10 Things Any Student Can Do To Improve Their Success

The college process is complex, and you can’t control all the elements, but here are things that you should do to improve your success.

  1. Eliminate interruptions during study time. No calls, texts, emails, social media—nothing but you and the subjects.
  2. Stop activities that you don’t enjoy and will not add significantly to your college applications.
  3. Allow time to focus on yourself. Taking of 30-60 minutes for your sanity can keep your energy level high and improve your productivity on the elements you find difficult.
  4. Remember to be grateful. It will improve your relationships with teachers, parents and friends. For instance, tell your teachers that you appreciate they are teaching and find it meaningful.
  5. Attend three high school events (sports, music, drama, etc.) and show your support for the people who are participating. It will come back to you on many levels.
  6. Put your hand up at least once a day in a class where participation is invited.
  7. Identify the activity that means the most to you and think of one new way you could contribute or otherwise make an impact within it.
  8. Start making healthy choices.  Ensure that you are eating balanced meals throughout the day, getting at least 8-9 hours of sleep each night, and 30 minutes of physical activity.  Starting to implement these habits now will help you to carry them over to when you are in college.
  9. Remember that sometimes it is better to follow your heart and not the crowd.  It is very easy not only in high school, but college and life beyond to get caught up in what the crowd is doing.  Only go along with the crowd if you feel it is the right thing to do.  If it doesn’t interest you or you feel it won’t help you to be successful then listen to your heart and skip it.
  10. Don’t quit when things get tough.  In life things are bound to happen such as a personal crisis, problem, or frustration.  When things become difficult, remember to advocate for yourself and reach out for help.  Don’t stop coming to class or other activities and notify your instructor/coach/etc. of your problem (in as much detail as you feel comfortable).  Then, make arrangements to make up any missed assignments/work in a timely manner.


Financial Information and Scholarship Websites

Financial Information

FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid portal, provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

FAFSA4caster is a college cost forecasting tool that estimates your eligibility for federal student aid.

StudentAid.gov has resources for learning about federal student aid, how to apply using the FAFSA, and get information on repaying student loans.

A video that talks about what to expect when your federal student loan enters repayment.

FinAid! – The SmartStudent Guide to Financial Aid is a free resource for information, advice and tools about student financial aid, college scholarships and education loans.

CSS Profile – the financial aid application service of the College Board (required by some colleges in order to apply for financial aid).

The College Board’s Net Price Calculator allows you to estimate your net price to attend a specific college.



SchoolSoup scholarship database

FastWEB scholarship database.

Chegg scholarship database.

CollegeXpress offers college search tools, a scholarship database, lists and rankings, and online articles.

Scholly –  an easy way to find scholarships for high school seniors, current undergraduates, and graduate students.


Options for College Visits

Which type of visit would be best for you: Open Houses, Autumn Preview Days, specific Major or Honors College tours, Personalized Visits, an Overnight Visit, or a regular tour? Your choice may be limited by family availability, but here are the basics:

Open Houses

Many of these take place on Saturdays, Columbus Day, or President’s Day. The advantage of attending an Open House can be the variety and number of activities to participate in. There is usually more going on during an Open House than there is during a tour and information session. For example, there may be specific tours or sessions related to majors, study abroad information meetings, meetings with faculty and financial aid representatives, and lunch in the cafeteria. Open Houses can last anywhere from 4 – 6 hours.

Tours of Majors / Schools

Quite often colleges will offer tours of specific programs so you can learn more in-depth what is offered and what differentiates them. This is worthwhile if you are sure of what you want to study.

Personal / Individual Visits

If you have narrowed your list to a few schools this type of trip can be well worth the time. A personalized experience allows students to observe classes and meet with professors and other students. In order to arrange a personal visit, call the admissions office and give them at least three weeks notice.

Overnight Visits

Not all colleges allow this, due to a variety of reasons such as liability. The schools that do offer an overnight visit, usually arrange a stay on campus with a current student.

