All the Webinars in the World

5 Ways to Use Gifting to Reduce Webinar Fatigue


Anyway, here goes…

Hey everyone,

I feel like I blinked, three months passed, and early applications are due. Anyone else?

So, what’s new in the world of college admissions consulting? Everything is online. Also, everything is online.

In one sense, the new norm is kind of awesome – online webinars even the playing field for students who can’t demonstrate interest through in-person college visits; e-brochures put tons more information in front of students; and test-optional policies give students so much more breathing room to shoot for their moons.

In the other sense, the new norm, as expected, sucks. Every week, I sign up for fifteen new webinars, and every day, I miss parts of those webinars as I try to juggle my desire to know more about the admissions landscape with my need to help students RIGHT NOW.

As emails from universities come in, I frantically try to read, sort, and forward to the students who I think would benefit. And every week, I think – ok, I’ve got to just post the information somewhere and let parents and students take it from there. Then I blink, and my defective time machine flings me unwillingly forward a few more weeks.

Unfortunately, Twitter, which would definitely be my best bet here, is my least followed account, and I just don’t have the willpower (or youth) to build a following right now. Help me out – go follow! Go tweet me, or twit or twat, or whatever the correct social media verb is that equals both our lives becoming a tiny bit easier.

Anyway, without further ado, let’s get to the webinars. Note that this is just the tip of the iceberg on what’s available. Reach out to universities to ask about brochures, info-sessions and webinars. Reach out to me with questions. I wanted to post more webinars in this article, but I didn’t realize how many are “counselor only” – I try to incorporate the information I learn there into my own webinars.

I’m rambling now and shouldn’t be – I don’t actually have the time. Essay editing is calling my name again and I must answer. (Oh, the irony and luxury of rambling when one of my core job functions is to help students be more concise.) I thought about waiting a few more days so that I could polish this before publishing, but I’m afraid my time machine will spring into action again and you’ll miss the next three weeks of webinars. So from my sleep-addled brain to your eyes, here goes…

Upcoming InfoSessions/ Webinars:

Different But the Same: Virtual Workshop on U.S. Public and Private Institutions – Caribbean, October 1 2020, 5 PM CT/ 6 PM EST (Franklin and Marshall, Michigan State, Rice, U. of Illinois – Urbana Champaign)
IvyEdge Global: College Admissions Overview, October 2nd, 6:30 PM EST
IvyEdge Global: Financial Aid, October 3rd, 6:30 PM EST
IvyEdge Global: Athletic Recruiting, October 4th, 6:30 PM EST

Columbia, Penn and Princeton Open Information Session: Caribbean, October 5th 6:00 PM EST
VirtU-8 Virtual Visits, October 5th – 9th (Chapman, Johnson & Wales, Lynn, Northwestern, UTampa, Rollins, Sewanee, Santa Clara University) – inquire if you want to know more
NYU Abu Dhabi: Common App Webinar Oct 5th
NYU Abu Dhabi: Essay Writing Workshop Oct 7th
Johns Hopkins, University of Chicago, Barnard, Columbia: Writing Meaningful Supplemental Essays, October 7th, 7:00 PM EST
Trinity, SMU, George Washington: Applying to Universities in the Age of COVID, October 7th, 7:00 PM CT, 8:00 PM EST
Jesuit Excellence Tour – 27 Jesuit Colleges and Unis, Oct 11 (Code: JetTour2020)
Urban Jesuit Information: Creating a Winning Application, Oct 14th (Fordham, Loyola U Chicago, Loyola Marymount)
Carleton College, Case Western, Haverford, Macalester: Open Session, October 20th
Destination California: International Application Review or How Do I Get In? Oct 20, Oct 27
Urban Jesuit Information: Student Panel, Oct 28th (Fordham, Loyola U Chicago, Loyola Marymount)
Jesuit Excellence Tour – 27 Jesuit Colleges and Unis: Nov 5 (Code: JetTour2020)
CollegeVine Webinars: various dates (cautionary note – I don’t agree with everything presented in these)

Samples of Recent Webinars:

(Students of mine – if you see something that interests you below and you want me to find the recording, I’ll dig through my emails to see if I can find.)

