The Latest


  • 5 Tips for Superior College Essays
    Mon, 10 Jun 2013

    Imagine you’re a college admission counselor and during the fall you read application essays for 8 hours a day. About 90% of those essays are written about the same topics: how I scored the winning goal for my team or how a mission trip changed my life. Then imagine you read an essay from a student who talks about holding down a 20 hour per week part-time job at a pizza joint, maintained an A/B average in school, and sacrificed his social life to do so. Who do you resonate with more?

    The college essay is an opportunity to stand out in the admission process and show your personality. It causes a lot of students stress, but it doesn’t need to! Knowing what an admission counselor is looking for (and not looking for!) in the essay can make the process a whole lot less stressful. Here are 5 tips to help you nail the college essay:

    1. Avoid the over-used topics of how you scored the winning goal or how the mission trip you went on changed your life.
    These are not necessarily bad topics, but how they’re approached is usually uninspiring. If you went on a mission trip, and it completely changed your perspective and motivated you to take action, start a charity, or create a new club, you might have a great essay topic. If you talk about the experience and how amazing it was, you might want to dig deeper for another topic.

    2. Don’t try to impress the admission counselors. Be honest and find your story.
    Colleges are trying to learn who you are through your essay. What story can you tell that no one else can? It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering (you’ve only been on this earth for so long, and the colleges know that!). Do you come from a family of 9? Did you get promoted to assistant manager at your part time job? Do you have a unique talent? Don’t worry so much about what will sound good or be impressive. Colleges just want to get to know you better.

    3. Make sure your essay sounds like you.
    Does your essay sound like something you would say? If it doesn’t, consider drafting until it does. The goal is to make a connection with your reader. Avoid using your thesaurus and using bigger words than you would in a conversation. Mom and Dad may want to help you edit, but often times, they end up phrasing things in a way a teenager never would. Admission counselors will quickly pick up on this!

    4. Don’t focus on hardships (including death and divorce).
    In most cases, it’s not a good idea to focus on negative topics in your essay. Even if it’s the most significant or life-altering experience you’ve had, chances are it won’t help the admission counselors get to know you and learn about how you can contribute to the campus community.

    5. Share something that’s not already on your application.
    The essay is an opportunity for you to share something about yourself that’s not already represented on your application. Think about who you are and what’s missing from the big picture. What message do you want to send? If you’re the goalie on the soccer team, the colleges will know that from your activity list. Share something about yourself that they don’t already know, and make sure it’s a personal story by injecting lots of detail.

  • It’s FAFSA Time!
    Tue, 03 Jan 2012

    The time has come for families to start completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form  (FAFSA). If you have a child who will be in college for the 2012-2013 school year you can access and submit your FAFSA form starting January 1st. It can be accessed at To electronically sign the FAFSA, you need a personal identification number known as a PIN. To create a PIN, visit  Keep it in a safe place since you will need it each year you file the FAFSA online.  For families of returning college students who have already completed the FAFSA once, you can use the Renewal FAFSA that is already populated with your basic information like name, SSN, address, etc.

    While families can complete the paper version of the FAFSA, the online version makes the process more streamlined. The online version will omit questions that are not applicable based your answers to previous questions. Also, the online version will not allow you to skip any questions and it will notice if you have made any contradictory answers and will allow you to correct those mistakes. Finally, you can rest assured that completing the online FAFSA is very safe because it uses encryption, which sends all of your information in code.

    Remember that it does not cost anything to complete and submit the FAFSA form. Even if you don’t think that you will qualify for federal aid, you should still complete an application. There are many factors besides family income that are taken into consideration when distributing aid. Also, some schools won’t consider you for institutional scholarships if you haven’t completed the FAFSA.

    Get the process started as soon as possible. You don’t need to wait until you filed your income tax returns. For the FAFSA, you can use estimated tax information to file your FAFSA and verify that information once your tax returns are complete.  If you have questions while you are completing the FAFSA, schedule an appointment with a consultant at Advantage College Planning!