Honors College Programs

These programs can be a way for students of a large university to have a small school experience and access to some of the best professors the college has to offer. Quite often there are designated dorms. There may even be opportunities other students do not have when registering for classes.  And in many instances, honor students have access to merit scholarships.

How to Find Great Scholarships

With the financial burden of college tuition weighing upon students and parents alike, the need for scholarships has become more important. While it seems simple enough to find scholarships, the process of finding good matches can seem like a daunting task. What are some of your choices?

There’s a new app in our midst that can help you find scholarships and even give you tips on your essays. It was featured on Shark tank and is being used by over 100,000 students now. Scholly, developed by Drexel student Christopher Gray, aims to make the process of finding relevant scholarships quick and easy. Who wouldn’t want a little less stress in the college process?

Scholly uses basic information like GPA, state, and race, to find scholarships that are tailored specifically to you. This eliminates much of the time and energy exerted in finding potential scholarships, so you can spend that much-needed effort on the applications themselves. Another cool feature is that the app allows you to see successful application essays and will alert you to approaching deadlines, an extra helpful feature when you’re trying to keep track of different dates during application season. Scholly is priced at a low 99 cents, and can be purchased on Google Play or through the iTunes store.

Other options to consider are some very good, free websites that will narrow down your options in a similar manner. Some notable sites are Cappex, Fastweb, Schoolsoup, Zinch, and your school’s Naviance. Many will even send you email updates when a new, relevant scholarship opportunity is posted. You might feel more comfortable with these options if you are already familiar with how to navigate them.

As is the case with every feature of the college process, you’re never out of options! Even while you’re searching online, you can search for other scholarship opportunities in your community. Find out if a parent’s company offers scholarships, ask leaders in your religious organization, or read up on scholarships for a particular volunteer activity in which you participate (ex. Eagle Scouts/Girl Scouts, Habitat for Humanity, etc.). Even recreational activities might give you an edge on some more specific scholarships. Have you been writing for your town newspaper? You might qualify for a journalism scholarship! Did you invent a cool, new robot that can make sandwiches? There might be an essay that asks you to talk about your creation.

The opportunities are abundant; don’t be afraid to use all of your resources. Which resources have worked well for you?

More Questions to Ask on Your College Visit

The more you know about each college, the better your ultimate decision will be. Ask questions and weigh your options.

General Academics

How much time do students typically spend on homework?

How much writing and reading are expected?

What is the average class size of introductory classes?

How widely used are teaching assistants on your campus?

What is the average class size of upper-division courses?


Academic Perks (These are programs that you want available)

Is the a first year experience program?

Are some of the classes interactive or project based?

Where can one study abroad?

Do you offer service learning?

What opportunities are there for undergraduate research?

How many students participate in undergraduate research?

Is there a culminating senior year experience?

Do you have an honors college?


Graduation Rates

What is your four-year graduation rate?

What is your five-year graduation rate?

What does it take to graduate in four years?

What percentage of freshmen return for sophomore year?


Academic Support

What type of tutoring program do you have? Is it free?

How do you provide academic advice to students?

Do you have a writing center and how do I access it?

What kind of learning disability resources do you have?


Other Opportunities

How many students at the college get internships? When do they start?

What percentage of students study abroad? Where can they go?

What type of career services do you offer? Can one start in Freshman year?


Student Life

What kind of dorm choices are there for Freshman, Sophomores, etc.?

What percentage of student live on campus?

How long are housing accommodations guaranteed for students?

Do most students go home on the weekend?

What percentage of the study body belongs to a sorority or fraternity?

What activities are offered to students which differentiate your college?

What clubs are popular on campus?


Questions for the Financial Aid Department

What is your average financial aid package?

What is the typical breakdown of loans versus grants?

What percentage of financial need does the school typically meet?

What is the average merit award?

What percentage of students receive college grants?

What is the average college debt that students leave with?