AAU Universities Latin American & Caribbean Tour: Up in the Air – Learn what happens to your application after submission, September 30th (CU Boulder, UFlorida, UMissouri, UOregon, UWisconsin-Madison)
US Liberal Arts Colleges European Tour, September 25th (Bard, Amherst, Barnard, Bowdoin, Claremont McKenna, Davidson, Haverford, Kenyon, Middlebury, Oberlin, Smith, Swarthmore, Wesleyan)
CollEDGE Fair, September 18th
AAU Universities Latin America & Caribbean Tour: Tips for completing the Common App and essay writing, September 16th

Keep checking back because I’m going to keep updating as the weeks go by! I will also post to my Twitter account, but not to my Instagram or Facebook, since the last two are just for my personal offerings.

Comments and questions are welcome below.

Should you be doing the SAT/ ACT this year?

Decision-Making for US College Applications: A COVID-19 post

This is the first mini-article in a series of minis focused on how COVID-19 may affect the decisions parents/ guardians and students have to make when applying to US colleges.

Decision 1: Should you be doing the SAT/ ACT this year?

Reasons to take the SAT/ ACT:

  1. Students have more free time to study right now than they may ever have again.
  2. Schools that have shifted to test-optional for the Fall 2021 intake may shift back for 2022, so students who are applying next year may still be required to take the test.
  3. Students who are unsure which colleges they want to attend should take the SAT/ ACT to preserve optionality.  Note: some schools that are test optional for international students may still require the exam for ISPS and Maple Leaf students.
  4. CAPE/ CSEC uncertainty creates a situation in which the possession of other test results may create a competitive advantage for a student.
  5. In normal times, taking the SAT/ ACT offers more scholarship opportunities.  I believe this will hold true for some universities this year.
  6. Taking the SAT/ ACT does not mean that you need to use the scores, so a high score is an advantage, but a low score is not a disadvantage.

Reasons to not take the SAT/ ACT:

  1. The past two years have seen a big push of colleges offering test-optional and test-flexible policies, particularly to international students. Because of COVID-19, more colleges than ever will be test-optional this year. The growing list includes Cornell University, the University of California colleges, and Boston University.
  2. The test may present a financial burden right now that can be avoided.  Each test costs ~$100 USD to take. Then, there are the added costs of test prep, sending test scores to colleges, and retaking the test.
  3. Students who are dealing with pressure of any kind should NOT stress about these exams – what you have will be more than enough. Furthermore, universities are doing everything they can to accommodate unique circumstances.
  4. This may seem obvious, but if you are most likely going to study outside the US, I would consider opting out of taking the SAT/ ACT this year.

Overall Recommendation:

This is not a one-size fits all decision, but I would lean towards taking the exam for the reasons above. Since each student’s case is unique, I recommend that new students book one of my free 30-min consults to discuss.

IvyEdge Plan:

This year, there will be an international August SAT exam (barring no complications) for the first time ever.

  1. Classes begin June 8th.  The schedule, prices and registration details have been posted.
  2. Classes will be virtual to begin and will change depending on the climate.  I have a lot of experience teaching virtually with great success, including students accepted to Harvard, Columbia, Dartmouth, Vanderbilt, University of Virginia, Amherst College, University of North Carolina, and more.
  3. I will offer a series of options, ranging from free to regularly-priced classes, so that students experiencing financial difficulty because of COVID-19 can still benefit from IvyEdge guidance.
  4. Classes will be over a longer period of time and will be smaller than my typical classes of 10 students each. I want any students who decide to take the SAT this year to see a significant improvement over three months, with the hope that this is the only time they will have to take the exam.
  5. Classes will be more driven towards SAT plus general knowledge, so that students will be better equipped to deal with college coursework and college writing.
  6. As always, IvyEdge Global will provide all classwork and homework material to students.

