College Lists

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Finding The Right College

The other day I visited Fairfield University in Fairfield, CT and went on a tour with a really great tour guide, Luis. Luis, a junior double majoring in international studies and economics, is from Mexico and when he was in high school his dream was to attend Arizona State University. As he told us, Arizona State appealed to him because it was close to home, was a big school where there were lots of things to do, and it was located in a hot climate where he wouldn’t have to worry about cold, snowy winters. However, his school counselor suggested he also apply to Fairfield. She thought it would be a good fit for him and she also didn’t want him just applying to one school. So, in an effort to appease her, Luis did as she suggested and didn’t think too much about it until he was up against the May 1st national commitment deadline.

Interestingly enough, Luis became disenchanted with Arizona State during the tail end of the application process.

When he called to check on the status of his application, he was first put on hold for long periods of time (more than 20 minutes on at least one occasion), then transferred from person to person, each one unable to help him with what was a very simple inquiry. By the time he was able to finally get an answer, he learned that the admissions office was unable to locate documents that Luis’ counselor had mailed in. Needless to say, he was frustrated and feeling like Arizona State was not all he thought it was.

Fairfield, on the other hand, actually reached out to Luis to see if he had any questions and to find out what his plans were after he missed the deadline. Luis made a quick visit to Fairfield and instantly fell in love. Why? Because every encounter he had with someone from the school was a positive one. Fairfield reached out to him and asked him to join their family. He felt welcome and he felt like he mattered to the school.

These feelings were important to Luis and ultimately outweighed the facts that he would be further from home and would have to deal with New England winters.

While I am proud of Luis for figuring out what was most important to him what I really like is that, three years later, he is still in love with Fairfield and is doing very well there. The size of the school, the Jesuit tradition of self-reflection, serving others and exploring the life around you and the interactions he has had with professors have all contributed to the school being a great fit for him. At Arizona State, he wouldn’t have had the benefit of class sizes that average in the mid 20’s and are capped at 30. He wouldn’t have had the opportunity to form relationships with professors let alone expect one professor to reach out and invite him to come and talk about internships and experiential opportunities whenever he wanted. In fact, most of his classes for the first two years would have been taught by graduate assistants.  At Arizona State, he would have had a completely different experience from the one he is having at Fairfield and from what I learned about Luis on our tour, I just don’t think it would have fit him well.

This isn’t about bashing Arizona State or promoting Fairfield University. Fairfield is quite expensive and while its Jesuit tradition is a rich one, a student body where 75% identify as Catholic and less than 9% identify as students of color will not appeal to everyone. But this story is an example of what can happen when you apply to a large school (Arizona State has an undergraduate enrollment of 58,400) versus a small one (Fairfield is only 3,300). You will be treated differently simply due to the volume of students applying. It’s also a demonstration of just how important it is to have options. If Luis had put all his eggs in the Arizona State basket, I’m pretty sure that he would not be as happy as he is today.

If you have any questions or comments about finding the right college, you can also email me directly at I would love to hear from you!

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ED, EA, Regular, Rolling – Which Way Should You Apply?

Elizabethtown College

Elizabethtown College

With the launch of the Common Application on August 1st, the 2012-2013 college application season is upon us. If you’re not familiar with the Common Application (more commonly referred to as the Common App), here’s a nice little post from that will get you caught up.

Last week I talked about the different ways of applying to colleges. Your level of interest and your qualifications are what will help you decide which one is the way to go. For now, let’s talk about the differences and how they affect you.

Early Decision, also known as ED, is where you choose to apply anywhere from November 1st to December 1st, and can expect to hear a decision by December 15th. Some schools will offer two rounds of early decision where ED I applicants hear in December and ED II applicants, who will apply typically around the same time as regular decision candidates, will expect to hear in February.

Early decision can be a great idea if you know, without a doubt, that you are in love with everything a school has to offer, you know you can afford to attend that school and you are ready, willing and able to commit to that school. You’re all in with early decision and the risk level is significant if you haven’t done your homework ahead of time.