What work-study opportunities are there?

Art/Music Supplements Can Enhance Your College Application

Even if you are not majoring in art, music or film, supplements can enhance your application and paint a clearer picture of your passions, accomplishments, and personality for a college admissions counselor.

Make Sure Your Potential Colleges Accept Additional Supplements

Many universities will pass your work on to someone in a particular department. For example, Johns Hopkins will often pass film portfolios on to the Film & Media Studies department chair for review. Read carefully though, as some colleges explicitly state that they will not consider any additional supplements unless you are applying to a specific program. Be certain that the college will actually look at your hard work. If the universities’ website does not specify, speak to someone in admissions to verify whether additional supplements are accepted.

Check the details of submission. Make sure that you are sending it to the correct address (physical or email), as some schools will direct you to a particular faculty or staff member that will be assessing your work.

Compiling a Portfolio

Submit pieces that highlight your diversity within your medium. For example, choose pieces by a few different composers, or from different types of concerts at which you’ve played.

Alternatively, if you specialize in jazz, show off your mastery of jazz. The ultimate goal is to send work that you feel will impress the school and is not adequately emphasized in your Common Application/resume. You know your strengths better than anyone else, so choose the work of which you are proudest.

Confirm that Your Submission Format is Accepted

Some schools prefer an emailed link to a website rather than 3D items like a sculpture or DVD. Double check that your website, YouTube page, or blog is appropriate and professional before hitting “send.”

If you are asked to send 3D items, send a copy rather than the original (most admissions offices will not return these things to you).

Include a Meaningful Note

 To provide context, it is helpful to include a short description of your experience in the field (short is the key word here!). How long have you been singing opera? Have you taken relevant courses in or outside of school? Additionally, provide a brief description of each piece you have included (title, year, for what class if any). Make your letter more factual than informal. Admissions reviewers may see a longer letter as an attempt at a second personal essay, which may be looked down upon.

Follow Up

It isn’t just letters that get lost in the mail. Unless the institution is exceptionally far away, confirm after about a week that your submission has arrived at the intended office. Accidents do happen, and sometimes things end up in the wrong office. If this happens, contact admissions, and they can more than likely transfer it to the correct hands.

And remember: a genuine thank-you to a reviewer can go a long way!

What is Your Kid’s Greatest Asset?

Athletic prowess, singing voice, acting ability? Perhaps it’s math aptitude, or writing?

Their greatest asset is their capacity to create an income stream by building on their talents and natural abilities. This will benefit them significantly in the future as well as produce fulfillment. How as parents do we maximize their success?

I have built Annapolis College Consulting around achieving this goal. My end game is not just college, it is their future.

Each student is different, so I start by understanding who they are through an MBTI-based assessmentpersonality assessment. In a counseling session we discuss what their natural tendencies are, their strengths and their blind spots. This discussion helps us to assess which environments will benefit them in college and in the work place. The outcomes are tied to a database of professions that might be a good fit for them. The database even shows if their field of interest is growing or shrinking, if they are hiring in different areas of the country, and what the starting, median, and ending salaries are for that occupation. Some even describe what types of tasks and skills are involved in the occupation.

Next we look at finding colleges that meet their specifications and your budget. That list can be refined and enhanced as they visit colleges and gain more knowledge. By sending students frequent e-mails on the process my students go into situations with confidence and the tools necessary to get the most out of my college consulting.

Learning how to interview effectively is a skill which makes an enormous impact for the rest of their lives. I have gotten almost every job that I have interviewed for, above far more qualified candidates. It is a skill and a very important one not only in the college process but in the working world.

My success with students receiving significant merit aid is based on a detailed understanding of the college process, and knowing what colleges are looking for in students. I take each student and use their accomplishments to show the college why that student would be an asset on their campus. Through college consulting I also help my students find unique experiences that enhance their resumes, based on their interests. Many teens do not see how the relevance of their experiences will work to their benefit. My counseling shows them this, and how to apply this knowledge to sell themselves.