Spring and Summer Learning Options for Students on Lockdown: A COVID-19 post

Everyone’s circumstances are different.  So if you are just in survival mode – physically, mentally, or emotionally – you should not feel like there is pressure from me or anyone else to do more.  This post (and future posts about how to spend lockdown) is for students who might have extra time on their hands, are looking for ways to contribute, or want to learn something new. It is for students whose anxiety about the future may be alleviated by boosting their resumes or doing something productive.

For me, the best way of facing this challenge has been the continued act of counting my blessings. And that leads me to the inevitable conclusion that those blessings are not shared by everyone and I need to help out however I can or, at the very least, take advantage of my privileges by using this time to the best of my ability.     

There are countless resources out there for spending your time at home, but here are my favorite learning opportunities for students Grades 9-12. I hope to send out another email soon regarding opportunities to become a digital volunteer, start a business at home, or work for a company remotely.

Paid Educational Resources

Lockdown Language is a really cool non-profit where anyone interested in practicing languages can purchase conversation sessions from people who are out of work because of COVID-19.

“Spend your summer at Brown” (online) for 3, 4 or 5 weeks. There are some extremely cool courses here, ranging from mythology to neuroscience to cyber security. This is also a great way for Grades 9-12 students to get a feel for real world applications of what they are currently learning in school. Deadline: June 2020

Get chosen to participate in a selective online research program that is a partnership between Pioneer Academics and Oberlin College. There is a rigorous application process that takes 6-8 weeks, but students get to receive college credit and recognition from top universities if they are selected for this program. This is for top students only. Deadline: April 26th 2020

Free Educational

Check out 437 courses offered by the Ivy League universities. These courses typically last anywhere from 4 to 15 weeks and range in price from 0 to 90 dollars.

Here are 600 new courses launched by 190 universities in the areas of Computer Science, Mathematics, Programming, Data Science, Humanities, Social Sciences, Education & Teaching, Health & Medicine, Business, Personal Development, Engineering, Art & Design, and Science.

Take a free Intro to Aviation course with Embry Riddle. The course is low commitment (1 hour per week) and comprises nine video lessons for students who want to get a better feel for the aviation field.

If you are still looking for other options, take a look at this link containing descriptions of and links to Udemy (coding), KhanAcademy (free courses), Better Money Habits (seminars on personal finance), Skillshare (project-based learning), Coursera (free courses), Duolingo (language learning), MIT OpenCourseWare (free courses), Treehouse (tech workshops), edX (free courses), OEDb (free and for credit courses), TEDTalks (videos), Academic Earth (courses and lectures), Udacity (tech skills), Microsoft Virtual Academy (Microsoft training), U.S. Small Business Administration (starting and running a business), Foundation Center (philanthropy), Media Bistro (media, visual arts, marketing).

This takes some searching through, but here are 800 free eBooks for iPad, Kindle, etc. A lot of classics in there: think about starting with Pride and Prejudice, Great Gatsby, Brave New World, 1984, anything Shakespeare, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and much more.  If you don’t like philosophy or the classics, this link probably isn’t for you.

This also takes some searching through, but here are 1000 free audiobooks. This list is super similar to the list of free eBooks i.e. mostly classics and philosophy. You can also sign up for an Audible 30-day free trial and Amazon is offering free audiobooks during the crisis.

Mildly Interesting and Somewhat Educational

Google Earth launched virtual tours of some of America’s best national parks. If you’ve been on Google Earth, it’s basically that, but in pretty places.

Browse 2 million plus works of art from 20+  world-class museums. Maybe make a list of places you want to visit or study abroad when you’re in college.

Watch Broadway plays online.  The classic Broadway plays are only available if you have a US VPN.

Virtually visit some museums, zoos, and theme parks. I used to keep a puppy cam and a zoom com up in different corners of one of my work monitors – it’s surprisingly soothing and really not that educational.

