College Admission: Getting In Doesn’t Matter If They Can’t Stay In

Rice University

It can seem like getting into college is the biggest challenge these days.  Unfortunately, getting in is only the beginning.  The real challenge is staying in and graduating.

Years ago, I had a student, J.P., who graduated in the top quarter of his high school class.  He was thrilled to be accepted by a number of colleges and he selected a small liberal arts school about three hours away from home.  At graduation, everything looked perfect.  His future was just as he imagined.  But when I saw J.P. in October, things were different.

After sitting down in my office, J.P. began explaining that he had been expelled from college for drug problems and he would be enrolling in community college for the winter term.  J.P. wasn’t involved with drugs in high school and his father was a prominent doctor in the community.  How could this happen to a good student?

J.P. admitted that he wasn’t ready for the sudden freedom and responsibility he had in college.  He also wasn’t prepared for the extremely liberal and permissive culture he found at his college.  He quickly fell in with a drug-using crowd, justifying to himself that “everyone is doing it” and “this is just part of college.”  Within the first month of school he had a few encounters with campus security.  And by mid-October he had been arrested, charged with drug offenses, and asked to leave the college.

I know students can have trouble adjusting to college life.  I understand sudden freedom can be too much for some students.  I just never expected a good student like J.P. to be one of the first of his graduating class to have to drop out.

As the excitement of high school graduation is behind us and students are enjoying the summer before heading off to school, it is essential to plan ahead for the challenges of college life.

J.P.’s situation stands out in my mind because it was so unexpected.  I’ve had a number of former students with more predictable college problems.  As you are in the college planning process, watch for these foreseeable issues:

  • In over their heads.  Some students are thrilled to be accepted at one of their “reach” schools only to find themselves struggling to keep up academically.  Other schools can put students in over their heads socially.  Look for a good fit in all areas.
  • Not ready to live independently.  Some students just aren’t ready for the responsibility of living on their own.  Other students, especially those who finished high school early, aren’t ready for some of the social dynamics on campus. In these situations a year or two at a community college may help.  Some students do better living at home and attending a university within driving distance.
  • Academically unprepared.  Unfortunately, a high school diploma doesn’t indicate readiness for college-level work.  Some students skated by in high school without learning foundational material and they need remedial classes before they are ready for university work.
  • Financially unable to finish.  Too often I’ve had parents tell me, “If he gets into ____, we will find a way to pay for it.”  The family that can barely afford the first year of college is often unable to keep up with tuition increases.  I’ve seen too many students who had to leave their dream schools after one year because they were unable to afford it.
  • Lack of motivation or purpose.  Yes, some unmotivated high school students find their purpose and passion in college.  Others seem to drag out the process – changing majors, dropping classes mid-semester, and making excuses for lack of performance.
  • All fun; no work.  I think we all have heard of some kid who partied his way out of college.  It happens more frequently than parents like to admit.  Sometimes good kids fall into a party crowd at college; other students are a party waiting to happen no matter where they attend.
  • Bad fit.  I’ve worked with students who insisted on applying to schools that didn’t fit — academically, socially, politically, geographically, financially, etc.  As much as these students tried to make these schools work, a bad fit in any area makes it very difficult to stay.  A great student at the wrong school will be unhappy and unproductive.

Try to identify potential problems and avoid them in your college search process.  Keep in mind “fit” isn’t just about finding a school that will admit you based on your scores and grades; it is about finding the college where you will be most successful.

J.P. had to struggle through the resulting legal troubles related to his drug arrest, but he was fortunate that he learned his lesson early and was able to get back on track academically.  After finishing his freshman year at community college, he was able to transfer to a state university where he finished his degree.

Remember, getting into college doesn’t matter if you can’t stay in.




Key to Earning More College Scholarships

Guest post by Nell Stranburg of Your College Advisor LLC

What would you say if I told you I have a student, Caitlin, who received $471,000 worth of scholarships from seven colleges and her best combined SAT score was 1230/1600?  She earned more scholarship money than the National Merit Finalist I worked with this year.  How did she do it?

Many students believe they must cure cancer, have a 4.6 GPA, and belong to every club at their school to get scholarship money for college.  This is not true.  There are many colleges that give merit aid to students, but the student must be desirable to the college.

Being desirable means the student will be a good addition to the campus; but more importantly, the student will accept the offer of admission given by the college.  Colleges see their report card as the position they receive from the US News and World Report rankings.  One of the biggest components is the yield, or the number of offers of admission that are accepted.

When families are looking for scholarship monies I tell them it is the school that chooses them, not they who choose the school.  What I mean by that is the family needs to listen to a college consultant knowledgeable in college financial aid methods who can direct the student to colleges that are generous with merit aid and the student must be in the top 25% of the applicant pool.

Caitlin met these criteria did everything I asked her to do.  What did I ask her to do?

1.  Demonstrate interest

The smaller private schools have more merit aid to dispense and they are driven by demonstrated interest of a student.  This means a student must visit the campus at least once and go on the official tour.  An email thank you sent to the admission counselor and anyone else who helped you during the visit is important.

Caitlin sent an email thank you at 9:30 p.m. on Sunday to one college president after seeing him at a special junior visitation weekend.  Within 20 minutes she had a reply and the financial aid office was cc’d.  Do you think her email made a difference in the offer she was given?

