The Daily Double

Finally, a contestant defeated Jeopardy champ James Holzhauer this week. The game show has been on my mind lately (we watch it a lot in my house - it isn’t easy to find a program that the whole family enjoys. We certainly aren’t gathering around the tv as a family to watch the Bachelorette or Game of Thrones).  So in the spirit of the Jeopardy miscellaneous category, Potpourri, here is a collection of tips to take us into the summer months:

  • If you are taking the SAT or ACT this summer, start waking up early a few days before the test to reset your body clock.  You might not be used to getting up early in July, for instance. On the day of the test, wake up at least two or three hours before the exam to give your brain time to fully function and make sure you eat a protein-filled breakfast.

  • Create a short list of goals you want to accomplish by the end of the summer. Refer to the goal list at the start of each week and create a small action to make progress toward one of the goals for that week.

    • For example

      • Goal: Read two non-fiction books in July

        • July 1: Read first two chapters by July 7

  • Run out of things to do? Earn community service hours. Search for various opportunities on the website: Activate Good.

  • Take the time to reconnect with family members this summer. Do your grandparents attend every sporting event and concert of yours? Send them a thank you note or even better, bake them some cookies and deliver them in person.

  • Think of the student you’d like to be next year. What’s one thing you can do this summer to get you one step closer to honing a skill? Maybe it’s taking a study skills class or listening to a podcast about time management.

And finally for $500:

Answer: This should be used daily throughout the year, but particularly in the summer.

Question: What is sunscreen.

End of the school-year reflection

My memories of the start of the school year are much stronger than my memories of the end of the year. I can easily recall August and September from each high school year but May and June are fairly fuzzy. Perhaps that’s because the beginning of something is so much more exciting than the end for me. The freshness that accompanies the start of a school year is so appealing, while the end is more of a let-down. I’m the type of person who enjoys the planning of a trip more than the actual trip, so I’m sure my personality has influenced what I remember of high school.

Although the end of the school year is full of activities it is valuable to find the time to incorporate some type of reflection into the to-do list. The key is to make it as painless as possible.

Tips for providing space for reflection

  • Celebrate with ice cream and talk about what went well this past school year

  • Create a pinterest board of successes from the school year

  • Ask a younger sibling to interview an older sibling

  • Provide an outline for a journal entry

  • Make use of social media and find 10 pictures that represent the highs and lows of the school year

Sample questions to use for reflection

  • What accomplishment this year are you most proud of?

  • What are the three most important study skills or habits you developed this year?

  • What was the most challenging part of this year for you?

  • If you could change one thing about this year, what would it be?

  • What is something that was hard for you at the start of the year but is easy now?

  • What was your favorite book that you read this year?

  • What was your favorite lab in science class?

  • What was the best piece of writing that you did this year? Why do you think it is your best?

  • What would your favorite teacher say about your achievements from this year?

  • In what class did you feel you made your biggest improvements?

The Time Is Now

Another school year is coming to a close, but before summer break officially begins, students need to survive and hopefully, thrive, through the end of year exams.

I taught a high school civics class for seven years and during that time I noticed particular habits and behaviors that led to successful results on the cumulative final exam. In an effort to help students reach their potential at the end of the year, here are my final exam tips:   

Start studying now

AP exams are about a month away and final exams are not far behind. Make the time to start the initial studying process. Carve out at least twenty minutes a day to begin to prepare for exams.

Review the material that was most difficult for you first

Rather than working through the content chronologically, focus on studying the information that gave you the most trouble.  Determine if you need more help understanding the concepts and ask the teacher questions that will clarify the material.

Review it again

After completing the initial review of the hard stuff, review it again. Most likely, it is necessary to take this next step to really internalize the content.

Use your resources

Stay after class or after school; use your lunch time; study with friends on the weekend; re-read the course materials; make flashcards; create quizlets

Reward yourself

If you start studying now and resist the temptation to just cram at the end of the semester, offer yourself a reward. Relax after a particularly intense study session. Play a video game or get outside.

Remember the habits that you cultivated throughout the year

Rely on your already strong study skills to take you through the end of the semester. Now is the time to really step it up and put the good habits to use.

Character Counts

This week, I attended an event sponsored by Inspired Capital and was introduced to the organization, Activate Good. During his introductory remarks at the start of the program, Adam Whitesell of Inspired Capital, said that he believes that people are “intrinsically good” and want to do the right thing. I agree. Adam further argued that people donate time and money to deserving organizations such as Activate Good, not for reasons such as tax benefits, but because they believe in philanthropy and they want to support community organizations. In other words, people give money to worthy causes not for their own advantage, but because they are passionate about what they believe in.

Intrinsic goodness and moral character have been on my mind lately (see my previous post about the admissions scandal), so the timing of the event sponsored by Inspired Capital was perfect.  My belief in the goodness of others is at the heart of who I am and learning about organizations such as Activate Good renewed my commitment to my core values.

Goodness and character will no doubt be topics of conversation in the world of college admissions for months to come and I’d argue that assessing an applicant’s character will be even more important in the admissions process next year.  While students can demonstrate good character in many ways, admissions officers rely heavily on letters of recommendation to understand the student as a whole. Most colleges require, or at least encourage, one letter of recommendation from a teacher at school. The purpose of that letter is two-fold: to articulate the student’s strengths in the classroom, and provide insight into the student’s character.  Therefore, students should be thoughtful about who they ask to write on their behalf.