Some things to consider with early decision:

You’re allowed to apply early to ONE school only and, if accepted, that decision is binding. That’s it. There’s no backing out of an early decision acceptance. This is why your love for the school must be true – you won’t have a financial aid award yet and you will have to contact the other schools at which you submitted regular applications and notify them that you are withdrawing those applications immediately. Some students will point to higher acceptance rates to justify their choice to apply early – for this past year, the regular acceptance rate at Duke was 11% while the early acceptance rate was 25%; for Johns Hopkins the rates were 16% and 38% respectively. While the acceptance rates are typically higher, the talent pool is also that much more competitive. Just spend a few minutes on College Confidential and search for “early decision” to tap into the mania.

Early Action, or EA, is where applicants complete applications in November or December and expect to hear an answer by the start of the New Year. Early action applicants can be accepted, denied or deferred to the regular decision round of applications. Unlike early decision, early action applicants are not bound to their acceptance and have the choice to commit by the May 1st deadline or attend another school altogether.

There are variations of early action policies so it is important to check with each school first. Some schools are considered single choice early action meaning that they will not allow applicants to apply to any other schools early. Other schools are considered unrestricted and allow applicants to apply early decision or early action to any number of schools.

Early action is great because you have the benefit of applying early and showing a school that you are a very interested applicant while also keeping your options open.

Regular Decision is the process by which you apply by each college’s published deadline which is usually around January 1st. Once the application and materials have been sent, applicants can expect to hear a decision by April 1st. Regular decision applicants can be admitted, denied or placed on a waiting list. More on waiting lists another day.

Regular decision is the vanilla of the application world. It’s plain and simple and doesn’t come with any surprises. Well, that’s not entirely true. Students who choose not to pay attention to what a school is looking for in its applicants can often be met with very disappointing surprises. 

Rolling Admission is where students are admitted on an ongoing, or rolling, basis. The schools begin making decisions in the early fall and continue until they have met their requirements for the new freshman class. Rolling admission provides students with a long period of time in which they can apply – often several months. Colleges may accept or reject an applicant right away, or they may hold off for a period time in order to compare him or her to other applicants. Depending on how strong or weak of an applicant they are, students may also find themselves on the waiting list.

There are several pros to rolling admission. Applicants can apply as soon as the application season is open and, therefore, demonstrate their interest to a school. Remember, colleges are looking for students who are more likely to enroll. Applying early on is a great way to show that you are that student. Because decisions are made on an ongoing basis, the earlier you apply, the earlier you can expect to hear a decision. It can feel great to get that first acceptance out of the way and may just help you enjoy the holidays with your family and friends that much more.

For the procrastinators, rolling admission is great because you can apply when you’re ready. I’m not saying you should work at a snail’s pace, but let’s be honest – some of you just do. Maybe you want to wait for first semester grades before you apply because you know you have some strong grades coming. Maybe your SAT scores were low and you wanted to take them again in December or January. Maybe you just happened to come upon a school mid-year that you hadn’t thought of before and now want to apply – for any of these reasons and more, schools with rolling admissions grant you the opportunity to apply later in your senior year.

Now, for every pro of rolling admission there are also cons. Just because decisions are rendered on a rolling basis, doesn’t mean everyone will hear right away. If your application isn’t the strongest, you could end up waiting several weeks or more before you hear back. This can get very frustrating when your friends hear back from the same school and you’re stuck waiting and wondering. Schools with rolling admission will start awarding aid on a first-come, first-serve basis. Funds are limited so if you apply too late, your financial aid award may not be very helpful. Housing could also be an issue if you apply too late.

As with anything in the college application process, do your homework early on. Check out the admissions webpage for any schools you are interested to find out which types of applications they offer.

If you have any questions or comments about the types of applications available to you and which one might be the best way for you to go, please use the comment box below – I would love to hear from you!

