering in which case it cannot hurt for him to apply without submitting scores to those schools.

Dear Peter,
My daughter just received her June ACT score and she continues to have difficulty increasing it. She is taking honors and AP classes, is very self motivated and usually catches on quickly. After working with a college ACT tutor privately, taking the ACT once before and using practice tests over the past couple of months, her score is still a 24.

We are not sure what her next steps of action should be. She has identified a first choice school, but I am worried about her score. She has been working for over a year with this SAT/ACT tutor. How much will the school weigh her ACT when other things are stronger? Also, the tutor had advised against taking the SAT as she said my daughter would probably score the same or lower. Do you have any advice or guidance?

Dear Monica,
I’m sorry to hear about your daughter’s ACT experience. The fact is that we each respond differently to tests and testing environments. My only suggestion would be to give testing and test prep a break for the summer (encourage reading, though). Give her a chance to clear her head and find confidence (and pleasure) in other pursuits. Sometimes, persistence in the face of diminishing returns can have an adverse effect.

While I don’t know where testing fits in the admission equation at her first choice school, it is reasonable to assume that a strong GPA and record of extracurricular involvements could well offset a relatively modest ACT result. By the way, I concur with the tutor regarding the SAT. Taking it is not necessary and will not likely produce more compelling results.

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