Letters of recommendation tips

Step One

  • Create strong connections with your teachers

    1. Students should consider these questions as they matriculate through high school:

      1. Am I making an effort to create a positive relationship with at least one teacher?

      2. Does at least one teacher know about my hobbies and interests or my academic passions?

  • Reflect on your contributions to the classroom environment

    1. Are you the type of student who participates in class discussions?

    2. Do you frequently ask questions in class?

    3. Does your work reflect your abilities?

    4. Do you collaborate well with your classmates?

Step Two

  • Ask teachers who know you well

    1. Only ask teachers who can provide positive examples of your character and studentship.

  • Provide teachers with anecdotes

    1. When asking for a letter of recommendation, provide your teacher with a few stories about your classroom experience.

      1. For example: I really enjoyed your AP Government class and found our unit on the Electoral College most interesting. My research paper arguing for the elimination of the Electoral College helped me more fully understand our system of government and the nuances of our elections.  Furthermore, I enjoyed our mock debates when discussing Supreme Court cases and was proud of my efforts as a result of my research of Roe V Wade.

  • Share your resume with your recommenders

    1. While your teachers might know about some of your activities, most likely they don’t know everything.

  • Write thank you notes

    1. Most likely, you are not the only one asking your teacher for a letter of recommendation. Take the time to write (with an actual pen) a thank-you note.

Volunteerism and philanthropy help us define good character as a society.  If you are looking to get involved in your community, Activate Good is a “good” place to start. The organization also organizes a summer event for high school students. Check out Teens Change The World for more information.  

Do the right thing

I think I was probably seven years old when I accidentally stole a pack of batteries from the local Tops grocery store in North Syracuse, NY. It was winter, and I had on a huge, puffy coat with a furry hood, and I must have bumped the end-cap of the check out line and a package of batteries fell into the back of my jacket while I was waiting for my mom to put the groceries into her cart. I didn’t notice it at the time (the coat probably weighed more than I did), but when we got home the batteries fell out of my hood and landed with a thud near the front closet. The packet couldn’t have cost more than $1.99, but instead of keeping the batteries, my mom bundled me and my younger sister back into our winter coats and loaded us into the car to drive back to the grocery store. Though I realize now that it was a lot of effort to return the small item, at the time it didn’t even seem like an option to keep the batteries.  My mom was just very matter-of-fact about returning to the store. It was the right thing to do. And it was also my first lesson in ethics.

Obviously, ethics and morals are on my mind this week as a result of the college admissions scandal.  Because my blog is about the college admissions process and more specifically about providing tips to parents and teenagers, it is only appropriate that this week’s entry tackles the topic of developing a strong moral compass.

Tips for Helping Teens Create Ethical Values

  • Model good behavior

    • My mom probably doesn’t remember the battery incident as vividly as I do because she always modeled ethical behavior and that day was just another day for her.

    • It isn’t always easy to do the right thing, but knowing that our kids are watching makes it that much more important.

  • Discuss scenarios and talk it out

    • The best conversations I have with students happen when we are involved in some type of activity and I can ask questions without putting them on the spot.

    • Instead of trying to talk through ethical dilemmas while sitting across from each other at the dinner table, go for a walk or a bike ride instead and let the conversation happen more naturally.  

  • Practice the gut test

    • Even though our world is changing quickly and teenagers are facing different ethical challenges today than previous generations, our instincts are still on target. Our gut will tell us when something isn’t right.

    • Ask your students how they feel when they know they aren’t making the right choice.

Professionally, my ethical values are grounded in the standards set forth by my professional organizations.  Fortunately, the industry of college admissions counseling is full of ethical professionals. For example, I’m proud to be a member of the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA). The ethical principles guiding me influence my decision making process everyday. I love working with students and families as they search for and apply to college. And to be honest, it’s actually really easy to do the right thing.    


Celebrate the Small Stuff

Little kids are celebrated all of the time. We do a little dance when a three year old uses the potty, elementary spelling tests are covered in gold stars, and we cheer wildly when a ten year old eats his vegetables. Then life gets busy and all of a sudden, four years of high school pass by without celebrating any incremental successes. We tend to save the party for the end. I’ve focused a lot in previous blogs about the importance of failure, but now it is time to think about success.

Teresa M. Amabile of The Harvard Business School conducted a study called “The Progress Principle“. She proved that the effort of tracking small victories each day boosts motivation.  Celebrating and recognizing our small wins, boosts confidence. Motivation and confidence lead to more action.

If we know that works in adults, let’s try it with teens. Let’s celebrate minor accomplishments to boost motivation and confidence in high school students

What should we celebrate?

  • A small change in a study habit that yielded a positive result

  • Taking the first step to get involved in a new extra curricular activity

  • Applying for a summer program or a part time job

  • Registering for a challenging course load

  • Reaching out to a teacher for help

  • Completed college applications

  • Finished financial aid forms

How should we celebrate?

  • Recognition

    • a card from mom

    • a shout-out on social media

    • a billboard with your kid’s face on it (just kidding, don’t do that. Ew, mom)

  • Reward

    • A trip to the ice cream store on a week-night

    • Gift card to Target

    • Twenty extra minutes on Netflix/video games

  • Relief from a chore

    • Someone else unloads the dishwasher/cleans the bathroom

Our students aren’t perfect and by focusing on small achievements, we remind them they don’t have to be. Most teens need a boost in confidence and by celebrating the little things, we can provide the motivation they need to keep succeeding.

Tips for Selecting Courses in High School

There is a great line in the movie, Little Miss Sunshine, that Steve Carrell’s character, Frank, says to his nephew, Dwayne.  Dwayne, an angsty sixteen year old, tells his uncle that he just wants to go to sleep and wake up when he is older. Frank replies, “So, if you sleep til you're eighteen...Think of the suffering you'd miss! High school's your prime suffering years. You don't get better suffering than that!”

In an era in which we are all focused on “sparking joy” the idea of embracing suffering seems really off-base. I love that line, though.  I know it seems really dramatic, but we learn a lot when we are suffering. I’m not advocating full on grief, but I think being uncomfortable is really good for all of us, and especially for teenagers.

