Dynamic Post-Secondary Planning: engaging students in the university planning process

Each student’s Personalized Action Plan will include:

  • What we have learned about the student by looking at results of student or parent surveys and assessments, standardized test scores (SAT/ACT), grades, and extracurricular activities in order to prepare a preliminary list of target universities
  • Research we have student complete in order to learn more about each university and compare the suggested institutions; this often includes making campus visits
  • The student’s needs, preferences, and career objectives as well as academic, social, emotional and financial aspects are paramount
  • Creating a plan which will include application TYPE, organizing dates/deadlines, identifying key milestones
  • Overseeing the execution of the Plan by setting assignments and meeting regularly to review student’s progress and to edit all work that has been completed

For students, this journey is part of their growing process and just as important as the outcome.

Course Acceleration: Why it Matters

For those students who are academically inclined, it is a good idea to accelerate one or more subject areas, if your school allows it. Often, acceleration is not allowed within some schools which offer the IB Diploma Program. There is more flexibility in school systems offering the AP Program. Acceleration can be done by taking summer courses locally through the board of education or through your school’s summer program, if one is available. For example:

  • Taking Science 10 during the summer between grades 9 and 10, will mean you can take biology, chemistry or physics in grade 10. This, in turn, will allow you to take AP courses in grade 11 and be more ready to challenge the SAT Subject Test in the science in which you are accelerated, by the end of grade 11.
  • Students may also want to take chemistry 11, physics 11 or biology 11 during the summer between grades 10 and 11 to open up their schedule for a more advanced science in grade 11.
  • In the same way, students can take the next level math/pre-calculus course in the summer between 9/10 or 10/11 or even both, in order to open up their schedule to take AP Calculus in grade 12. Many business or engineering programs require or prefer calculus (not pre-calculus) to have been taken in grade 12 for university admission.
  • Some students take Planning 10 or Social Studies 11 as a summer course in the summer before or after grade 10 in order to open up their schedule for more electives in the following year.
  • Occasionally students complete the highest level math or science course their school offers by the end of grade 11 and then choose to take one math or science course at a local university or college while they are in grade 12.

Regardless of why you choose to be accelerated, it is certainly one way to ensure you do well in your targeted SAT Subject Test/s, shows that you have passion in a particular subject area, and it certainly helps to set you apart from the majority of other applicants to university.

It’s Not All about the GPA

Yes, your grade point average (GPA) will have great bearing on what university you are eventually admitted to. However, it is not all about the GPA. May other factors are taken into consideration when universities review your application and make that final decision which will determine where you will spend the next four years. Here are some factors worth considering:

  1. Has the student taken a rigorous course load (honors, AP, IB, even a course at university) or did s/he protect his/her GPA by taking only standard courses where it was easy to get a straight A?
  2. Is the student a good writer? Some of the students we have worked with, who have been admitted to top schools, have had superb writing skills and lots of good material in their backgrounds to include in their essays.
  3. Does the student have diverse experiences to draw upon for writing good essays about teamwork, leadership, being the founder of an organization or club, and other experiences which have enabled him/her to be a leader, to grow, to mature, to learn to persevere and to demonstrate initiative?
  4. Does the student have solid scores on his/her standardized tests (SAT/ACT/Subject Tests)?
  5. Does the student demonstrate the ‘kindness factor’? In other words, is there considerable and sustained volunteering, showing compassion and impact?
  6. Has the student done enough research on the university to know why s/he is a good ‘fit’ for this particular university and is s/he able to articulate this in their essays?
  7.      Is the student a good role model for his/her peers and have the respect of teachers and the school administration?
  8. Has the student stepped outside of his/her comfort zone to try out new experiences whether this be research with a university professor, outdoor expeditions, summer programs, conferences, or exchanges with schools abroad, etc.?
  9. Does the student have any special talents that will contribute to the university’s student life program? Some of our students have demonstrated their ‘Wow Factor’ through being on Canada’s National Debating Team, a National Sports Team, or playing a musical instrument at a professional level within a youth symphony orchestra. Others have made it to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.
  10. Can the student solicit superb letters of recommendation from teachers and counselors saying s/he is in the top 1% or top 5% of students they have encountered in their career?
  11. Has the student demonstrated intellectual vitality or curiosity by being accelerated in one or more subject areas, for example demonstrating a passion for physics, philosophy, photography, coding, robotics, the environment, innovation or some other subject through unusual experiences such as summer programs, internships, fellowships, science fairs, research, or obtaining patents or even registering their own business in BC? In other words, is there a ‘Wow Factor’ to speak of, here?
  12. Does the student have personal characteristics which will contribute to a diverse and interesting campus community? Examples of this would be being the first generation in your family to attend university or representing an underrepresented minority group such as being Mexican or from a First Nation’s tribe or being a Zoroastrian and highlighting this in the application.
  13. Has the student demonstrated passion, initiative and leadership in sustained extracurricular activities? Can the student articulate this in university essays which provide insight into the student’s unique personality, values and goals?
  14. Will the student be showcasing their accomplishments through videos, websites, artistic supplements or other methods along with their application?