Getting Ahead of Yourself – a list for the super motivated

Think about your college admissions essay.  There are going to be a LOT of COVID-19 essays out there, so see if you can brainstorm different topics.  If you do end up writing about COVID-19, your story needs to stand out, not by shock and awe but by being personal.  Pay attention to nuanced parts of your day while in lockdown.  Consider journaling for 10 minutes at the end of each day so that you can look back at which aspects of this pandemic affected you the most – it may surprise you when you look back.

We have no idea if travel restrictions are going to be lifted and I’m sure many families will have to think about tightening budgets after the lockdown. That said, here are some in-person courses that are scheduled to take place this summer.  You can always read the list to find aspirational activities for next summer!

Here are even more options that are less educational and more enjoyable: cooking, drawing, playing guitar, drawing, creative writing, etc.

This is a list of 1500 free online courses.  There is probably some overlap with the first two free educational resources and I would stick to those links since they contain programs offered by recognized universities. You would probably only use this list if you’re looking for something that is really niche.

I included the Ivy League MOOCs (massive open online courses) in the free educational resources above, but you can also browse all the MOOCs out there.  Be careful – this can easily become overwhelming.

IvyEdge Virtual Initiatives

So I have to spend a little time talking about what we’re developing here at IvyEdge.

Right now, we have CAPE and CSEC Math, Physics and Chemistry virtual teachers on board and even more in training.  We are also working hard to develop a virtual speaker series that will introduce students to specific majors, careers, salaries, etc. to make more informed decisions about their futures. Finally, we will soon be releasing webinars for students and parents addressing the changing landscape of international admissions in the time of COVID and how to best prepare for the storm.

The initial impact of Covid-19 on US admissions for internationals

I wrote the following email on March 26th and it was so well-received that I decided to post it on the website:
Has Covid-19 affected admissions and will it continue to do so? In a nutshell, yes.  Covid-19 has already affected admissions this year and I hesitate to make firm predictions regarding next year’s intake. That said, I hope this email can shed some light on pros and cons of US admissions in the current climate. Everything is in constant flux and a lot can change. With this understanding, here are some of my current observations and thoughts:

 (Trinidadian) students are being rejected and wait-listed from more schools than usual  
College admissions is tough.  But this wave of rejections and waitlists, particularly from the prestige schools, is not typical. 4 out of 5 candidates will get rejected from at least one of their reach schools, but with students reporting rejections and waitlists across their targets and safeties as well, I have to sit up and take notice. Parents and students, we need to brace ourselves for some tough decisions ahead.  

Rejections are up because more need-based candidates are applying to the need-based schools, giving these universities a greater pool of applicants to consider. Waitlists are up because universities are worried about their yields (i.e. the percentage of students colleges admit who will choose to attend.). Universities recognize that, in this uncertain climate, some students have applied to more schools to preserve optionality and other students may choose to stay closer to home (see point 3.) By creating a larger than usual waitlist, these universities are making sure to have strong candidates to fall back on if yield is down.

The bad news – if you’re on the waitlist, so are a lot of other people.  The good news – if universities’ yields actually do go down, more people will be accepted off the waitlist than usual.

 Financial aid is going to be tough and will matter to some schools more than ever before
Many students who have received acceptances report financial aid lower than expected or no financial assistance at all.  With endowments down, need-aware schools are clearly practicing their right to choose students who can pay the full sticker price of admission. For the lucky few students who will be accepted from the waitlist, this pool will most likely skew heavily towards those who do not need money.  
Other universities are offering higher scholarships, which is good news
While some universities are battening down the hatches because of endowments, others are struggling to meet enrollment numbers and are worried that their applicant pool will be smaller (and less diverse) if students choose to apply to universities closer to home. This is good news for the students, because it actually creates opportunities for applicants to get into colleges and/or to receive higher scholarships if they fit the right criteria. In fact, some accepted students reported increases in scholarships when they tried to withdraw those applications in favor of a different school. If your first choice school has accepted you, but has not offered the money you need, make sure to turn this into a conversation. Make your commitment to the school clear, and hope that they can increase their aid packages slightly in order to secure your enrollment.