Therefore, that line seemed really appropriate for the topic of this blog post: high school course selection.  While I usually encourage students to take classes based on academic curiosity and their love of learning, sometimes, I just want to tell them that suffering through Physics is worth it. (You can easily replace the word physics in the previous sentence with AP US History, too).  

Tips for high school course selection

Make a 4 year plan

  • Outline your course work across all disciplines from 9th-12th grade

  • Review your school’s graduation requirements and course offerings

  • Take ownership of your curriculum and be intentional about your choices

Choose courses that will offer a challenge and might even make you suffer a bit

  • Avoid an easy senior schedule

  • Don’t choose a class just because you think you’ll earn an A

Pay attention to teacher recommendations

  • Your teachers know your strengths and weaknesses; trust their guidance (for the most part)

  • If you really want to move to the next level in a course (from regular to honors, or honors to AP/IB) talk with your teacher about what you need to do to earn the recommendation

Focus on the five academic subject areas

  • Colleges prefer rigor across disciplines, so make sure you are taking challenging courses in math, science, social science, English, and foreign language

  • Most students only complete the minimum requirements; push yourself to go beyond the minimum in all five academic subjects, even if that means you are taking all five academic subject areas each year in high school

Create balance

  • Your courses don’t all need to be the highest level that your school offers

  • Take into consideration your other commitments such as activities, work, sports, family life

  • Aim to work hard, but not to the point where you are sacrificing too much to keep up with your school work

Find your voice

My monthly goals for February include eat more veggies, spread love, and read. Today, I’m three for three. I ate some green beans at lunch, brought my mom flowers, and read a chapter in Tara Westover’s latest, Educated. Most days, however, I count the clovers in my Lucky Charms as my “something green,” try not to tailgate, and skip the book to watch an episode of Schitt’s Creek, so I’m doing really well today. Why am I telling you this? By sharing all of this information in my blog, I’m developing my voice as a writer, something we ask our students to do when they write the college essay. It isn’t easy. And it usually requires students to think more deeply about themselves than they want to.  Perhaps at some point colleges will simply ask for an Instagram profile as a way to get to know their applicants, but for now, students need to reveal their personality in writing.

Tips for developing your voice in writing


  1. Along with the required essays in school, practice writing in a journal or use a google.doc to keep track of thoughts and ideas.

  2. Avoid criticizing yourself. Just write.

Start to vary your word choices

  1. One of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Berg, is a master and her writing always seems special to me because of her word choice. Her words are simple and create a voice that is conversational. For example, here is an excerpt from the book, The Pull Of The Moon (I highlighted the words that I felt made the sentence have a “voice”):

    1. I would put the coffeepot back on the warmer and sit opposite you and talk about what was in the newspaper, and inside me would be a howling so fierce I couldn’t believe the sounds weren’t coming out of my eyes, out of my ears, from beneath my fingernails.

  2. Don’t use a thesaurus; stick with familiar words and use your own vocabulary.

Think beyond the formula for a school paper

  1. A paragraph doesn’t have to include four sentences; it doesn’t have to start with a topic sentence. In fact, a college essay doesn’t even need to have paragraphs (gasp!).

  2. It is easier to develop voice when you aren’t restricted to a formula. Play around with what works best for you.

  3. My favorite assignment in my 11th grade English class (and I can’t believe I still remember this) involved writing an essay by starting each sentence with the next letter in the alphabet. The first sentence had to begin with a word that started with the letter A and the second sentence with the letter B and so on. I failed miserably, but my teacher read aloud an essay from a really gifted writer in the class and that example of excellent work made me want to try again.

Write about what you know

  1. Pick a topic that you care about and just write for five minutes on that topic.

  2. Write about an event that happened in your life. Practice writing your own stories.

Talk it out

  1. The blank white screen is intimidating, so instead, speak and record your thoughts and then transcribe what you said.

  2. Tell a story to a friend and ask your friend to type what you say aloud.

Time to get out there!

I grew up in upstate New York where it was common to see snow flurries in April, but I’ve lived in Raleigh long enough to know that a few inches can shut down the city. Yet it seems that I underestimated the power of the threat of snow this past week when I was in Alabama. The weather forecaster in Alabama predicted a light dusting for early Tuesday morning and as a result of those projections, the Governor of Alabama declared a state of emergency.  So while the rest of the country was suffering from the polar vortex, Alabamians were staying inside because of the fear of a few snowflakes. No offense to anyone living in Alabama. I’m afraid of snow, too, and I grew up with it.

Alabama is home to many awesome colleges, and of course, football, therefore I traveled to the state to visit Auburn University, the University of Alabama, Birmingham Southern University, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Tuskegee University and Samford University. Touring colleges is one of my favorite parts of my job and this trip did not disappoint. The football stadium at Auburn was massive, the greek houses at Bama literally overwhelmed me, the quaint family feel at Birmingham Southern was just charming, the school pride at Tuskegee was evident everywhere on campus, the medical facilities at UAB are state of the art, and Samford is just downright friendly.

Browsing guide books and using online resource tools help kick start a college search, but no amount of research can take the place of actually stepping foot on a college campus.