You can also email me directly at

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Must Have Items On Your College List – Part II

Two weeks ago, I talked about how to build a great college list and then last week I introduced the first four of eight “must-haves” you should consider when creating a college list. Today, in Part II, I’m going to cover types of admission, chance of admission, graduation rates and cost.

Types of admission
There are several types of admission and how much you love a school will often dictate how you end up applying. Here’s a rundown of the major types of admission to consider:

1. Regular decision is the process by which you apply by each college’s published deadlines. By doing so, you will receive an admissions decision by April 1st though there is no obligation to commit until the May 1st response deadline.

2. Early decision, also known as ED is where you can apply early and receive your decision early – typically by mid-December. The price for this early decision is that you commit to attending the college and agree to withdraw all other applications. You can only apply ED to one school and, since this is a binding acceptance, you better know that this school is the right one for you on all fronts.

3. Early action, or EA, also allows you to apply early though, unlike with ED, you are under no obligation to accept the offer of admission. You can submit other applications, wait for their responses and then make a decision by May 1st. Essentially, you can play the field. There are variations of EA policies, so be sure to check with each school individually on their restrictions.

4. Rolling admissions is where students are admitted on a regular, or rolling, basis. The schools will make decisions until they have met their requirements for the new freshman class.

We’ll talk more about these different types of admission in a week or two.

Chance of admission

It’s important to get a feel for your chance of admission so that you have appropriate expectations about each school before you add it to you list.

That’s right. BEFORE.

Do your research by using websites like the College Board’s Big Future to understand whether or not you are a competitive applicant when compared to students who have previously been admitted. You know Harvard and Yale are a reach for just about everyone, but do you know if Quinnipiac is a reach? By selecting the SAT & ACT Scores tab on the Applying section, you would see that the middle 50% of admitted and enrolled students score within 520-590 on the Critical Reading, 540-610 on the MATH and 540-610 on the Writing. Under the Academics tab, you can compare your high school courses against the courses Quinnipiac expects to see from its applicants. Now, where do you stack up and what do you think of your chances?

Graduation rates

College is supposed to be the best four years of your life, right? Well, for the most part, graduation rates are actually quoted for six years instead of four. So, if you’re planning a budget based on four years’ worth of tuition and fees, you want to know that the schools you are adding to your college list can actually help you accomplish this. Want to know the four, five or six-year graduation rates for Boston College? You can find them at College Results Online. Want to know how Boston College’s peer institutions fare in the graduation rate category? You can find that information by simply clicking on the Similar Colleges tab.


There’s a lot to say about cost and the factors that go into it, but for today I want to talk about understanding that the price in the window, is not necessarily the price you end up paying.

Tuition and fees have risen over 400% since the early 80’s. But like everything in your college search, doing some homework ahead of time can really help.

What’s important to understand is that a lot of schools discount their tuition– especially private schools. This adjusted cost is called net price and it can, and will, be different for families based on the qualifications of each applicant, how much money a school typically throws at its new students and your EFC. EFC stands for “Expected Family Contribution” and it is the amount a college will expect you to contribute towards your cost. The higher your EFC, the more you will be expected to contribute and the less aid you can expect to receive. Since last fall, colleges have been required to host net price calculators somewhere on their website. You can use the calculators to enter your personal information and get an idea of what the net price might be for you.

The calculators are far from perfect, but if a school’s cost is going to be too much for you, it’s always better to be disappointed before you apply rather than after you have been accepted.

If you have any questions about building a great college list, please use the comment box below – I would love to hear from you!

You can also email me directly at


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Must Have Items On Your College List – Part I

Last week, I talked about how to build a great college list. Over the next two weeks, I’d like to take it a bit further and talk about some of the “must haves” you should consider as you research schools and build a great college list. Today, in Part I, I’m going to cover campus size, location, majors and student life.