 Trinidadian students are rushing to send in applications to Trinidadian tertiary institutions
“Should I stay closer to home this year?”
“It’s too early to say, but if you’re asking should you keep your options open, then the answer is most definitely yes.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had variations on this conversation over the past week. There are many reasons that COVID-19 has students thinking about staying closer to home: it’s cheaper, it’s nearer to loved ones in case something goes wrong, it’s unclear whether travel bans will still be in place in August, there will be a shortage of foreign currency available. If you’re not thinking about it yet, these are all good reasons you should consider sending in local applications. Another good reason – many US universities will accept transfer credits and the transfer process is fairly straightforward. Hopefully, an increase in applications doesn’t make the acceptance rates at local institutions too competitive.
Universities are doing everything they can to figure this out alongside you
This environment is scary for sure, but the universities are right there, working hard to do the best thing for current and future students.  Based on numerous conversations with admissions officers over the past few weeks, here are some of the key takeaways:

1. Admissions officers recognize that students may not have access to the same funds they did pre-pandemic and are pushing to increase aid for their students. They are open to conversations about all student concerns in this time of uncertainty. 2. A large number of universities are going test-optional for 2020 and 2021 intake, recognizing that standardized tests have been canceled or may represent a greater financial strain for parents this year. 3. Professors are rapidly converting class materials to better teach remote classes and online curriculums if necessary.  4. More universities are open to students who get accepted and choose to defer that acceptance to spring, summer or the following fall.

We all have so many questions about how education will be impacted for students of every age over the coming year.  From light-hearted jokes about homeschooling to deeper concerns about how this will affect low-income students, it boils down to the same thing: we are all just trying to navigate uncertain waters. This week, I’m going to send out online university courses that will look great on student resumes and help to expand their horizons, digital volunteering opportunities, and suggested reading lists for summer.  

It’s important to recognize that none of us knows how this will play out but we’re all figuring it out together, from universities to counselors to parents and students. Flexibility and innovation will be critical in the coming months and I welcome questions and observations that I can incorporate into my own response to this pandemic.

Sprinting Down the Athletic Route: Part 2 In-Depth Timelines


Freshman and Sophomore Year (Grades 9 and 10)

  • Make sure you are on track to get the correct number and type of CXC/ CAPE passes
  • Register with the NCAA Eligibility Center to answer these questions
  • Think about whether you will be leaving at the end of Form 5, Lower 6, or Upper 6.

Until September 1st of junior year/ Grade 11, coaches can:

  • Send you sports camp brochures, NCAA information, questionnaires
  • Accept phone calls at your expense
  • Speak to you on campus if you are visiting unofficially
  • Give you a maximum of three complimentary tickets to a college sporting event

Until September 1st of junior year/ Grade 11, coaches cannot:

  • Call you on the phone
  • Send you any written recruiting information
  • Respond to your emails
  • Return phone call messages
  • Approach you or speak to you off-campus

Junior Year (Grade 11)

  • Check with guidance counselor on subjects you are taking
  • Register at Eligibility Center if you have not yet done so
  • Take the ACT or SAT and submit your scores to the NCAA using Eligibility Center code 9999
  • Ask guidance counselor to send official transcript to the NCAA Eligibility Center
  • Potentially receive offers by the end of Grade 11 or invited on official visits

Coaches can:

  • Send written information about the college and its athletic program
  • Answer emails and generate emails to you
  • Receive as many phone calls as you would like to make

Coaches cannot:

  • Contact you in person off the college campus until July 1st at the end of junior year
  • Call you more than once a week

Senior Year (Grade 12)

  • Register at Eligibility Center if you have not yet done so
  • Take the ACT/ SAT again (or for the first time) if necessary
  • Accept offers for official (expenses paid) visits at up to 5 different colleges
  • Request final amateurism certification from Eligibility enter
  • Graduate on time or talk to guidance counselor about options for summer sessions to catch up or increase your GPA
  • Get guidance counselor to send your final transcript and proof of graduation to Eligibility Center