Here are some tips to get you going

  • Keep it simple

  1. Visit schools that are easy for you to get to

    1. When traveling for vacation near a college walk or drive around campus, even if it isn’t an institution you would ever attend

    2. If there colleges in your backyard take an official tour on a teacher workday

  2. Try it, you might like it

    1. Leave your assumptions at home and visit the school with an open mind

  • When touring a college, see the parts of campus most important to you

  1. Don’t just take the standard tour; explore the parts of campus that are most important to you

    1. Like food? Eat in the cafeteria during your visit

    2. Work out everyday? Tour the rec center

    3. Play music? Wander into practice rooms and performance spaces

  • Observe

  1. Notice how students interact as they pass each other on the sidewalk

  2. What ads are featured on the bulletin boards - take pictures so you don’t forget

  3. Pick up a school newspaper and notice what’s highlighted

  • Reflect

  1. After you visit a college take some notes about what you liked and what you didn’t

    1. What did you tend to pay attention to

    2. Was there something that you noticed that really caught your eye

    3. Use your own words to describe the school

The threat of snow closed schools all across Alabama the day I toured several colleges, but in Tuscaloosa that afternoon, the sun shined brightly, the air temperature warmed to close to 40 degrees and I happily explored the University of Alabama’s campus.  Now it is your turn! Get out there and visit colleges!

Curiosity might have killed the cat, but it didn’t kill the cat’s chances for admission

I read the paper every day (in print!). I think I’m the only one in my neighborhood with a  subscription to the News and Observer. There is nothing I cherish more than the half hour I spend with my coffee and the daily news. My attention is usually directed towards the articles about politics, though I really should read the world news more closely and I typically completely ignore the sports page (unless there is an article about the Syracuse men’s basketball team beating Duke in overtime, Woot!). My preferences align with what I studied in college: political science.  I chose my major because I loved my social science classes in high school and actually got involved in local and national politics. (You’ll have to ask my parents about the time I convinced them to put a sign for presidential candidate Steve Forbes in our yard).

Majoring in political science influenced me to intern with a lobbyist. That experience helped me realize what I didn’t want to do (work in government). It did, however, teach me valuable skills that I still use today. Though I don’t study government now nor do I intend to run for political office, my college major helped me discover my strengths. I like to connect with people; I like to share my passions with others; and I like to read and think.  All of those skills are valuable to me in my current work.

Many of the students I work with don’t know what they want to study in college and it isn’t always easy to convince them (and their parents) that they don’t need to know. (For more information about why a major choice isn’t always necessary, check out this article in Business Insider).  

While a definitive major choice isn’t necessary to complete a successful college search, it is, however, helpful to identify areas of interest and develop curiosity.

Tips to help high school students develop curiosity


  1. While just getting a teenager to pick up a book is a big win, it is also important to diversify the reading list. Move beyond the comfortable genre and pick up a book that will challenge you to think differently.

  2. Right now, I’m reading White Fragility by Robin Deangelo, and The Grumpy Gardener by Steve Bender. Neither book relates directly to my work, but both help me think more deeply and challenge me in different ways.

Ask questions

  1. Keep track of how many questions you ask per day. Think about the types of questions you ask. Do they help take conversations in class deeper into the topic at hand?

  2. Pay attention to the students in your class who do ask a lot of questions. Perhaps they can inspire you to start to wonder why and how.

Find a mentor who will push you

  1. I don’t know about you, but I know that when I am aware that someone else is invested in my success, I work harder and tend to achieve my goals more frequently.

  2. Find someone who will keep you accountable and push you beyond your status quo.


  1. Talk less. Listen more.

  2. Listen to everything; music, podcasts, your parents, little kids.

Summer, Summer, Summer-Time

I worked my first summer job at a catering restaurant. The business boomed in the summer as a result of a robust wedding season. I joked to my friends that during the summer before 11th grade, I attended 25 weddings. Aside from learning at age 15 what kind of wedding I didn’t want, I gained actual valuable skills such as what to do when you drop a tray full of wedding cake all over a bridesmaid or spill soup on a groom’s lap. Looking back, I’m wondering how I wasn’t fired. I survived, and I think it was actually one of my favorite summers.

Summertime as a high school student can be tricky. In ninth and tenth grade, students are usually too young to work, too young to drive, but too old for most summer camp programs. That in-between stage tends to lead to a lot of binging on Netflix and video games; not the most productive use of time.  However, by the time students are juniors and seniors, choosing a summer activity can be a little overwhelming. There are so many options.

In general, college admissions officers don’t prefer one summer activity over another. From the admissions perspective, students should just try and find a summer activity that stretches them beyond their comfort zone.  There isn’t one thing that is more impressive than another. The summer program doesn’t need to be expensive or long-term, it should just be intentional. I suppose a summer filled with The Office re-runs can even be valuable if it leads to an amazing analysis of how the tv show reflects cultural values in real-world office spaces. (There is actually a paper on this topic. I’m serious. Google it.).

In an effort to encourage students to look beyond Netflix, here are examples of meaningful summer activities:

Academic programs

Most colleges offer summer programs for high school students. These programs offer students an opportunity to focus on an academic topic or just gain skills useful for improving academic preparedness.

Benefits of attending these programs include:

  • Exposure to a college campus

  • Interaction with students from across the country or even around the world

  • Opportunity for an intentionally academic summer

Potential challenges to attending these programs include:

  • Cost; these programs can be really expensive

  • Competitive



Working a job in the summer can be incredibly rewarding for high school students. Students learn to take responsibility for their own schedules and how to be accountable. It isn’t always easy to land a summer job, however, so it is smart to start the search early in the spring.

Benefits of working include:

  • Development of life skills

  • Income (money, money, money)

  • Creating new connections

Challenges of working in the summer:

  • Not always an option for students because of age

  • Lack of transportation might limit job options


  • Summer camp counselor

  • Lifeguard

  • Ice cream store scooper

Athletic travel/camps

Competitive athletes typically play sports year-round and have the opportunity to participate in camps and/or tournaments in the summer. If students hope to play competitively in college, participation in their sports during summer is imperative.

