Prep Talk Blog > March 2011

Unigo Expert NetworkThis blog post is provided by the Unigo Expert Network, a group of top education experts from across the U.S. answering questions submitted by students and parents about college admissions and succeeding after high school. To have your questions answered visit

“I was rejected from my top choice school and waitlisted at my second choice. What do I do? How do I choose amongst my backup schools? I don’t know anything about them!”
– Lauren B., Houston, TX

You’ve Still Got Options -- Here’s How to Maximize Them
James Maroney, Director, First Choice College Placement
First, send a letter accepting your place on the waitlist and updating the college with new activities or awards since you initially applied. Ask if you can interview if you haven’t yet. Also, ask them if you can submit additional letters of recommendation or other supplemental materials. Next, evaluate your backup schools. Visit them and ask yourself, “Can I see myself walking across this campus to go to class? Can I see myself being friends with these students?” Talk to as many current and former students as possible. Then make a list of the pros and cons for each school.
  Maximize Your Odds of Getting Off the Waitlist 
Rene Bickley, Director of College Counseling, The Hammond School
This is your signal to spring into action. Decide if you would attend the college if offered. If so, communicate your intention immediately and in writing. Next, touch base with the person/s you have spoken with during the admission process and reiterate your STRONG interest. If you can manage it, visit the campus and talk with the admissions staff personally. This will take effort, but there's no better way to demonstrate interest than face-to-face. Confidently articulate why the school remains your #1 choice. Don't forget: You are your own best advocate. Relax, smile, and engage. 
  Consider Appealing the Decision or Writing to Your Second Choice
Rachel Winston, President, Educators with a Vision
It’s never over until it’s over. Colleges want the best fit and mix for their diverse tapestries. An amazingly talented, diverse student pool may have been selected, but students must also have the right attitude and integrity, which is not tested on an SAT/ACT. Sometimes a candidate is rejected/waitlisted, but is reconsidered and admitted on appeal. You must have new information not on your original application, and you must be on the top end of the college’s candidate pool, but some rejected/waitlisted students are accepted. So, what salient reasons make you their top pick? Meanwhile, visit and compare the choices you have.
  Improve Those Waitlist Chances While Deciding on a Backup College
Robert Mansueto, Director of University Counseling, Chinese International School in Hong Kong
While you should let your waitlisted school know that it is your first choice and you will go if admitted, the waitlist odds are never good. Since you have until May 1 to send a deposit to one of your other schools, spend some time making a list of what’s important to you in a college. Either on your own or during one of the programs for admitted students, visit the campuses and use your list to make comparisons. You’ll soon realize that even if you don’t come off the waitlist, you have several great college options.

When a Backup Is Not Really an Option
Dale Ford, Counseling Department Chair, Singapore American School

Your question raises a very important point; how did you get in the position of applying to schools that you know nothing about? With approximately 3,600 colleges and universities in the U.S., you should be able to find more than one or two that you would be happy to attend. All schools on your final application list deserve the same scrutiny as any other, if for no other reason than you may be going to any one of them. A backup should never be a school that you simply feel that you can get into; rather one that is perhaps less selective than some others, but meets your academic, social and extracurricular needs as well as your top choice.

Get the full story from 35 more experts -- including the VP of the College Board, Dean of Admissions from University of Illinois and more -- at To send your question to our experts, visit

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You can hardly turn on the TV anymore without encountering a celebrity chef or cooking show of some sort. Has this inspired you to go to college to become a chef? If you’re looking to prepare for a career in the culinary arts, these scholarships might be able to help:

Recipe Contests
Award: $20,000
Due date: Open
This scholarship is for undergrads and graduate students studying culinary arts at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Specifics regarding the date and number of awards vary, and the school’s student bulletin provides the details.

Top Turkey Scholarship
Award: $15,000
Due date: November 9, 2011
Also for the CIA, this scholarship asks applicants to provide a recipe using leftover Thanksgiving turkey.

Cream of the Crop Scholarship
Award: $5,000
Due date: Open
This scholarship is for CIA students with outstanding academic and leadership skills and a GPA of 3.5 or higher.

Matthew X. Hassett Memorial Culinary Study Scholarship
Award: $5,000
Due date: Open
This scholarship is awarded annually to students enrolled in an accredited culinary institution.