Admissions is like a jigsaw puzzle. So many factors have to combine to allow a student to be competitive for the top universities. Many of our students who are admitted to the likes of Stanford and Harvard are head boy or head girl at school, member of the choir or band (and sometimes both), are active in theatre or the arts, are captain of a school sports team, and have substantial volunteering experience and so much more. To get into Ivy League level universities, you need ivy level grades and experiences. If you’re setting the bar really high, then begin the work today and persevere even when it gets stressful. If you enjoy the activities you join, it will be more effortless than you had imagined!

Boston & the New COALITION Application

I’m off to the IECA Conference in my former home of Boston.  I will be seeing a number of universities and these include Smith, Wellesley, Olin School of Engineering, Boston University, Tufts, Brandeis, Bentley and later on Dartmouth. No doubt, I will have lots of news and photos to share with all my students. I also expect to gain some insights into the new COALITION Application which is a brand new platform for working on applications which is being unveiled this month.  The good news is that students as young as in grade 9 can begin working within the Coalition Portfolio section, keeping track of their activities, awards, artwork, projects and best pieces of writing for use at time of application. More on this when I get back!

Grade 11 Students May Begin Work on the Common Application for 2016-17

Grade 11 Students May Begin Work on the Common Application for 2016-17

At Select College Admissions we follow trends and watch the Common Application closely for our students. We’re pleased that this year the Common Application has made two decisions that will help students. 1: This spring, current Common App accounts will roll over to the 2016-2017 Common App, so grade 11 students can start their Common App now; and 2: The main essay prompts will remain the same from last year.

Key Things to Know:

  • Juniors can create an account now at commonapp.org. Accounts created this spring will roll over.
  • The student’s user name and Common App ID will all be preserved. This means you’ll be able to sign in to next year’s application system using the same email address you used this year. All Common App data will be preserved.
  • The 2016-2017 main essay prompts on the Common App are out and they are the same as last year:
  • 2016-2017 Essay Prompts
  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, which marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

2013 University Applications Are Behind Us

It is a relief to have the application deadline behind us. Congratulations to my students for completing all of your applications on time and for working so hard on all those essays over the winter break.  A special applause goes to those of you who were accepted Early to any of your universities of choice.

If you were accepted Early Decision, you can relax a bit but just not too much! Also remember to contact any other universities where you have pending applications to let them know that you have been accepted ED somewhere else. A simple e-mail will do.

For those of you deferred or denied to an ED or EA school, I certainly feel for you. It is hard to get a rejection.  Identifying which steps to take will depend on your situation but it’s time to regroup and figure out your strategy going forward.

Keep up with your academics with the knowledge that universities will see your mid-year marks as well as your final year marks.  A few more months and you will all be university students!


I’m just returning from Toronto where NACAC (National Association of College Admission Counseling), a U.S. association, held its first-ever conference internationally from September 19-21.  I had the opportunity to tour 8 university campuses (see photos on my Face Book), attend a huge college fair representing U.S., Canadian and U.K. universities, met with admissions representatives from universities, chatted with high school counselors from across the U.S., Canada or international schools overseas, as well as exchanged ideas with other independent educational consultants.