Benefits to playing summer sports include:

  • Opportunity to increase athletic skills

  • Exposure to college coaches

Challenges of playing in the summer:

  • Travel can be costly

  • Summer sports can limit other opportunities



Students at all levels in high school can conduct research. In fact, I’ve often challenged students to find a topic of interest, create a question to answer, and solve the problem. Students don’t need to work in a lab to conduct research. They don’t even need to have an affiliation with a college or university to dive deeply into something they are passionate about. Self-directed research can be just as valuable as a project guided by a professor.  

Benefit of research at any level:

  • New academic discoveries

  • Intentional pursuit of answers to academic questions

  • Potential relationships with college professors

Challenges of wanting to spend the summer doing research:

  • Student might lose interest in the topic

  • Research opportunities with professors aren’t easy to get

  • Unmotivated students don’t always follow follow through on the project


  • Self - developed project (ex. What barriers did Lin Manuel Miranda overcome to produce the musical Hamilton?)

  • Research at Johns Hopkins

Community service

Participating in a community service project during the summer is a great opportunity for all students, but particularly students who are too young to work. Of course, partnering or volunteering with an existing organization provides students terrific opportunities, but thinking outside of the box can produce some exciting experiences, too. Students should think about what they already love to do and find ways to use those interests to benefit others.

Benefit of participating in service:

  • Opportunity to do something good for the community (duh)

  • Create connections with organizations in the community to continue with during the school year

Challenges to including service in summer plans:

  • Can be difficult to find a long-term project

  • Transportation to the service project could be limited


  • Love playing soccer? Consider volunteering as a youth coach in the summer

  • Volunteer with the Cary Teen Council

While I hope students experience more success during their summers than I did, the bottom line is to do something. Create a plan for the summer and set goals. And definitely share your thesis paper on The Office with me in the fall.

Check your email...

How many emails are in your inbox? 10? 500? 2300? Do you leave them unopened until you have time to respond? Do you delete them if you know you don’t need them?

I was recently working with a student and during the course of our hour-long meeting, he received 50 emails from colleges. In one hour.  That’s a lot to manage. Why and how is he receiving so many emails?

For one reason, colleges purchase student contact information from PSAT, SAT, and ACT testing services. Therefore, it isn’t unusual for students to start receiving information from colleges as early as ninth grade. The volume typically increases as students matriculate through high school, therefore, it is essential to develop email management skills as early as possible.

Tips to develop email management skills

  • Create an email account just for the college application process

    • Most students already have two email accounts - one for school and another personal account. Creating a gmail account is easy and using separate accounts for different purposes is a great way to manage volume and ensure nothing is missed.

    • If you will apply for scholarships through scholarship search companies such as Cappex and FastWeb, create a separate email account just for that process. Those companies send out multiple emails a day and the volume builds quickly.

    • *Pro tip - keep the name of your email simple, for example and avoid using a specific college name in your email handle.  When you apply to Duke using your UNC4Ever gmail account you are sending mixed signals for sure!

  • Check your email once a day

    • Designate a set time every day to log in and manage your email. If you tend to forget to check it, set a reminder on your phone until the daily habit becomes routine.

  • Create email folders

    • Here are some suggested labels: college event invitations, colleges I’ve applied to, colleges I’m not interested in yet, responses from coaches, audition details, emails that require action from me

  • Use formal letter writing skills when writing emails

    • Include a proper salutation (Dear Mrs. Ringenbach), appropriate punctuation, and a formal signature.

Tips for College Applicants

  • Open email from the colleges to which you applied

    • Colleges keep records of email open-rates and some note if you clicked on any links. Some colleges use this data as a record of your interest in their schools. That information can be used to predict if you enroll in the college if admitted, and that data might influence the college’s decision to offer you admission. Open the email! Click the links!

  • Follow through on any actionable items

    • Is your application missing anything? Most likely you received an email from the college instructing you on how to check your application status.

    • Once you are admitted, you will receive email about open house events, housing details and various other important information. Don’t miss out! Read your email!

Though email isn’t usually the preferred communication method for most teens (txt me, pls), it is the name of the game in the admissions process. The better skilled a student is at managing email, the smoother the college application process will be.

Take Time To Reflect

When I was in my twenties, I started practicing yoga. Though I was mostly interested in the physical benefits of yoga, the mind/body connection was hard to ignore. As I deepened my practice and eventually became a yoga teacher, I started to really pay attention to how yoga was impacting my overall health.  In particular, I noticed that I was becoming more aware of how my thought patterns were influencing my overall mood and well-being. My positive habits were amplified and the behaviors that weren’t serving me well were starting to diminish. In other words, I was embracing what was good for me and I was letting go of bad habits.  In yoga, these patterns are called Samskaras. Repeating our Samskaras creates deeper grooves, making our habits harder and harder to change. This can be good; always wearing a seatbelt in the car, banning electronics at mealtimes, keeping a journal/planner. However, negative Samskaras can also be just as powerfully ingrained in our daily lives.

The transition to a new calendar year is a great time to think about our patterns and habits, or Samskaras.  It is a fresh start. Even though the school year is in full swing, students can also think about January as a time to re-set.  What has been working well? What habits are worth holding on because they serve us well? To look ahead, we often have to look back.

Here are some questions students should ask themselves to reflect on the first half of the academic year.

  • I am most proud of my academic accomplishment in ______ class, because ______.

  • If I could go back and do it again to get a better result, I would ____________ (think about a class in which you could have done a better job preparing for a test, or participating in class).

  • I have spent most of my time (when I'm not in class at school) on this activity ____________________.

  • I wish I had more time to ____________________________.

After taking the time to contemplate what worked, articulate new goals to create healthy habits.

  • My academic goals for the next three months include ___________.

  • By the end of the school year, I hope to ______________.