Last year my small group of students received offers of over $3,000,000 in merit scholarships and through the years, 85% have been accepted into their first choice school. 95% of my students have stayed at the school in which they started, and 90% have graduated on time.

Using Annapolis College Consulting means that students and parents have to spend less of their time,because of my knowledge and streamlined process. So many parents have told me how much more pleasant and overall, better, the college process is with me managing it.

Most importantly, I try to empower students and give them skills to be successful, not just in the college process, but for the rest of their lives. Working so that each student has a better chance of loving their college experience, understanding their strengths and taking advantage of them, and therefore being successful. Together, we can build their assets for the future.

Summer Activities that Give You an Edge – Part 1

Part 1

The most important thing to do in the summer is something which you feel will help you grow and discover your strengths. Look at gaps that you have in your college profile and try a new activity. Do something meaningful and worthwhile during the summer, along with relaxing and enjoying some sunshine.


Pursuing something that you are passionate about not only provides you with depth, but also expands your scope. If you are an avid lacrosse player who loves the game, maybe teaching it to underprivileged younger students would bring you satisfaction. To make the experience possible you could start a donation program where you collect lacrosse sticks, clothing and shoes from other teams to donate to the new players. Gathering these donations from your league, school, or religious institution will set you apart. Maybe you are a runner who believes in raising money for cancer and therefore starts a new race to help support breast cancer. These activities take time, but they allow you to develop many skills and show colleges how beneficial you would be on their campus.


Taking a class or two in an academic subject of interest can be another way to stand out in the college process. MOOCs are relatively new and an absolutely free way to learn from college professors. Wikipedia’s definition: A massive open online course aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web. In addition to traditional course materials such as filmed lectures, readings, and problem sets, many MOOCs provide interactive user forums to support community interactions between students, professors, and teaching assistants. See httpss://www.mooc-list.com/.

Community colleges are an inexpensive way to take classes, and many top colleges offer classes on their campuses, which is a pricier alternative. There is a myth that taking a course on the campus that you are interested in, will give you an advantage when it comes to getting into that college. Generally this is not the case, however it will give you insight into whether you like the location and the feel of the school. Remember however that the weather may be very different. On-line classes or an independent study project are also great options.


If you have not done any meaningful volunteering, the summer offers lots of time to change that. Colleges love to see students volunteer because it shows them that you will be a meaningful part of their community once you enroll. Giving back also has many rewards which are important in human development. Find an area of interest and then look for opportunities. Here are some websites to look at:https://marylandvolunteercenters.org/ a general listing, httpss://www.mdfoodbank.org/volunteer/ ; helping animals https://www.mdspca.org/volunteer/.

A Job

Many students opt to make money by lifeguarding, working in a retail store, or another environment. Colleges like to see students have jobs because it shows a good work ethic. If you can find a way to distinguish yourself in your position by improving the system, that is even better. For example, I had a student who was a lifeguard at a pool which did not have recycling, so she instituted a recycling program by picking up the yellow bins. Because the county would not pick up from the pool area, she brought the recycling back to her home. That was wonderful dedication and we highlighted that in her application. She was accepted into every college and received significant merit aid from many schools, for that and other accomplishments. More importantly she felt proud that her efforts improved our environment.


How to Make the Best Decision about Which College to Attend

Plan a visit, if you can’t decide which college to go to after being accepted. Tour your student’s top options before May 1, when acceptance deposits are due. Have them sit in on a class, see if they can stay with students in a dorm, sample the dining hall cuisine, and schedule a meeting with the office of admissions and financial aid. Your student will hopefully be spending the next four years of his or her life at that school. Take the time to really assess which is the best fit for them.