  • Preparing Your High School Student For College
    Tue, 06 Sep 2011

    I often hear from parents who ask, “What can I do to help my high school student get prepared for college?” Here are my top five tips:

    1. Help your student discover extracurricular interests and build a student resume with meaningful activities. Depth is more important than breadth! Find things that your student is really passionate about and find ways to explore those interests.
    2. Create good study habits and time management skills in high school. I hear it all the time from students, “I never learned how to study.” There are great workshops in our area to learn these very important life skills!
    3. Start researching colleges and taking tours during junior year. Don’t wait until senior year to start the process. Remember that the more time you have to explore and plan, the less stressful this process will be!
    4. Talk money. Have a conversation with your student about what you can afford to pay per year for college expenses and/or how much you’re willing to borrow. In the end, it benefits students to set the expectation. And keep in mind the sticker price of a college is not necessarily what you will end up paying (at many private schools, it will be much less).
    5. Take the SATs (or ACTs) seriously. Create a study plan or take a prep class. Your students scores will be heavily considered (at most colleges) for the purposes of admission and scholarships!
  • Why is a Reach School Risky?
    Wed, 03 Nov 2010

    There is a lot of lingo in the higher ed world, and knowing it can mean the difference in thousands of dollars in financial aid! So what is a reach school and why will it have an affect on financial aid?

    A reach school is a school where the student doesn’t have a good chance of getting in. For example, if your child has a 3.2 G.P.A. and a 1800 SAT score and applies to a school where the average applicant has a 3.6 G.P.A and a 2000 SAT score, it would be a reach for your child to gain admission.

    I’ve talked to a lot of parents who encourage their students to apply to reach schools. Why not? The answer is in your financial aid package. Schools want to entice students who will help their averages (G.P.A. and SAT scores). Students who don’t help, may not receive as much free money (grants and scholarships).

    To find the schools that will give your student the most financial aid, look for schools where your students scores are in the top 25% of the applicant pool.

    Read more here:

  • Financial Aid 101: How to Get More
    Mon, 24 May 2010

    Financial aid is getting more and more difficult to obtain; especially at state universities where budgets are being cut and tuition is on the rise.

    This article by the Wall Street Journal outlines short-term and long-term strategies to maximize your financial aid opportunities. If you’ve  attended one of my seminars, you may recognize some of them!

  • How Long Does It Take to Complete a “4-year” Degree?
    Fri, 02 Apr 2010

    The average student takes five and a half years to graduate with an undergraduate degree. When parents are thinking about the total cost of college, most multiply the cost of attendance by four. Unfortunately that’s an underestimation of the actual cost of college.

    You may wonder after reading, why is it taking students so long to graduate? The two more common answers:

    1. “I transferred and had to attend school extra semesters to make up the credits that didn’t transfer.”

    2. “I couldn’t afford to go to school full-time so I had to cut back to part-time and work more.”

    Below is a link to an article from the Triangle Business Journal. Unfortunately, the title to this article is a little misleading. It’s not about how many students finish college, but rather about how long it takes to graduate.

    Many Start, Few Finish College in NC

  • Private Schools Slash Prices, Make College More Affordable
    Wed, 31 Mar 2010

    Private schools are slashing prices more than ever! The average tuition discount for freshman at private schools in 2008 was 42%, up from 39% in 2007. As I discuss in my “10 Keys to Maximize Financial Aid” seminar, families shouldn’t dismiss schools based on sticker price, as this article confirms:

  • Big Changes In the Student Loan Industry
    Wed, 24 Mar 2010

    Along with the health care bill, a massive overhaul of the student loan system was signed into law by President Obama yesterday. As soon as this year, students will only be able to borrow federal student loans from the government, instead of private banks and institutions like College Foundation of North Carolina.

    Read more:

  • The Role of Guidance Counselors
    Mon, 15 Mar 2010

    According to a recent article in the NY Times, guidance counselors are having less of an affect than ever on high school students and provide, “little meaningful advice about college or careers.” It’s not a surprise, considering the average guidance counselor in NC is responsible for 250+ students!

    You can read the original article here:



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