  • In order to accomplish my goals, I need to do the following three things ___________ ___________ ___________.

About a month into the new year, check in and see how you are doing.  Did you follow through with your action plan? Have things changed in your life?  Are there any goals/habits that need to be adjusted as a result of life’s unexpected twists and turns?

As we transition into 2019, let’s take the time to be thoughtful about holding on to what is good for us and letting go of habits that do us any favors. And let me know if you want to come to my yoga class!

Holiday Gift Guide for High School Students

My mom taught me the joy of giving thoughtful gifts when I was really young. She refused to buy something for any of my relatives and add my name to the tag. Instead, she encouraged me to think about the recipient of the gift and buy or make something I thought that person would like.  So for as long as I can remember, I was completely involved in the gift-giving process. Unfortunately, given my kid-friendly budget, I essentially gave homemade ornaments long past when it was age-appropriate to do so. But because I was invested in the gift I was giving, watching someone open a present that I carefully purchased or, more-likely, made was really special.

It wasn’t always easy to know what to buy for everyone. As I got older and started to have real money to spend, I began to turn to gift guides. They are everywhere, right? And because teenagers are pretty tough to buy for, here’s another gift guide just for you!

Lindsey’s Ten Favorite Gifts for the High School Students on Your List

  1. An organizational system for college mail

    1. It is amazing how much mail students receive from colleges. I encourage students to sort it into three piles: a pile from colleges to which a student will probably apply, a pile for colleges a student wants to learn more about, and a pile for colleges a student hasn’t heard of and will most likely never visit or attend.

    2. Some type of filing system is really helpful to create these different stacks and I’ve found that some teenagers love professional-looking office supplies.

  2. A subscription to an academic journal

    1. I’m always encouraging students to read articles about academic topics of interest. Based on your student’s passions, find a journal that features research in the field. It’s ok if the content seems too rigorous; your student will benefit from having access to the journal regardless.

  3. A trip to visit a college; preferably not with mom and dad

    1. I love when students have the opportunity to visit a college with a relative such as an aunt or grandparent.

    2. Wrap up a road map and ask your student to pick a school in a city with some touristy things to do.

  4. A lunch date at a fancy restaurant with one of your favorite colleagues and your student

    1. Ask your colleague to join you and your student for lunch (your treat!) to discuss his or her field of work.

    2. Your colleague doesn’t necessarily have to work in the discipline your student is interested in. The experience of eating out with a professional will still be meaningful.

  5. Tickets to a non-sporting event on a college campus

    1. Purchase tickets for a student production of a musical or a student-produced fashion show, or a lecture.

    2. It is easy to understand the culture of a college’s athletic scene, but it is less common to attend something else on campus.  

  6. Books - preferably audio books

    1. Students don’t have a lot of time to read, however, many college applications ask students about what books they enjoy. Pick a few non-fiction audio books that students can listen to in the car.

    2. Go to a bookstore and talk to a sales associate to find popular titles for teens.

  7. A planner - with advice and examples on how to use it

    1. I’m always asking students how they stay organized and most don’t have a good system. Pick out a planner that you think will work and then fill in a few of the pages so your student will know how to use it.

    2. Provide an index card with some best practices on how to create an organizational system. Share what works best for you.

  8. A list of your favorite podcasts and some new headphones

    1. Hey! Podcasts are cool! There’s a podcast on almost every topic imaginable.

    2. If you aren’t a regular listener, a Google search will help you find a few to recommend to your student.

    3. Include a new pair of headphones and you have a great gift!

  9. Luggage

    1. Most teens have duffle bags, book bags and tote bags, but not a good set of luggage to take on college trips.

    2. The set doesn’t have to be expensive, so look for patterns and colors that are teen-friendly.

  10. Stationary

    1. Knowing how to write a thoughtful thank you note is an essential life skill. Throughout the college application process, I remind students to write thank you notes to those who have helped them along the way. Maybe you’ll be the recipient of one of those notes!

Great Expectations

Remember when you were little and the anticipation for the holiday season was almost too much to bear? Everything was building towards that one moment and it seemed like it was all anyone could talk about. It was sensory overload. To some extent this is how high school seniors feel as they wait for their college admissions decisions. It can be excruciating. The anticipation is further stoked because our society is blurring the lines between what is public and private information and our students are increasingly living out every moment of their lives online.  Did it even happen if they didn’t Snapchat or post about it on Instagram? I’m a firm believer that the college admissions process should be a journey that students (and their families) take on their own terms and in their own way and, preferably, not in a public forum. That means students have to push away the outside noise and focus on what really matters to them. This isn’t easy for teenagers.

That struggle is most intense when college decisions are announced.  Most colleges release admissions decisions online before, or even rather than, sending an official letter. Therefore, instead of waiting for the mailman, students are waiting for an update on their application portal. While there are a lot of advantages to the online delivery system, the biggest downside I see is that the internet is everywhere. Students don’t need to be at home when they check their admissions status because they can connect to their portal from their phone. Therefore, students can be in public when they have to process that news. While I think our students are used to living their lives more publicly, it still can be really difficult to handle an admissions rejection in front of friends.

So what can we do to tone down the frenzy and help students process the decisions they are about to receive?

  • For starters, we can help students understand that the admissions process is not a reflection on the student’s “worthiness.” In fact, at selective institutions, most students are worthy of admission. Most students are academically capable of achieving great success at the colleges in which they apply. Therefore, the application admission process is more accurately a reflection of the institution’s desire to create an incoming class of students that satisfies its needs. For instance, the admissions office might be encouraged to admit more students from a specific geographic region. As much as your student might beg you to move to North Dakota, most likely that isn’t going to happen. There are so many factors that students can’t control, therefore, it is important to remind our students that the admissions decision isn’t all about them.