Campus Size
Size matters, right? You bet it does! For example, a large public university like UConn has an undergraduate student enrollment of nearly 18,000. That’s a big school though not nearly as big as Ohio State where 43,000 undergrads attend!  And that also means that a lot of freshmen courses are likely to be taught in large lecture halls – we’re talking 200 students or more in a class here. The other downfall is that these courses will often be taught by TA’s instead of tenured faculty. Why? Because at large research universities, there is more focus on research and graduate programs – not undergraduate instruction.

Think about what kind of classroom experience you want to have as well as what kind of relationship you would like to have with your professors. If you want smaller class sizes, instructors you will get to know and form relationships with, then you will want to think about smaller schools. The University of New Haven (4,600 undergrads), Fairfield University (3,800 undergrads) and Providence College (3,800 undergrads) are examples of schools where classes are smaller and taught by faculty instructors.

Stay home or go far away? Tired of your small town? Feeling like you want to go out and explore the world a bit? I get it. I also get that sometimes the greater world is so unfamiliar that students who do go far away end up transferring to a school closer to home after their first semester.

Help yourself out now by thinking about what it means to go away to college. Is it important to you to be close to your family or are you okay with just talking to them by phone, email or Skype? When you do want to go home, how will you get there? Is your college near an airport or train station? Travel expenses, especially flights, are very real and need to be factored into the “how much is this school going to cost us?” equation.

For some of you this will be an easy one. If you want to go into mechanical engineering, nursing or video game design then you search for schools with these majors. But, if you’re like me when I was in high school and you have no idea what you want to do, it can get a little more complicated.

If you’re not sure what you want to do, you have a couple choices. First, you could always contact a counselor you know to help identify your VIPS – your values, interests, personality style and skills. Once you have a better handle on what you’re good at, what you’re interested in and why, you can concentrate your search on majors that are more likely to be good fits for you.

Your other option is to apply to colleges as an undeclared major. If this is the route you choose, you need to make sure (Note: NEED, not WANT) you consider schools which will provide you with options and the resources to explore them. Sometimes, taking some time to figure it out can be the best cause of action. Just don’t take too long. Some programs can only be completed in four years if you take the right courses in the right sequence from day one. Delaying that start could mean a fifth year or more of college and more money out of your pocket for tuition and fees.

Student Life
“I transferred because the school turned out to be a suitcase campus.”

This is what a student recently told me about why she was transferring out of the school that, as recently as this time last year, was her dream school. The school she had fallen in love with (without ever visiting once prior to applying) had a very small residential population and she found out the hard way that, due to its rural location, there wasn’t a lot to do on the weekends. She wanted more out of her college experience and was moving back to Connecticut to lick her wounds and start over.

College life is a balance of working hard and playing hard. Problem is I see so many students focus on what majors a school offers while neglecting to form an opinion about the social life on campus. There’s two ways to correct this problem. First, while you’re on a campus tour, ask questions about student activities and social events but ask them in a way that earns you a valuable answer. For example, asking your tour guide an open-ended question like, “Can you tell us a little about  what you’ve done over the last couple weekends?” is going to tell you a whole lot more about campus life than asking a closed-ended question like “Is there a lot to do on the weekends?”

Get details, not “yes” or “no” answers.

You also want to pay attention to flyers and announcements that are hung up around campus. What kinds of events are happening and would you be interested in going? If you are, talk to someone from the admissions office to see if you can attend as a non-student. Chances are this is a very easy “yes” on their part, but it’s always a good idea to demonstrate your interest. In other words, you’re showing the college that you want them just as much as you hope they want you. Plus, there is no better way to feel out the social climate of a school than to jump right in and try it out yourself.

The other way to gather information, especially if you don’t have the opportunity to visit in person, is to read the student reviews on College Prowler and Unigo. Both allow college students to upload reviews of their schools, the topics of which range from accessibility of faculty to how much students party throughout the week.