Coaches can:

  • Make telephone calls or send written correspondence as per junior year
  • Make unlimited calls after you sign an offer or make a deposit

Coaches cannot:

  • Contact (face-to-face) you or your family more than three times during senior year

Other Important Notes

1. To be a college athlete, you must be an amateur athlete and not a profession. Any of the following can jeopardize your eligibility status:

  • Accepting benefit or inducement, letter, phone call, direct contact on or off campus with coaches before the prescribed time
  • Accepting payment for your participation in an athletic contest
  • Accepting payment for advertisements/ commercials
  • Accepting gifts for the above

2. There are nuances for each sport regarding timelines, contact with coaches, number of scholarships available, etc. Do not assume that this article pertains to your sport exactly.

3. Rules change every year and sometimes more often than that, so make sure that you are completely updated on your requirements and that your research is current.

4. Whether you leave at the end of Form 5, Lower 6, or Upper 6, changes when you are considered a “sophomore, junior or senior”, and therefore changes when coaches can contact you, etc. The earlier you make a decision, the more prepared you will be.


Whew. I know that this is a lot of information. Remember that the earlier you get started, the better. Remember that my first consult is always free, so schedule a consult to discuss your options.

Sprinting Down the Athletic Route: Part 1 Understanding Requirements

This year, I was fortunate enough to work with two dedicated, national track and field athletes, so please excuse the “sprinting” pun in the title. Also, I apologize for the lack of articles. The SAT and consulting season in 2018 was more hectic than I expected – I thought I would have time to write an article every two weeks, but, after August, I only had time for webinars. So, with the optimism of New Year’s resolutions, here I am again to answer questions, correct misconceptions, and encourage students and parents through the college admissions process.

And, for my first article back, I wanted to focus on student-athletes and their families. As I’ve worked with more and more athletes, I find myself sorting into the following:

DieHardProfessional – I am going pro in this sport or else
BackupRealist – I want to play in college but know how difficult that can be, so I’m trying to find a good balance of academics and athletics
FullRideGoals – I love my sport but need a full ride
AcademicAchiever – I will play in college, but sports is a gateway to the best education possible

Of course, people often fall into two or even three of those categories, but knowing your order of priorities is important in choosing schools. In future webinars and articles, I will talk about how these different personalities approach the admissions process.

Since there is so much to include when talking about athletic recruiting, this is the beginning in a series of articles intended as a general introduction to sports recruiting from Form 4 and up. The longer you wait to apply/ be recruited, the less money there is available, the more stress there is, and the less influence coaches may have over your acceptance.

A survey by the National Collegiate Scouting Association (NCSA) of more than 1000 college coaches found that 84% of all coaches identify prospects during or before the end of the athlete’s sophomore year (Form 5).

Understanding College Divisions

The NCAA is one of the main regulatory bodies for college sports and consists of three divisions. Division I and II colleges offer athletic scholarships. Division III colleges cannot offer athletic scholarships but often provide other forms of financial aid. Signing an NCAA Letter of Intent (Division I and II athletes only) means that you agree to attend that college for at least 1 year in exchange for financial aid.

To participate in NCAA Division I and II sports, a student must meet minimum academic requirements and be registered (and certified) with the NCAA Clearinghouse aka Eligibility Center which is a one-time fee of $90 USD for domestic students and $150 USD for international students.

The other two main regulatory bodies to consider are NAIA and NJCAA which will not be discussed in this series.

Minimum Academic Requirements

Athletes must maintain the following academic standards for Division I and II. Each Division III school has its own policies for academic requirements.

In the Caribbean, the above table translates into five CXC passes by Form 5 or two CAPE passes within 2 years. Furthermore, students should have taken core course requirements of English, Math, Natural/ Physical Science, Social Science.

The core course GPA of 2.3+ is required to compete in Division I, while a 2.0+ allows athletes to train in Division I but not to compete (also known as being a redshirt).