AAA Five Diamond Scholarship
Award: $5,000
Due date: May 1, 2011
This is an annual scholarship given to an undergraduate or graduate student who is already enrolled or has been accepted to a culinary school. Selection is based on need and merit, and the application includes an essay.

American Association of Candy Technologists Scholarship
Award: $5,000
Due date: Open
This sweet deal is for college sophomores, juniors and seniors majoring in food science or a related topic. A 3.0 GPA is required.

See more culinary/chef scholarships.

Conduct your own scholarship search.

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Unigo Expert NetworkThis blog post is provided by the Unigo Expert Network, a group of top education experts from across the U.S. answering questions submitted by students and parents about college admissions and succeeding after high school. To have your questions answered visit

“Can what I post on Facebook affect my chances of getting accepted?”
– Derrick L., New York, NY

Listen to the voice of Reason.
Francine Block, Founder,
Listen to what Thomas Reason, then Associate Director of Admissions at U.W. Madison, posted a few years ago concerning MySpace: "Be careful what you put out there in the public eye. We at Madison will not go looking for it, but if it ends up in our lap, it will be hard to ignore. Exposing oneself or being passed out with one eyebrow shaved off doesn't make a ‘real’ good impression of one’s character." He continued with, "I think it is also worth mentioning that a lot of strange and nasty things go on. Example: Other vindictive students/parents forwarding things on (to colleges) that they've found out about others. Yes, it's nasty out there."
  Like most technologies, Facebook can work for or against you. 
Lynette Matthews, Director, The College Planning Center
The majority of college admissions officers do not have the time to include an exploration of Facebook and other social media in their decision criteria.  However, there are situations when colleges may review online activities such as: Applications for prestigious college scholarships; recruited student athletes may receive a review of online activity by the coaching staff; students interested in selective programs such as honors colleges within a university; students that referenced blogs, videos, portfolios or other online projects in their applications; and applications for campus jobs, including tour guides and resident advisors. Be smart and make sure your online presence represents you well. 
  Would you put it on a billboard?
Nola Lynch, Owner, Northwest College Search
As you transition to adulthood, your online persona (including your email alias) will become potentially more public and definitely more important. A 2008 Kaplan survey of admissions officers found that 10% of them had looked at applicants’ social networking profiles and that at least one school had rejected an applicant based on statements he made online. Unless something bothers them about an application, admissions readers usually won’t search on your name, but employers often do. Yet you are unlikely ever to find out if that party photo got you rejected, so keep your online identity clean.
  Many colleges use social media in the admissions process.
Jeffrey Makris, Director of College Counseling, High School Economics
A 2008 NACAC survey revealed that 85% of admissions offices use social media to recruit students, and 17% reported that they use social networks to research students. I recall an incident where an applicant’s blog postings contributed to the revocation of [the student’s] acceptance. Several admissions counselors have revealed to me that they or their interns review applicants’ social media content. This is a step not all colleges have the time to take, but things are moving in this direction. To be safe, use the “grandma rule”…if you wouldn’t want grandma to see it, don’t put it on Facebook.

If there’s any question, just don’t post it!
Janet Elfers, Sr. Class Counselor, Mariemont High School

In my experiences knowing college admission counselors, I can assure you, they’re way too busy to spend time scouring social networking sites. On the other hand, we also know how rapidly and widely information travels. It is very possible your behaviors on these sites could become known to your college, even if colleges don’t go looking. So, why take the chance? If you have ANY hesitation as to the appropriateness of material you have posted, take it down! What gauge can you use? Try assuming your college will see your post. If that will embarrass you, don’t post it.

Get the full story from 35 more experts -- including the VP of the College Board, Dean of Admissions from University of Illinois and more -- at To send your question to our experts, visit

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Following closely behind the frenzied battle arena we lovingly call the “admissions process” is the every-bit-as-stressful and, if possible, even less well understood challenge of seeking funding for college

I’m by no means a financial expert (really, ask anyone), and I will make no attempt to guide you on investment strategies, fiscal positioning, or appropriate debt loads (which, since I’m in the D.C. area, appears to be fine as long as it’s within one or two trillion dollars of the projected target).  Even the basic terms we use throughout the college funding process are often so confusing you would think the explanations for the financial aid process were secretly written by Charlie Sheen. Since the purposes for aid are often more nefarious than even Sheen might suspect, I’ll attempt to provide a broad overview of the college funding process (unless, as usual, I get distracted along the way).

