Prep Talk Blog > May 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

“High school classes haven’t been that bad, but I’m not sure how I’ll fare in lecture halls with hundreds of other students. How can I stand out to professors and keep from feeling overwhelmed?” – Steve A., Decatur City, IA.

  Being Assertive Makes Large Classes Smaller
Craig Meister, President, Tactical College Consulting    

Make a point to introduce yourself to the professor during weekly office hours -- periods of time professors set aside for students to ask questions and clarify course content. Don’t just attend the professor’s office hours during the beginning of the semester -- attend as many of these weekly sessions as you can in order to build a personal relationship with the professor and better understand his expectations. Your commitment to your education may impress your professor so much that it could lead to recommendations for future educational, research, or professional opportunities.
  The Myth Behind Large Lecture Classes – You Can Succeed!
Emily Snyder,  Owner, Managing Director, Know Your Options

Colleges and universities are focused on structuring courses to maximize student learning.   Usually, in addition to attending the lectures, you will be expected to meet twice weekly with a small group of your classmates.  Lead by the professor’s teaching assistant (more informally known as a “TA”), your regular participation in these “resuscitation classes” will show your professor your commitment to the course.  Most importantly, they are your opportunity to have your questions answered and better understand the course work -- all of which will help you get the grade you are working so hard to obtain!
  Practice Concise Note-Taking and Visit Your Professors
Kathryn Favaro, Independent College Admissions Counselor, Favaro College Counseling

It is important to arrive well-prepared for your college classes. In order to be academically successful, dedicate a notebook and binder to each class. Practice taking organized, concise notes. Listen for key points and support them with explanations. Avoid copying lecture slides word for word. Form a study group with a few students in each of your classes. You can review your notes and materials together. Visit your professor during office hours in order to stand out and develop a relationship. Office hours are also a fantastic opportunity to receive one-on-one advice, explanations and feedback from your professor. 

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

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One of my favorite education columnists is the Washington Post’s Jay Matthews. This is for multiple reasons. He’s been researching and writing for approximately 10,000 years, and he likes to explore issues thoroughly. Unlike most of the reporters, bloggers and writers in the field, he has a broad understanding of most issues.  However, he’s also dead wrong on some major issues (like his high school ranking methodology -- YIKES!), but he is willing to debate issues rationally and at length, online or in person.  Also, he periodically quotes me -- a clear indication of his brilliance.

Jay recently posted a topic on his Admissions 101 discussion forum about the relative value of attending magnet schools.  The perspectives in the forum just didn’t smell right to me, reminding me that it’s been a while since I responded to one of the most frequent questions I receive: How will the high school I attend impact my chances for college admissions?

This age-old question is normally prefaced by some of the following explanations:

* My school is so huge, and so incredibly good that it’s nearly impossible to rank in the top because everyone is above average.

* My school has a tough grading policy, so that makes me look worse than kids in easier schools.

*My school is lousy.  I have bad teachers, awful facilities, and no challenging courses. I can't get a challenging course load and had rotten preparation for high school.  Few students even graduate, so just getting through my school is harder than getting perfect grades at schools with more support.

* I know University X hates my school, and/or loves other schools way more.

* My school is so small, just being ranked number 2 in the class keeps me out of the top 10 percent; in fact, I have to duck just to get through the tiny, wee doors.

Remember all those times nice teachers told you there are no stupid questions?  It turns out that they were wrong.  Even with all the explanations above, the question of how your high school will impact your chances for college admissions remains fairly idiotic. This is because:

* Admissions officers know schools pretty well, and even if we don't know your school (we probably do), we get a profile that explains the context of your school. Admissions officers understand how to balance the impact of different schools -- largely by looking to see if you challenged yourself given what was offered and are competitive in the wider context of the admissions pool as a result.

* And even if we didn't balance different schools, you'd never know its significance -- we might like bigger schools, smaller schools, or even average-sized schools that happen to have great curling teams.

* And even if we didn’t balance schools and you knew your high school’s significance, college admissions officers wouldn’t be any more consistent with evaluating you in the context of your school’s status than they are with any other admissions factors. Therefore, it would always differ from year to year and from reader to reader.

* And even if we didn’t balance schools, you knew your high school’s significance, and we were 100% consistent, you still wouldn't know how your school was viewed by any particular college admissions officer and how that affected you in the long-run.

DISCLAIMER: There is one exception: If everyone from your high school applies to the same college or university, that institution will often be tougher on admissions.  Not fair, but that's the reality.

And the biggest reason that this is pretty much a nutty question? Drum roll, please…you probably can't do anything about it!

Are you really going to move schools on that one chance you could possibly get into some specific college or university?  Of course not.  How about just stay in your school, do the best you can, and remember that you don't need to settle on just one college or university.  If some institution doesn't want you because of your school (however unlikely that is), you'll find plenty more that DO -- and there are probably WAY better things to stress over.