I attended a number of interesting educational sessions.  The open forum on the Redesigned Common Application was by far the most popular.  There was so much demand from conference attendees that the NACAC organizers decided to repeat the session twice in one day. Members of the Common Application Board and staff were there to respond to questions, comments, and complaints.  There are still a number of glitches in the system that are in the process of being taken care of.  I certainly hope that my students will be able to print their applications while still in progress, review them multiple times and do a final preview prior to submission.

One piece of advice to all my students is to make every attempt to submit your first application, very likely your EA or ED application, early.  One or two weeks before the deadline would be ideal.  Remember, the Common Application Version 4 is new and there might be glitches that have not been corrected prior to the November 1 deadline.  It’s better to be safe and have peace of mind that you have successfully submitted your early application than be in a panic minutes before the deadline when your attempts at submission fail.  Remember, it’s generally the early bird that gets the worm!

US University Admissions

US University AdmissionsWhen It Comes to US Admissions, Good Fit Counts – Our students this year (2013) have gained acceptances from institutions like Harvard to the smallest of liberal arts colleges, where they will get lots of individualized attention and thrive in small classes. We have helped our students gain admission to colleges and universities spread all over the US and Canada and are proud of each and every one.  Most importantly, we’ve always been open about how we do it—by picking appropriate schools that match you well, resisting the urge to focus on only the famous schools, using the application and essays to help colleges get to know you, and most importantly, encouraging you to be yourself. As we say goodbye to our grads, we wish them all the best in the next four years and ultimately success in the career they choose to pursue.

US University Admissions – Spring 2013 Issue

This time of year is always fraught with excitement, nervousness, and ultimately relief as we receive phone calls and e-mails from grads about where they have been admitted. We share in your joys, disappointments, and your confusion as you come to grips with the responses and make your final decisions.

Fortunately for most, there was more joy than disappointment this year. However, there was also frustration with increased wait-lists and heated competition across the board, particularly for the Ivies.

We are pleased to say that overall, there was excellent news and everyone has a college or university that is a great fit, one where they can succeed.

The Dreaded Wait-List: Moving the Dial

For those of you who were wait-listed, you are in good company. Colleges are using the wait-list more heavily this year because they are trying to manage their yields and have no way of predicting how many of the admitted students will take them up on their offer of admission. Additionally, applications were up in record numbers at many colleges/universities. As a result, schools are using the wait-list for students that are qualified and that they would love to admit if they had the space. Therefore, as they see who matriculates and who doesn’t, they can easily go to their wait-list and call or e-mail the applicant who best matches the type of person they need to create a well-rounded class. Each student will have to matriculate at one university by May 1 and then colleges will move to their wait-lists. If you are wait-listed and are later admitted to another university you wish to attend, you must send in a second deposit to this university and notify the original university that you will not be attending. You will, of course, forfeit the first deposit.


1) Because they don’t have enough slots for all the students they want to accept. 2) To determine if a student is truly interested in coming to their school. 3) To manage their yields and only accept students as others do not matriculate. 4) To manage enrolment by not having to offer financial or merit aid to wait-listed students.


1) Write a letter to let the college know that it is your first choice school and that you will enrol if admitted (if this is true) 2) Imagine what you would do as a student at this college/university. Try to communicate this effectively to admissions. Be very specific! 3) Send the letter out quickly to show that you are truly interested in the school and it is not an afterthought.

I have seen students successfully get off the wait-list each year, so being wait-listed is not without hope. However, I recommend moving forward with your other options with a positive mindset. For those students who were deferred in the early round and then wait-listed in the regular round, the chances of coming off the wait-list is more slim.

Finally, if you know that you are NOT going to one or more colleges to which you have been admitted, let them know as soon as possible so that they can inform another student who is on their wait-list. This is often done online but might vary by university.

Make sure you send in the required deposit to one school to which you have been admitted by the May 1 deadline- even if you’re still waiting to hear from a school where you’ve been waitlisted. If admitted to a wait-listed school that you prefer to attend, you must send in a second deposit to reserve your spot and let the first school know that you will now be attending a school where you managed to get off the wait-list.

US University Admissions – Winter 2013 Issue

Happy New Year! First off, congratulations to most of you on completing all of your applications and to those of you who were accepted Early to any of your universities. If you were accepted Early Decision you can relax (somewhat, but not too much!) for the rest of the year. Also remember to contact the remaining universities to which you have applied to let them know that you have been accepted ED somewhere else.