Timeline for NCAA

The NCAA gives students 5 years after high school graduation to use 4 years of athletic eligibility. The extra year is typically in the event that a student gets injured or needs to take time off for grades, for example. This means that if a secondary school/ high school student takes a gap year, then he/she only has the next 4 years to be a college athlete.

In the next article, I will lay out specific timelines for athletes and talk about optimal times to begin preparation…

When contacting admissions officers, what factors should you consider?

As usual, as the August to February admissions frenzy rolls back around, I find myself reading more and more college admissions blogs, thinking about what might be most valuable for my students.  Recently, I found myself on a USC blog post called “making the college admissions process about you”.  And I was struck, not by the words of the article, but by the student comments at the bottom.  And the first thing I noticed was, wow, I can identify the internationals right away!  The second thing I noticed was how unfair it was that an international’s lack of familiarity with the process might detract from his/her application. Here are some thoughts about any contact – big or small – you may have with a university: commenting on a blog, attending a presentation, asking a question in an online chat, etc.

First of all, universities file everything.

You email someone – it gets filed.  You make a phone call – it gets filed. You send in a poem – well, you get the idea.  What does this mean for you? Well, most importantly, this means that all contact should be treated as important.  You are making impressions on the admissions office as a single body despite speaking to a different person each time. Here are some big red flags that I’ve noticed with international students in particular:

1. Asking questions that can easily be answered on the university website

This isn’t fair to us as internationals.  The process is so overwhelming that when an admissions officer visits, or a phone call begins, and that person cheerfully says, “Ask me absolutely any questions you might have,” it becomes extremely tempting to use those people as guides to the process.  And often it is quite alright to ask a single question with an easy answer.  But when a student starts asking numerous questions like, “When are your deadlines”, “What tests do I need to take to get in” or “Do you have study abroad programs”, I see the admissions officers recoil slightly.  They want to answer intelligent, curious questions – questions about student life or campus culture or famous professors, for example.

Let’s look at this well-meaning response from Sam:

The unfortunate truth is that, apart from some of the most selective or diverse schools, (and USC is the 21st best in the country and very selective by the way!), many US universities assume that students have dedicated guidance counselors at school.  So, sometimes, unfortunately, they think these questions are just laziness or a lack of desire to do the research (with a counselor or without). So, ask lots of questions, but not the ones that can be answered with a little more effort on your part.

2. Pay attention to your use of language

The student question above also brings me to my second point. This student is from India.  Being bilingual is a fantastic achievement.  But even though we should be appreciative of her ability, we notice instead her spaced out punctuation, grammatical mistakes, and poor sentence structure.

Here, in the Caribbean, we have it worse in some ways.  We don’t even get the tiny amount of respect afforded to someone for whom English is a second language.  And yet, for many, that is exactly what speaking proper English is.  Creole/ patois/ pidgin languages have their own sets of rules and studying Caribbean Studies, which codifies and applauds these rules, can make speaking standard English even harder.  Just remember, when you write or speak to university representatives, use standard English where possible, even in a simple web chat or quick conversation.

These two points can be daunting and students may already be thinking that they just won’t speak up. You definitely should ask questions! Admissions officers love seeing genuine interest.

3. One easy mistake to fall into is to let your counselor or parents do the talking and emailing for you.

This isn’t really a good look.  College is the time in your life when you are supposed to become independent, successful adults.  And one indication of that is your ability to handle communication on your own.  Get lots of guidance if you need it, but always take responsibility for being proactive about following up.

4. As you put yourself in front of admissions officers in any capacity, be aware that they may look you up.

Make your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. private if there is anything inappropriate there.  Better yet, pull everything inappropriate down completely until this period is over. Make sure your email address is something normal. is not someone to be taken seriously. Create a new email address if you need to – in fact, this can be fairly useful for keeping all your university related information completely separate.