DISCLAIMER #2: Some of you, of course, do have a choice of high school. I usually get this question from high school seniors (or parents of seniors), in which case I fully stand by my assertion of nuttiness.  Students (and parents of students) who are not yet in or just starting high school with the access or resources to select schools, do have choices. I fully recognize this can be an agonizing choice.  This is unnecessarily complicated by the idea that which school you select (Public or private? Magnet or not?) will have an undue influence on college acceptance.  As noted above, it might, but you’ll NEVER know. 

A far better way to make your decision, assuming you have a decision to make, is to base it on the best educational, social, and emotionally supportive environment, not on what college admissions officers MIGHT do.  There are students who truly thrive in a magnet school environment, and there are others who don’t.  The idea that there is a one-size-fits-all response to the question or that college admissions outcomes should be the deciding factor is, technically speaking, a steaming pile of doo-doo.  Oh, that’s what smells.

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

“I’m so excited for college to just start already! I’m totally the kind of person to overlook a few things when I’m excited, so what are some common mistakes freshman make that I can avoid?” – Jill P., Lafayette, IN

  Food Court Follies
Patricia Tamborello, College Counselor, Plymouth Whitemarsh High School    

Food services on most college campuses are more like a large food court in the center of a mall. Everyone jokes about the freshman 15 but it is actually something that happens to a number of students. So, right from the start be aware of your choices. Desserts and that fabulous ice cream machine shouldn't be a part of every meal. Portion control and remembering the salad bar can keep you from weighing in at too much in your sophomore year.
  College Should Be Fun – and Should Be for Learning
Rene Bickley, Director of College Counseling, The Hammond School

First and foremost, go to class. Even if your professor says attendance doesn't count, don't be fooled. Attendance always matters. Homework is another issue. In college, homework is no longer what you do after class. It's designed to get you ready for class the next day, and it helps to know ahead of time that the optional reading your professor casually tosses your way really isn't optional. Get a planner. Block off class time as well as study hours in advance. Stay on track and you can have time for fun and enjoy yourself without the stress of unfinished work hanging over your head.
  Congratulations – Now Make the Most of It
Laurie Favaro, Independent College Counselor, Marin County, SF Bay Area

The next four years will provide an incredible opportunity to pursue your interests and also to explore new ideas and experiences. Choose some courses that may not be familiar to you but sound intriguing. Build relationships with your professors by attending their office hours or volunteering for research. Keep in mind that the independence that comes from being a college student means that you have the sole responsibility to make college life exciting, rewarding and successful. Keep an open mind to make the most of your experience – attend seminars, join student organizations, get involved!

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

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You probably can’t wait to learn more about your freshman-year college roommate. This is the person you will probably spend the most time with your first year of college, and you want to be sure you start off on the right foot. So it’s best to start getting to know each other before you set foot on campus. Here are 10 questions you and your roommate can discuss during the summer to help you get acquainted and ready to settle into your new dorm room.

1. What items do you plan to bring to college, and what else will we need?

2. Are you a night owl or an early bird? What are your sleeping habits?

3. Do you like to have friends over a lot or prefer to go out?

4. How do you feel about guests?

5. What’s your schedule?

6. How do you like to study?

7. What kind of music do you listen to?

8. What kind of food do you like?

9. What are you thinking for decorating the room?

10. What hobbies or extracurricular activities do you enjoy?

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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

“I leave for college in a few months but don’t know what to bring. What should every college student bring with them for academics, social, and dorm life? What does every student kick themselves for forgetting?” – David S., Fresno, CA

  Plan with Your Roommate and Get Off to a Good Start
Steve Thomas, Director of Admissions, Colby College    

Pack some unbridled energy, unparalleled curiosity, acute sense of adventure and a fresh excitement for new experiences as you head to college this fall! Some of the practical things to bring or buy -- room refrigerators, stereos, printers et. al. -- can be shared with your roommate. It's important to speak with your roommate prior to arriving on campus in order to have a cooperative plan about this. Bring and present a welcoming attitude as you meet your new roommate. Nothing will make your year go so smoothly as getting off on the right foot with your roommate. Beanbag chairs are a must!
  A Fan, Several Rolls of Quarters, and Soft Toilet Paper!
Hector Martinez, Director of College Guidance, The Webb Schools

The items listed above were the most important things every new college student had to bring on move-in day back when I was heading off to college. Now dorms are much nicer and many have air-conditioning, so fans and quality toilet paper aren't as necessary anymore. I suggest you find out where the nearest Target or Wal-Mart is located in your college town. And finally, like any good parent would tell you: Bring plenty of clean underwear!
  What to Think About When Moving in with Your Roommate
Rachelle Wolosoff , Founder,

First of all, stay organized by working with your roommate to create a list of what is needed for the apartment you will be sharing. Then proceed to share shopping and paying for those items that you will both be using, such as paper goods and furniture.  Pack a small bag with your essentials separate from your major packing with a change of clothes, toiletries and medicines for the next day. This is handy for those who will not get to unpacking all that they are bringing immediately. Enjoy the journey! 

Get the full story from 35 more experts -- including Dean of Admissions at University of Illinois, VP of The College Board, 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?
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No. If it's not part of my official application package, it shouldn't be considered.
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Don Munce