  • Students should make an effort to be at home when reading an admissions decision. This privacy gives students the space they need to express their emotions. They can jump for joy without worrying if their friend didn’t get good news.

  • It is ok to take some time when dealing with a disappointing decision. Process the decision (eat ice cream, scream and cry into a pillow, go to the gym or the movies), and then, when it is time, shift the focus back to something positive.

  • This time of year, we frequently spend time with family we don’t see on a regular basis. When relatives ask about the college admissions process, we can give our students an out and offer them advice about how to make small talk about their college applications. Try this: “I think I’m going to have great choices, but I haven’t heard back from all of my schools yet, so I’d rather not talk specifics. I’m excited about college and when I make my decision I’ll be happy to talk to you about it.”

Just because the release of admissions decisions coincides with the holiday season (and beyond - hang in there, this process lasts until the end of March), doesn’t mean that students should make a college admissions advent calendar to count down to the big moment. In fact, it would be better if students focused on what really matters this time of year: family and friends.  Enjoy the holiday season!

Grit and Failure

My 10th grader is currently learning to drive. Yesterday, he drove me from North Raleigh to RTP. He made all of the classic mistakes; approached turns with too much speed, rode the shoulder on the highway, and didn’t brake early enough when coming to a red light. I really think I’m amazingly calm during this process, but truthfully, I’m a mess when he is behind the wheel. He’s the one who is actually calm (maybe too calm given his newness to driving), but I’m going to attribute it to his ability to try and try again.  He’s definitely struggling as he is gaining new skills, but I’m really impressed with his determination. He’s not giving up.

It is tough to watch your kid struggle. I have a really hard time not stepping on the imaginary passenger-side brake pedal. I want to bail him out and tell him he can just take Uber everywhere and that self-driving cars will surely be so popular when he is in twenties.  But I’m secretly really proud of him, too. And, of course, in the back of my mind I’m thinking about how his ability to learn from his mistakes will help him in the college admissions process.

Admissions officers want to admit students who demonstrate perseverance and in order to successfully demonstrate that personal characteristic, students need to fail (just not behind the wheel preferably). So, as parents, we need to give them room to fail. And permission to fail. And not get so mad at them when they do fail. That’s not easy. It is in our parental DNA to swoop in and catch them before they make a mistake.

How do admissions offices measure grit and determination? Well, they ask about it.  One of the essay options on the Common Application asks students to describe a time when they faced a challenge, a failure, a setback. Students don’t have to choose that question to answer, but they should know that it is an option, and that the ability to overcome obstacles is important.  Furthermore, one of the most common interview questions during the admissions process is about making mistakes. If students haven’t struggled, they don’t have a lot to talk about.

So how can you foster a safe space in which it is ok for your student to make mistakes?

Here are some tips:

  • Model the behavior. If we, as parents, demonstrate that we make mistakes and that we acknowledge our mistakes and take ownership for them, then we can foster that behavior in our students. Maybe the next time you are eating dinner with your student, you share a small mistake you made that day. For example, yesterday, I didn’t proofread an email carefully and my typo caused some confusion. I shared that mistake with my family at dinner and told them how I fixed it and what I learned.

  • Set clear expectations. Hopefully, your students are taking courses that challenge them. Be clear that you don’t expect your student to earn perfect grades. Set the bar high, but leave some room for growth. And then, don’t be mad when they don’t earn all As all the time.  

  • Ask your students how they failed this week. Gently encourage them to talk about a small mistake and don’t overreact when they share something with you.

Our students aren’t naturally self-reflective. And I know getting them talk isn’t always easy. Most teens hate to admit when they are wrong. So don’t be surprised if this is hard. I’m sure if you talked to my 10th grader, he would tell you he is Mario Andretti already. But he does have grit. Now we just need to encourage him to slow down before taking that turn.

The Season of Gratitude

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday (of course, Halloween is a close second, because, candy). But, Thanksgiving is special because it really is a whole season and not just one day. In fact, I like to celebrate for the whole of month of November; not by over-eating, though that happens for sure, but by embracing gratitude. There truly is so much to be thankful for.  And because I spend a lot of my time thinking about colleges and universities, right now I’m grateful for strength of our higher educational system. While it might seem like all colleges are the same, especially after completing a college tour of several schools in a row during which the cafeterias all start to look and smell alike, in fact, there is a lot of diversity among the over 3000 colleges in the United States. In North Carolina alone, there are over 100 colleges and those schools reflect many of the characteristics that distinguish colleges from each other. For example, North Carolina has one of the best schools of arts in the country (UNC School of the Arts), three all-women’s colleges (Meredith College, Bennett College, and Salem College), and a public university system consisting of 16 different institutions.

With so many options, it might seem overwhelming to narrow down the choices to a manageable number. Fortunately, there are strategies for conducting a college search that produces a list of schools that reflect each individual student’s priorities. That process starts with personal reflection; not something high school students are that equipped to do. It is hard enough to elicit a thoughtful response to the question, “How was school today?” let alone an answer to “What are you looking for in your college experience?”  Therefore, it is important to practice reflective thinking. Students should ask themselves questions such as these:

  • What do I like about school right now?

  • Do I like this class because the teacher gives personal attention or because the content is interesting?

  • When I struggle with a class, do I tend to reach out for help from teachers or my friends or do I look for other sources of help?

  • Do I do best when I am pushed by my peers in a healthy competitive way, or do I tend to need friendly collaboration and input from others?

  • How do I spend my time when I’m not studying?

The answers to questions like these can help direct a college search. Students might discover that they thrive in an intense learning environment in which they are surrounded by high achieving students. Other students might realize that competition hinders their ability to learn.  Fortunately, there are colleges to fit every type of student and finding an educational culture that best supports each student is part of a comprehensive college search.