We are looking forward to working with you in 2013. Below are some tips on how to make the process a success and hopefully reduce stress along the way.


For students planning their schedules, the goal is to create a schedule that will challenge but not overwhelm you. Challenge yourself in your areas of strength and yes, take the honors or AP level if you can get an 80 or better without throwing the rest of your schedule off kilter. So how do you do this? Below are some tips to help manage the process:

      1. Identify your goals for college. If you know that you would like to be competitive for a highly selective college (those accepting fewer than 35% of their applicants), then your schedule should be the most challenging for you. If you do not care about attending a highly selective college, then you have more leeway in selecting your classes.
      2. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone in areas of strength. Go through your current classes and identify which subjects come most easily to you. For those subject areas that come easily for you, it is important to push yourself further. If you are very strong in English and foreign languages, then you should be taking the highest level in those subjects. If you spend all of your time studying an Honors Math class and are still barely getting a B, then you should drop down to a lower level. If, however, you are taking Honors Math, Spanish, and English and working hard, but not killing yourself, and getting a B or better, then that is the correct level.
      3. Go for your interests. Once you have fulfilled all of your graduation requirements, it is time to take classes that interest you. So if you have a passion for science and no interest in foreign languages, it may be okay to double up on science senior year and not take another year of foreign language. The key is to substitute equally rigorous classes in your area of interest.
      4. Know your limitations. Some students overshoot what they can handle and that can end up just as problematic. Most college students take between four to five classes per semester. So if you have four AP classes along with all your other classes and activities, that may be too much. Determine if you do better under pressure with a lot going on or if you get overwhelmed. The most successful students understand their strengths and weaknesses and work with them.


Students are advised to begin test preparation in grade 10 and aim at completing all required standardized testing by the end of grade 11. For details regarding our SAT and ACT classes, offered in collaboration with Can-Am Learning Academy, please refer to the Workshops & Classes page on my website: http://www.scadmissions.com/workshops-2/ To register, email: register@scAdmissions.com


Testing is a necessary evil for getting into college. So the key is to find the test that works best for you. Colleges accept both the ACT with writing and the SAT. So what’s the difference? The ACT tends to be more straightforward and also has a science section. The SAT tends to ask trickier questions and students with a good vocabulary can shine in the SAT.

For the math sections, if you are a really good math student in class, work fast, can memorize four pages of formulas, and hate being tricked – go for the ACT. If, on the other hand, you are great at logic problems, like figuring out puzzles and hate the idea of studying and memorizing formulas, the SAT is probably better for you.

Here are the key differences between the two tests:

What is being tested – The SAT is more of a logical reasoning test using numbers than a math test. The ACT is a traditional test of high school math skills.

Level of content – SAT covers arithmetic, algebra plus some geometry and algebra 2 concepts (lower level math). The ACT covers content through pre-calculus (higher level math).

Use of Formulas – The SAT provides you with all the formulas. For the ACT, you will need to memorize approximately four pages of formulas. However, it is legal to pre-program your calculator with most of these formulas, which we highly recommend.

Trickery – The SAT is full of tricks (remember, it is more of a reasoning test than a math test). The ACT is a more straightforward test.

Timing – The SAT allows for more time per question than the ACT: 1 minute & 20 seconds for each question on the SAT compared to 1 minute per question for the ACT.

Penalty for Wrong Answers – The SAT takes off 1/4 point for each wrong answer, whereas there is no penalty for wrong answers on ACT. However, it is still to your advantage to make an educated guess on the SAT if you can eliminate two or more wrong answers.

There are specific techniques to prepare for each of these tests and preparing for one test will not necessarily help you prep for the other. Pick the test that plays to your strengths and do the best that you can!


1) Know which test you are going to take. Both tests are equally accepted so if you can focus your energy and time on the test that suits you best, you are ahead of the game.

2) Decide if you do better learning in a group class or with one-on-one tutoring. Both are effective, however, self-studying is a must as well!