Tell your kids the truth about your finances. Decide how much money you can afford to spend for college. Be honest if it will be difficult to allow your kid to attend the most expensive college, because your long term financial stability is important. Weigh the schools, how much you’ll contribute, how much in loans your kid should take out (though I am against loans), what the schools’ graduation rates are, if they are offering work-study money, etc. Once you have all the offers, evaluate your family’s circumstances, do you have another child that will be in college soon? Are there any major expenses that you have not factored in? Does your student want to go to graduate school, and therefore a cheaper undergraduate degree would be fine?

Do the colleges accept your students’ AP and IB courses for college credit? Save tuition by choosing a school that accepts your kid’s college credits. Many of my students get a year’s worth of college credit at the outset. This can obviously save you a year of college tuition and get them out into the working world earlier.

Look at your awards carefully. When you have received your scholarship and financial award letters from your colleges, take the time to look at the school’s net price to you. That is Cost of Attendance: tuition, room, board, fees, books, etc. — minus grants, loans, work-study, and scholarships. Separate any loans that the family would have to pay back and add that into your total cost.

Some colleges say: “renewable.” Some financial and merit aid is meant as a one-time enticement for entering freshman, while other aid is for all four years — but it might be contingent upon your kid’s GPA. Make sure you read the letter very carefully and know the conditions to properly evaluate your choices. If you have any questions call the school’s financial aid office to get the answers. Is it based on your student’s GPA? If your kid earns those grades, is it certain the money will be there each year? If your student is on an athletic scholarship what are the rules for keeping it?

If you accept student loans use the Federal Loans firstFederal loans generally have lower interest rates than private loans, no hidden fees, and better repayment terms. Stafford Loans — direct loans from the government — have the best current interest rate. They are limited to $5,500 for freshmen, $6,500 for sophomores and $7,500 for juniors and seniors.

Never use your retirement savings. If you do, you will be taxed on that money and it will reduce your child’s financial aid eligibility the next year. You need to keep your money in your retirement accounts and even add to them yearly to help reduce your total income.

You can negotiate your offer. As long as you have a good reason, you can ask the college’s financial aid department to give you more money. Sometimes you can mention a better offer from a competing college, or a family circumstance which changes your ability to pay. Definitely call if there is a divorce or a lost job. Have all your financial information ready when you make the call. Be polite and clear, not whiny or pushy. Some financial aid officer make $40,000 a year, so be careful in how you describe your circumstances.

College Search and Graduation Websites

College Search

Go See Campus provides a free college trip planner, college reviews, student advice, and more.

College Navigator is a free consumer information tool designed to help students, parents, high school counselors, and others get information about over 7,000 postsecondary institutions in the United States – such as programs offered, retention and graduation rates, prices, aid available, degrees awarded, campus safety, and accreditation.

The University & College Accountability Network is designed to offer prospective students and their families concise, Web-based consumer-friendly information about the nation’s private, nonprofit colleges and universities in a common format.

You University – Video of colleges that you can view to get a feel for each college to see what it offers and if it interests you. Very helpful before you plan a trip to a college far away.

Rate My Professors: Having a great teacher makes a big difference to many students, not just during the class, but afterwards as well. This is a way to view what students are saying about their professors. As with any site which offers only personal opinions realize that there will be some students looking to vent about an issue or person.

College Niche is totally student written and provides their opinions to the questions many prospective students want to know, such as the quality of the dining hall food, whether a school has a good night life, and many other non-academic interests. Don’t believe everything you read, but it is another data point to consider.

Unigo provides reviews, videos, and photos that have been created by students at colleges across the country.

CollegeData allows you to search for colleges that match your personal preferences or by college name, then provides profiles for each of your search results.

College Scorecard designed by our government to provide better insight on how well colleges are serving their students when it comes to access, affordability and outcomes post graduation.  The cost of college however is based on students receiving financial aid and is therefore misleading. With nearly 2,000 data points for 7,000+ schools in the underlying database, there’s a lot of information covered.

Colleges that Change Lives is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to educating prospective college students and their families about making college choices that are a good fit for the individual needs of the student.