Conducting a comprehensive college search is more important than ever; particularly because students are now more mobile, colleges consider demonstrated interest in the application process, and fit makes a difference in retention and graduation rates.  Although the process of determining which schools to visit can be difficult, it is now relatively easy to explore campuses beyond a student’s immediate area. Colleges offer tours and informational sessions daily. They also record the student’s visit and use that information to demonstrate that the student is interested in the institution. Finally, finding the right list of schools for each student will help to ensure successful outcomes during and after college.

Of course, I’m grateful for much more than an excellent system of higher education, and I promise I’ll take the time to reflect more deeply, but right now I’ll gladly give thanks for the colleges and universities that help our students pursue their dreams.

Extra-curricular activities and college applications

College admissions officers consider many factors when reviewing applications, including how applicants spends their time. Typically, college applications ask applicants to list their activities in a grid or chart.  The Common Application currently provides ten spaces for students to share information about their extra-curriculars. For some students, that is not enough room, while others students consider ten spaces as too many.  My high school sophomore swims competitively year-round. He spends all of his time in the pool. He’s not involved in many school clubs, he doesn’t do a lot of community service (and when he volunteers, his commitments are usually swimming-related), nor does he have a part time job (aside from occasionally making money by helping a swim coach in the spring).  When it comes time for him to apply to college, his activity list will reflect pretty much only one thing: swimming. And that’s actually ok. I’m not worried that he isn’t “well-rounded”, because, clearly, he has a passion and is pursuing that passion to the nth-degree. He might not fill all ten spaces on the Common Application, but his list will reflect his priorities.

The college admissions process doesn’t reward well-roundedness the way it used to.  Today, college admissions offices value the depth of activities more than they value overall breadth. This might be good news to students. It isn’t necessary to check off a list of activities just because you think it will good on your college application. Instead, you should focus on developing your authentic interests and taking the initiative to go deeper into what you really care about. That might mean you have to take risks and push yourself beyond your comfort zone.

But what if you lack a clearly defined interest? How can you develop an activity and take it to the next level?  Here are some pro-tips:

  1. Push yourself to try something new. Start with a hobby or general interest and get involved with something related to that topic. For example, if you like to play video games with friends, perhaps think about researching game design, or sign up for a class over the summer to learn to code.

  2. Reach out to a teacher who knows you well. Ask that teacher to help you identify activities/organizations that might interest you. Here’s a sample question to ask your teacher: “I’m really into creative writing but I’m not sure how to pursue that interest outside of school. Do you know of any literary clubs or writing groups that might help me continue to develop my work?”

  3. Get your friends involved! Participate in a service project as a group and you take charge in organizing everything.

Sometimes, just getting started is the hard part. Don’t be afraid to take the first step and use your resources to help you get going. You can do it!

Tips for attending a college fair

When I worked as an Assistant Director of Admissions at UNC Chapel Hill, much of my time in the fall was spent at college fairs behind a table draped with a blue Carolina banner. Even though I’m pretty tiny, I have a loud voice, which came in handy while standing behind that table talking to prospective students and families.  The conversations were usually the same; anxious parents standing slightly in front of their student and asking about GPA requirements and test scores. Every so often, a student would take the lead and ask a thoughtful question about a particular academic department or extra-curricular opportunity. It was those conversations that I remembered long after the college fair ended. And every so often, I would receive a hand-written note in my campus mail box from a student who met me at a college fair, thanking me for answering a question or even just for standing on my feet for four hours. In the late fall and early winter when I was home reading application after application, I would wonder if the student who wrote the amazing essay was the same student who inquired about the study abroad program in Argentina.  Because of the volume of applications to read, I didn’t always have time to find out that answer, but when I could picture the face of the student behind the application, it did make a difference. Especially when I was picturing the face of the student and not the face of the parent.


  • Prioritize the list of schools

    • Make a list of the schools you definitely want to get to

  • Review the lay-out when you arrive at the fair.
    • If you need to, split up. If it doesn’t seem possible to meet with all of the colleges on your list, divide and conquer.  Parents - make sure to emphasize your student’s interest in the school.
    • The colleges aren’t always in alphabetical order, so use the resource guide to help you locate your top choices.
  • Formulate your questions/introduction.

    • Here are some examples:

      • Hello, my name is Lindsey. I’ve toured your campus and I plan to submit an application to your school. I just wanted to take the time to introduce myself and thank you for being at the college fair. Are there any materials on your table that I should collect or new information I should know about?

      • Hello, my name is Lindsey. I’ve received materials in the mail about your school but have not yet visited. I’m interested in learning more about your study abroad program. Can you share with me some details about programs in Europe?

      • Hello, my name is Lindsey. I’m not that familiar with your school. What majors are particularly strong? Are there unique programs that I should know about?

  • Process what you learned and follow-up

    • Take some notes right after the fair to remember detailed information about what you learned.

    • Send an email or thank you note to the representative you talked with to thank them for their time.


Tips for meeting with college representatives at your high school

Throughout the months of September, October, and November, college representatives from institutions across the country will be visiting area high schools to present information to students.  

It can be intimidating to attend your first meeting with the college representatives who visit your high school. One way to get past the anxiety is to attend a meeting with a buddy.  Perhaps identify a meeting that seems interesting and encourage your friend to tag along.

Here are a few more tips:

  • Start with a college that you know something about or have at least heard of. The familiarity will put you at ease and you can better focus on the information provided by the representative.

  • Introduce yourself as you walk into the meeting. Shake the representative’s hand and say something like, “Hi, I’m Lindsey. I’m a junior. Thanks for visiting my school.”

  • Thank the representative as you leave: “Thank you for the information. That was really helpful!”