3) Allow enough time to prepare. Most people do better when they have ample time to prepare. Allow at least three to four months of preparation before the test. As grade 10’s, you can also spread it out over time and do things like “SAT Question of the Day” or use other sites to help you break it down over a longer period. However, some people only do well with a deadline hanging over their head. So get into our prep course and do the homework each week. This will give you a deadline each week and keep you on track.

4) Figure out if you need and are eligible for extended time. I’ve had clients with learning disabilities who have improved their scores by upwards of 300 points just by getting the proper documentation to prove they need extended time. See me for details.


Twenty minutes of consistent SAT/ACT practice in the days and weeks following your test prep class, while the strategies are fresh in your mind, is equal to one hour of practice per day later. Between now and May/June, spend 20-30 minutes per day on SAT or ACT practice. Remember, the difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra!


Your grade 11 year is a great time for visiting universities to get a sense of what you like and dislike about schools. In the coming months, some good times to schedule visits campus are during spring break in March, Easter long weekend in April, or the Victoria Day long weekend in May.

For trip planning tips and a list of universities to visit, please come in for a consultation.

Here are some tips for university visits:

      • Check the Admissions website for each university and look up times when campus tours and information sessions are offered.
      • Most campus tours & information sessions do not require appointments but make sure you make an appointment if one is required.
      • Plan your visit when classes are in session to get a better feel for each university. Check the university calendar for dates when students are away for spring break or a holiday.
      • It is feasible to visit 2 campuses on one day if the distance to travel between them is short. However, it is best to schedule one campus visit per day.
      • Allow for time to walk around on your own, visit the student center, eat a meal in the cafeteria, meet and talk with students, sit in on a class (must be pre-arranged), or meet with a coach if you’re an athlete.


If you’re applying for aid, now is the time to complete the CSS Profile forms available through the College Board website. Each private university will have its own deadline. You will need to send reports to colleges at your expense. The CSS Profile has a non-custodial version and allows room for explanations. See: https://profileonline.collegeboard.com/prf/index.jsp


Remind your school counselors that mid-year school reports are due early to mid-February. These are sent through the commonapp.org site. Any new accomplishments you have may be included in this report, along with updated transcripts, and sent to all the universities to which you have applied.


UBC applications are due January 31. There are short 100 and 200-word essays so leave plenty of time for completing your application.


In the next few weeks, you will very likely be contacted by alumni of the universities you’ve applied to for interviews. Here are some interview tips:

      • Make eye contact with the interviewer.
      • Have a firm handshake.
      • Take 2 copies of your brag sheet/personal accomplishments profile/résumé.
      • Be prepared to explain to the interviewer why you’re applying to this university.
      • Relax and think of it more as a conversation than an interview.

Grade 12 Students

      • If you haven’t come in for a mock interview, make an appointment asap.
      • If you were deferred, we need to discuss an action plan and draft a letter to any universities to which you were deferred.
      • Remind your school counsellors that mid-year reports must be sent out to universities by the university’s February deadline.
      • Take up the top two universities you’ve been accepted to, on their offer for a campus visit. You’ll have a good idea whether the university is a good “fit” after your overnight stay with current students, and you will already have a small circle of friends when you enrol in the fall.

Grade 11 Students:

      • If you haven’t made plans for a productive summer, it is imperative that you come in right away to discuss your summer options.
      • This spring is the time to do a needs assessment in order to begin working on your preliminary college list.
      • Let’s meet to discuss your course selection prior to finalizing your course schedule for next year.
      • Send us copies of new score reports for the SAT and ACT as soon as you have them.
      • Send us feedback on any college visits so we can continue to refine your college list.

Grade 10 Students:

      • If you haven’t made plans for a productive summer, it is imperative that you come in right away to discuss your summer options.
      • Discuss your course selection with us prior to finalizing your list of courses for next year.
      • A review of your extracurricular activities and leadership roles should be done at the same time.
      • Now is the time to begin preparation for your standardized tests.
      • If you want to start testing the waters and visiting some universities to get a sense of what you like and dislike, let us know and we’ll map out a plan.

Grade 9 Students:

    • It’s a good time to meet to get an overview of what to expect and plan out next year’s classes and activities.

Please call us in the New Year to schedule a meeting if you want to go over college visits, revisit your plan for the academic year, or draw up your college list, etc.

Happy Holidays to all. Here’s to a great New Year!