Next week, we’ll talk about types of admission, chance of admission, graduation rates and cost.

If you have any questions about building a great college list, please use the comment box below – I would love to hear from you!

You can also email me directly at


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How To Build A Great College List

Dobler College ConsultingWith over 4,000 colleges in the country and an endless supply of rankings touting the best of this and the best of that, your college search can get complicated. And it can happen in a hurry. Your friends will be talking about colleges. Your uncle will wax poetic about his alma mater. You will see all the posters and announcements hanging on the walls of your college counseling office. So many options and yet, you can only choose one to attend. How do you know which one is right?

While you may never know which ONE is right, you can identify which ONES may be awesome possibilities by doing some homework and building a great college list.

And here’s how you do it.

1. Know thyself

Before you start looking at colleges, you need to take a good, hard look at yourself. I’m not talking about checking yourself out in the mirror to see if the gear is working today as much as I’m talking about understanding your VIPS – your values, interests, personality style and skills. If you don’t have a good handle of what’s important to you and why, try this exercise suggested in a great book on college admissions called, Going Geek, written by my friend, John Carpenter:

Write an assessment of yourself that covers what you are good at, what you struggle with, what is important to you, and how you learn. Then ask a close friend to write an assessment of you and have each of your parents do the same. Once you have all three, compare them and see what common threads exist.

2. Priorities first

Some of the major attributes you should pay attention to when thinking about how you will qualify schools for your college list include:

·         Size
·         Location
·         Major
·         Student life
·         Chance of admission
·         Types of admission
·         Graduation rates
·         Cost

But now that you have a good handle on your VIPS, you should be able to qualify these attributes even further. Forget the US News. Forget your uncle’s drawn out stories of the good ol’ days. Forget about the school that your best friend daydreams about. In other words, realize that you now have the power to create your own rankings based on what is important to you.

3. Channel your inner Sherlock Holmes 

Okay, you now have a good idea of what’s important to you and why. You’ve created a list of attributes that you want to find in a college. Now, it’s time to do some investigating. Since you can’t visit all 4,000 schools individually, turn to some search engines to identify schools that match up with your most desired attributes. The College Board’s Big FutureCollege Navigator and Princeton Review each have very extensive databases that allow you to search for schools. is another great website with very helpful information. Produced and maintained by the Education Trust, this website allows you to look up a college’s four-, five- or six-year graduation rates and then compare the school’s rate to those of its peer institutions.

As you identify schools of interest, research them more thoroughly, schedule campus visits, meet with admissions reps at local college fairs and check with your college counseling office to find out when these schools may be visiting your high school. Another great way to get to know a school is by connecting with them through Facebook and Twitter.

4. Edit, edit and then edit some more

Initially, your college list may contain any number of schools. Ideally, you want to get it down to roughly 10 schools. As you visit and learn more about each school, try to narrow the list down to down to 5-6 finalists where you would be happy enrolling. Some people will tell you to pick a range of schools where admission for you may be a reach, very likely or a sure thing. My opinion is that you should be picking schools at which you can see yourself being happy. Don’t include a school just because you know you can get in but have no intention of ever enrolling.

5. Don’t be a Sloppy Joe

Building a great college list is one thing but if you fail to keep it organized, the list will lose its value.

Get a binder where you can keep a checklist for each school, notes from campus visits and brochures and other materials. You want to be able to compare apples to apples – keeping your information updated and fresh will help you do that.

6. College lists are made of paper, not stone

Be flexible and keep an open mind. If you get soured on a school for a reason that is important to you (the school is too far away, too expensive or just didn’t feel right when you went for a visit) and want to take if off your college list, then feel free to do so.

Same rule applies when you learn something about a school that makes you want to add this school to your list. Spend some time qualifying the new school and if it feels right and matches up with your priorities, add it to your list.

If you have any questions about building a great college list, please use the comment box below. You can also email me directly at – I would love to hear from you!

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