Although we call them by LOTS of confusing names, there are really just two basic types of fiscal support for college that don’t come out of your family’s pocket: merit-based and need-based financial aid. 

Merit-based aid is generally viewed by the public as an award.  It includes, for the most part, what we typically call “scholarships.”  Scholarships can be awarded for being a great student, a great athlete, or a great artist.  They could also, as I’ll explain further, be awarded for being the only one-eyed, red-haired, tuba playing engineer with demonstrated experience in underwater basket weaving student at some particular school, although that’s a bit less likely.

While you may think of it as a reward, the bottom line is that non-need based scholarships awarded by colleges and universities have one purpose: to buy students.  A nicer (although not any more accurate) take is that colleges have goals for their incoming students.  We want them to be smart, talented, popular, and, preferably, incredibly successful with a tendency toward long-term donations.  We want students that will enhance our statistical profile and/or that will cause other students to look and think, “That school must be AMAZING because Suzy is SOOO wonderful!”  As a result, we offer discounts to those students we want most.  Calling them discounts, however, would conjure up unfortunate images of clipping coupons and/or car sales, so we use the far more civilized “scholarship” term to make everyone feel better.

Speaking of discounts, I strongly advise students keep an eye on their final costs -- the total they’ll pay, rather than the listed cost of the institution.  Cost is, of course, not the only way to pick a college -- or anything for that matter.  You wouldn’t necessarily take a free car if you could easily afford some other car that you like FAR better.  Also, if the free car lacks wheels and an engine, that would seem to be a poor option.  Not that I’d EVER compare selecting a college to car shopping, because that would be WRONG! Selecting a college is an important intellectual decision that has crucial implications for student development and doesn’t involve people trying to “sell” or “market” to you.


I had a well meaning mom call just this week to tell me how her son just couldn’t possibly pick Mason because we hadn’t given him enough scholarship money.  She compared us to a private school that had sent him a “very generous offer.”  She even sent me a copy.  I was so grateful that I generously sent back a comparison of her son’s costs at Mason without a scholarship versus the private school that was being so generous with its award.  Of course, even with the scholarship, he was going to end up paying more at the other school.  Mason is just that great a deal! (Yes, that was a shameless plug.  Sorry for the lack of warning!)

More obvious SHAMELESS PLUG: One of the best parts of my job is that I am executive director for two amazing events for outstanding high school students that My College Options cosponsors: George Mason University’s Washington Journalism and Media Conference and the Washington Youth Summit on the Environment.  If you are among the top high school students in any of those fields, check out the websites -- the programs, with speakers from the government, press, Smithsonian Institute and National Geographic Society, among others, are once in a lifetime opportunities. 

Speaking of opportunities: Bearing that actual cost in mind, it’s important to understand that, in general, college admissions officers try really hard to be fair in their admission decisions.  Fairness, however, can take a pretty good smackdown when it comes to scholarships.  That’s because institutional goals often have more to do with perception -- building institutional reputation -- than student achievement or quality.  Many schools, for instance, never ADMIT that they grant scholarships based on just test scores, and yet they offer merit-based aid for national merit semi-finalist status, an award based on -- wait for it -- just a test score.  In general, test scores tend to be WAY more important in scholarships than in the general admission decisions, as is rank-in-class and grade point average (often of the weighted variety).  While not universally true, these measures gain more traction in most non-need-based scholarship award processes as colleges seek to improve measures that raise their rankings profiles and/or reputations.

So, how do you get college scholarships? Most academic scholarships are awarded based on your application for admission, although many schools ask some additional questions or even have an additional application for students seeking scholarships. These differences don’t necessarily have anything to do with how hard or easy it is to get awards -- the processes just differ from school to school, so be sure to check carefully for any supplemental questions or documents you might need to complete.

A couple of years ago, I had a guidance counselor explain, at some length, why using class rank in scholarship awards was just unfair to her students.  Her school didn’t rank, but I’ve heard the same arguments about large schools, small schools, and schools where the rankings were based on algorithms that would have given Einstein a headache.  I have the same answer for all of them. If scholarships are intended to raise a college or university profile, and the school is spending student tuition to do so, then it isn’t really about fair, it’s about raising the profile.  Also, it’s possible that life isn’t fair.  You heard it here first.

