It’s been a long time since I’ve written. In part, this is because I’ve been busy working at I periodically write for the blog there so feel free to check it out – and set up a profile while you’re at it. It’s a great organization.


For many students, the weakest element of their application is the SAT or ACT score. While many colleges place great emphasis on this score, the good news is that a (growing?) number of colleges and universities do not require you to submit them. In fact, if you do, they might not even consider them. The schools on this list are:

Middlebury College*

Hamilton College* 

Connecticut College*

Union College*

Bard College 

Bowdoin College

Bates College

Bennington College

College of the Holy Cross

Dickinson College

Franklin and Marshall College

Mount Holyoke College

Drew University

Providence College

Pitzer College

Lawrence University

Wheaton College

Hampshire College

Juniata College

Hobart and William Smith College

Ursinus College

Muhlenberg College

Gustavus College

Knox College

Lewis and Clark College

Susquehanna University

* indicates a college that does not require the SAT/ACT as long as the student will submit the SAT II

But she did save me the cost of a cup of coffee this morning.

As I ate my breakfast, I turned on the TV and watched 15 minutes of the Today Show during which time Michele Hernandez was interviewed about college admissions. If you missed it? Great. If you, like I, saw it, I’ll write about my frustration and irritation that seems to arise every time I happen upon her in the media.

And if you spent the money on the cup of coffee (because you’re not as wound up as I am), at least you’re fortunate enough not to be spending the tens of thousands of dollars to receive her consulting services.

Just read this blog and post questions. She and I had the same exact job at the same exact college.

Early Decision/Early Action

September 27, 2006


People love to speculate and strategize about early decision and early action. At some colleges, the acceptance rate is significantly higher for the early pool than the regular pool which leads many students to play their odds and apply early in hopes of increasing their chances of getting in. Other students apply early because they know, without much doubt, that their first choice school is far above their second choice on their preference list. Some people apply early because they just want to be done by the holidays and don’t want to have to think about it anymore.


First, for clarification, some terms.


Early Action – schools that have early action programs allow students to apply earlier than the regular deadline (November 1 or 15, as opposed to January 1 or 15) but do not bind students to attend if accepted.

Early Decision – schools that have early decision programs allow students to apply early (November 1 or 15, also) but if an early decision applicant is accepted, he or she MUST attend that school.


Early decision is binding. Early action is not.

Harvard recently did away with its early action program and stirred up much discussion about the impact and consequences of these early programs. Brown University is a school that has flip flopped between early action and early decision. Yale, too, has switched in recent years. I have stopped keeping close track because colleges have compelling reasons to adopt each option, or do away with it entirely, and they may well continue to alternate between the two. Let schools fuss about their policies. Your job is to find schools that you think would be a good fit.

For students, apply early if:

  • you know which school you want to attend and your #1 choice is clear,
  • you have taken care of your standardized testing and your recommendation requests in advance,
  • you are an athlete being recruited by the coach and have regular contact with that coach (if you fall into this category you will know it) and it is your top choice school.

Do not apply early if:

  • your junior year grades aren’t your strongest because schools will not see your senior year grades. At best, they will see midterm grades.
  • you’re doing it because everyone else is doing it,
  • you think it’s the only way to get in.

A note on the statistical difference between acceptance rates of early options and regular decision.

In my experience, the early decision/action pool has a high concentration of recruited athletes (who have been carefully prescreened by coaches and stand a good chance of being admitted), and legacies (who usually have a greater acceptance rate anyway). Students who can afford to ignore senior year grades are likely to have consistently strong grades from 9th-11th grades, activities, recommendations such that they do not need to rely on the success of senior fall (and all the leadership potential and coursework that accompanies it). Basically, yeah, acceptance rates for early decision/action are often higher because the pool is a stronger pool. And by stronger, I mean that it includes many students who colleges and universities admit at higher rates anyway. It means very little for the applicant who does not fall into a special category.


Clearly, debates can and do occur around the issue of legacies and athletes and the special preference they receive, but until that debate is settled and so long as application deadlines are approaching, most applicants do not need to concern themselves with these issues. They will not be fought and won in the time between now and when admissions officers are reading your application.


Focus on what you can do for yourself and don’t believe the hype about having an easier time getting in early versus regular decision. Colleges are well aware of the categorical differences in the two pools and reserve plenty of spaces at regular decision. Trust me, its no fun to have to reject people in regular admission. Schools want to leave themselves options and one of those options is to accept the best from both the early and regular decision pools. It’s ok to pace yourself through this process and not apply early. Yes, everyone seems to be doing it, but your college application process is too important and personal to rely on the trends of your peers.

If you’re a junior, you may be starting to pay attention to the college admissions process. Some schools begin meeting with juniors and their parents this year to help them plan ahead. This can be exciting for some families but can also bring about all sorts of anxiety. Don’t be anxious… not yet at least. There’s plenty of time to worry, if you must, next year.

Assuming the word on the street is the same as it was when I was in high school, junior year is supposedly the most challenging and most important to colleges. Many of my classmates spent junior year in a mild state of panic – worried about every test, every homework assignment, every game, audition, performance and activity. Now that I am many years past this experience, with my own admissions process and four years of college behind me, with the additional benefit of having talked to hundreds of high school juniors, I can very safely say that none of this panic does any good.

Juniors, relax.

The additional benefit of stressing about every detail of the second half of your high school career is negligible. The cost, however, can be considerable.

The most compelling applicants I read were the ones who seem to maintain a steady, strong, and sincere outlook and focus. Veering off the course of stability and groundedness may become visible in your application. Even the most polished application can potentially display as nothing more than a thinly veiled mess of perfectionistic achievement for the purposes of college acceptance. Don’t be that applicant.

Continue to be whoever you are and maintain whatever you believe sets you apart. Distinctiveness carries much more weight than perfection.

From today’s New York Times:

Advanced Placement Courses

August 29, 2006

If your school offers AP courses, take them. When admissions officers look at your transcript they are looking to see which courses you took and how well you did in them. These elements are of equal importance. If your school offers AP classes, take the ones that interest you and fit into your schedule. If you elect not to take the challenging courses that your school offers, admissions officers will be left wondering why. Your job is to leave as few questions in their minds as possible.

You are not expected to take each and every AP class offered. Admissions officers understand that it may be impossible to take all APs based on scheduling.  They also understand that it may be impossible to maintain sanity by taking too many APs. Sure, there may be other students who are taking one more AP than you are but the idea is not to drive yourself insane with an impossibly difficult schedule. There will always be another hypothetical student who has done a little more than you. Letting this imaginary individual affect your choices will not necessarily help you get into your dream school.

The ideal compliment to a rigorous courseload is a passionate, eager to learn student. Burn out isn’t compelling so keep yourself on the sane side of crazy.

If your school does not offer AP courses, don’t panic. Yes, admissions officers are looking closely at your course selections but they will not hold you accountable for courses that are not available to you. Common sense, right? That said, people will be circumventing the restrictions by taking college level courses at local colleges and/or taking summer classes. The idea is really quite simple – you want the admissions officer to see that you’re interested in learning, that you’re curious, passionate and inquisitive. These are qualities that they want in their college classrooms. Lists of AP classes are one way to show this intellectual passion but it is not the only way. Pursuing academic challenges wherever you can find them has the potential to convey the same qualities. Those students who are industrious and do not take curriculum restrictions as destiny reveal a highly desirable perseverance that admissions officers highly value.