2.  Be open to suggestions from your college consultant

A college consultant can give you a list of schools where you may be eligible for significant scholarship money.   Do not dismiss schools you are not familiar with since there are 2600 colleges and you probably only know a handful of them.  Caitlin accepted my suggestions, researched each school, gave me feedback, and was willing to investigate schools.

3.  Develop a relationship with your admissions counselors

To increase your odds of receiving that money you need to form a relationship with your admission counselor through email and personal visits. Your goal is to have the admission counselor receive your application and say, “I can’t wait to read this application after getting to know him through email and his visit.”  Think about your chances of receiving a hefty scholarship if that is the counselor’s attitude versus seeing your name for the first time on your application.

4.  Start building a strong record freshman year

Remember that each year in high school is important in building your record.  Make the best grades you can in the classes that challenge you, make a difference in your community—whether school or city, and plan ahead.  Colleges look at your high school involvement as an indicator of your college involvement, so give them a reason to choose you and pay you to come to their college.

Caitlin wasn’t a valedictorian, but she was in the top 10% of her class.  Her SAT scores and activities were above average, but not the best I’ve seen, yet she earned almost half a million dollars in scholarship offers.  Make earning scholarships your top priority, work with a knowledgeable consultant, and follow these tips and you may find yourself is a situation similar to Caitlin’s.


Where did Caitlin apply?

  • Agnes Scott
  • Eckerd
  • Florida Gulf Coast University
  • Oglethorpe
  • Rollins
  • University of North Florida
  • Wesleyan College (GA)
  • Florida State
  • Jacksonville University
  • Flagler


Nell Stranburg, founder of Your College Advisor LLC, works with students in the Tallahassee, Florida area.  For more information, visit her website at


Social Media & College Admission: Your Positive Public Profile


Do colleges or admissions people really look at our Facebook profiles?

This is a great question because the issue has been in the news lately.  Recent reports focused on employers asking applicants to log into their Facebook pages during the interview process allowing the company to evaluate the applicant’s comments, pictures, and private posts.

Will college admissions officers access your online profile (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc.)?  They can, but probably won’t.

If you consider the thousands of applications the typical admissions officer faces in a year, they are so busy reading the things you sent…your transcript, your scores, your essays, your list of activities…that they don’t really have time to spend a lot of time Googling you.  It is highly unlikely that the admissions office will check out all of your profiles and your online information.

There have been some instances, however, where students have negatively impacted their chances by having questionable information online. Especially in cases of high profile situations, universities take more time to evaluate applicants.  If you are in contention for the top scholarships or will represent the university in a high profile way, such as athletics, the university may invest time to dig into your background, including your online presence.

In any case, don’t put things online that you wouldn’t be ready to put on the front page of the newspaper. This means no inappropriate pictures, foul language, off-color jokes, or mean-spirited comments.

Students need to remember to watch comments made online. It is not unusual to have a student present him or herself as sweet and charitable in college applications. Then you look at some of the things that person says online and learn he or she is mean spirited, bigoted, or prejudiced.

Don’t forget the photos!  Inappropriate pictures may be defined differently by different people, so let me make some clarifications. No risqué pictures. Everybody should be fully clothed. You don’t want any pictures that would show illegal activity and for most teenagers this means alcohol or drug use. Remove the picture of you at the party with all of the plastic cups; don’t leave it up to my imagination to decide what is in those cups or whether you were drinking it.

Be aware of what you post online.  Whatever you present online has to be appropriate for all audiences. While very few colleges and universities will look at your profile on sites like Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter, it is becoming more common for employers to check out applicants online before hiring.  Get in the habit of maintaining a positive public profile.

Improve College Admission With Another Year Of Foreign Language

Having additional years of foreign language on your transcript can be a huge plus when you’re ready for the college admission process! Admissions counselors are going to look at your high school transcript and scrutinize every last detail – don’t you think it’s a good idea to go a step beyond the minimum graduation requirements and stand out from the rest?

More high schools across the country have increased graduation standards to include four years of math, science, English, and history; however, foreign language requirements in my part of the country remain at two years. Admissions officers can quickly spot “serious students” from those who are merely satisfying requirements by looking at foreign language courses.

Competitive universities are looking for students who take advantage of the educational opportunities available to them (translate:  third, fourth, and fifth years of language).  For example, Stanford University’s recommended program for applicants includes three years of foreign language,  (, citing the value in developing reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills.  Colleges look favorably on those students who opt to challenge themselves in higher-level language electives.  (We all know 3rd, 4th, and 5th year are more academically challenging than the intro courses.)

The benefits of additional courses in foreign language go beyond the college admissions office. The United States has become a melting pot of different ethnicities and cultures. Sure beginner language courses that are required for graduation will teach you the bare basics, but wouldn’t you like to communicate more than just your need for the restroom or directions?

Most of today’s big businesses prefer employees with additional language skills to ensure optimal customer service for all clients. Some may even put your resume to the top of the pile if they see you are bilingual or have taken advanced language classes.

Investing your time in additional foreign language classes can double your income in certain industries such as sales, marketing and restaurant management. Of course at times, it may seem like that 45 minute off-period is worth it but think ahead and think smart – 45 minutes off now or an extra $45,000 per year after college? That makes the answer a lot easier, doesn’t it?

Remember, any college admission counselor is going to read your transcript before they meet you – much like an employer would view your resume before granting you an interview. Make sure that your transcript is the very best representation of you possible. It may be the only chance you get. What better way to impress your potential university than showing them you mastered a different language in four years – without ever traveling abroad! It is the power of a foreign language that could place your college admission application at the top of the class!