Coming up in my next blog post:

  • the answer to the burning question, “How in the heck did THAT kid get ascholarship!!!??!!!”
  • more about that award for red-headed underwater basket weavers
  • how the scholarship process and admissions process are periodically in conflict
  • and what you might (MIGHT) do to get more money (note -- this very specifically does NOT include paying anyone to help you get money).

We will conclude with a rousing group rendition of that old favorite,“Is it possible
that this process could be ANY more complicated!?!” after which we will gather together to watch
something easier to understand, like Charlie Sheen’s Ustream videos.

Be seeing you.

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Unigo Expert NetworkThis blog post is provided by the Unigo Expert Network, a group of top education experts from across the U.S. answering questions submitted by students and parents about college admissions and succeeding after high school. To have your questions answered visit

“How important are college rankings when choosing a college?”
 – Jamie R., Madison, WI

 EDelehoy.jpg Students should concentrate on individual fit, not the criteria of others.
Eric Delehoy, Founder & College Counselor, Delehoy College Counseling
I tell my students not to trust college rankings.  Rankings speak little to the individual needs of each student, and they place false value on an institution based on criteria determined by others.  Instead, I encourage students to look at colleges that fit -- basically finding a list of colleges that meet their academic and social needs equally.  There is some useful data used to determine rankings, such as retention and graduation rates, and alumni giving rates, but one doesn’t need to buy U.S. News & World Report to find that information.
 Fleana.jpg Trust your own instincts and observations beyond any ranking.
Frank Leana, Author, Pathfinder: An Action Plan - Making the Most of High School

A ranking is just one assessment of a college based upon set criteria.  Most rankings do not consult students on campuses, who are best qualified to comment on quality of life and teaching.  Instead, they are largely based on statistics, such as median SAT or ACT scores, providing only a limited impression of a college. However, rankings seem to be taken quite seriously by many parents and in the professional world because they provide easy handles to grab onto. For me, it’s all about the match, not the rankings.
 MHill.jpg Deconstruct the rankings data, empower students to set priorities.
Mary Hill, Co-Director of College Counseling, St. Paul Academy & Summit School

Rankings give students a shortcut instead of empowering them to think for themselves and choose colleges based on their own priorities. It’s natural to want a quick answer about “best colleges,” especially to make sense of the excess of public opinions and information on colleges.  But rarely do students and parents understand the weight given to each data point in a ranking like the U.S. News list.  It would be a great service to deconstruct the rankings so students and parents could prioritize the data to create a custom “ranking” that matches their search criteria.
 Rgroelle.jpg Rankings are only helpful if they are tailored to you.
Robin Groelle, Founder,
There are many resources to help students find the right colleges for them.  Starting out by visiting a few campuses in different settings will help to clarify what feels right.  Giving thought to your learning style, social character, intellectual interests and talents are other criteria that will pave the way toward finding the right college fit.  Finding college rankings for these criteria can be very helpful.  Two of my favorites are The College Finder by Steven Antonoff and The Rugg’s Recommendations by Frederick Rugg.  The U.S. News rankings are of little help, however the articles and commentary are!

Rankings only get you so far. It’s about fit!
Jim McCorkell, CEO, Admission Possible

At Admission Possible where we are college coaches to students from low-income backgrounds, we don’t spend much time pouring over traditional rankings.  Rankings can help you identify unfamiliar schools to research. However, they cannot capture the most important factor – YOU – and your personal fit with a college. You have to look beyond the rankings list to find the campus that will support your academic and social connection needs.  And don’t get sticker shock, especially when looking at “ranked” colleges.  Just because a school appears expensive, doesn’t mean it is.  Scholarships and aid are more plentiful than you might think!  

Get the full story from 35 more experts -- including the VP of the College Board, Dean of Admissions from University of Illinois and more -- at To send your question to our experts, visit

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Do you think it's fair if college admissions professionals "google" you or look at your Facebook profile during the admissions process?
Yes. If it's out there, it's fair game.
No. If it's not part of my official application package, it shouldn't be considered.
I don't know.
The poll is closed.


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Don Munce