5. Don’t reach out to a lot of different people in the admissions officers with the same question.

Remember, you should be treating all the admissions officers in a school as one body.  I remember being so excited, at first, when a prospective student asked me some insightful questions about the application process for Wharton.  That same night, I discovered that he had emailed almost all of the other thirty-nine Welcome Committee members (then current students who helped prospective and admitted students to navigate the process).  We were all extremely put off and one person was tasked with replying politely to convey how serious we felt about crafting thoughtful answers and how irrelevant we felt when students solicited advice from too many similar sources.


My final takeaway – part summary, part new advice, as conclusions should never do – is that you should never make the mistake of assuming that anyone who works in an official capacity at these universities is your friend.

Treat them with the genuine respect and affability they deserve – be friendly and engaging – but never devolve into the speech patterns or topics that you explore with your peers.  I look forward to comments and questions below!


Seven Ways US College Admissions Differs for International Students

Being an international student can make an already difficult process even more daunting. This article was based on unexpected sources of stress that cropped up for my former students during their application processes.  It was supported by further research into top US universities and their specific international procedures.

First of all, who qualifies as an international student?  A good rule of thumb is that if you need a visa to study in the United States (even if you have a pending Green Card application, for example), you are an international student.  If you already have a Green Card, then you typically qualify as domestic, but should check each of the following factors at each university of interest to be sure.

Deadlines: Applications, Financial Deadlines, Standardized Testing

  • 1. Applications: Typically, deadlines for applications are the same for international students as for domestic students except in a few rare cases. However, since internationals need to apply for and await approval of their student visas, I still recommend applying by the end of March, even for schools that have rolling admissions until May or June for admission that September.
  • 2. Financial deadlines: International aid has different considerations, so the deadlines for aid or scholarships may be sometimes take place earlier for foreigners. This will differ by university.
  • 3. Standardized testing: Any candidates testing at a non-US center must register by the registration deadline: the “late registration deadline” only applies to US centers.

Fee Waiver Eligibility

  • Some fee waivers are easily available to international students if approved by your school guidance counselor e.g. Common App.  Other waivers, such as those for the SAT and ACT are only available to U.S. citizens.  Still others, such as individual school applications, can be obtained by internationals but with considerably more difficulty.

Financial Aid: Grants, Scholarships, Loans and Work Study

Understanding the ins and outs of financial aid is a time-consuming process and more stressful for internationals.

  • 1. Some schools are need-blind and/ or need-based for citizens but not for internationals. For example, some might be need-based for internationals but not need-blind (i.e. identical domestic and international applicants would have different chances of getting into those schools.)
  • 2. Some scholarships are only open to U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
  • 3. Some loans, e.g. federal loans, are only available to U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
  • 4. The process and forms that need to be filled out are slightly different. FAFSA for example is a federal aid form that internationals should not submit, although some universities may ask candidates to fill it out and submit internally as part of the application process. Internationals on the other hand need to fill out the CSS profile if they are applying for financial aid.

Extra Application Requirements

  • There may be some extra requirements that are requested either in the application.  Universities may also contact you, after you submit an application, to request more information.  Always monitor communications from your universities closely.  Examples of additional requests include: Proof of English language proficiency (usually waived), certification of finances (usually one-year’s tuition), transcript evaluation.

Contextual Chances of Admission

  • Schools typically have approximate quotas of internationals as a whole and by different regions.  This may work for you or against you, depending on the college and depending on your competition in the region within a particular year.  Reading about a college’s diversity initiatives and international acceptance rates is a useful measure of what your chances of acceptance might be.

Post-Acceptance Requirements

  • Joseph Herrera laid these out well in his IvyEdge Global article.  Internationals are required to obtain visas, immunizations, and sometimes more information even after they have accepted a school’s offer of admission.

Sports recruiting

  • If you are being formally recruited to colleges or eventually want to take this route, there is too much that would have to be included in this article.  The college coaches should have all the information that you need; I simply wanted to make future student-athletes aware of their international status as a potential consideration.

Once students arrive at college, there are culture shocks to be overcome, questions about internships and jobs to be answered, and resources to be explored.  This article does not address the aspects of what being international in college means for a student.  I will do so in a future article.

Some disclaimers.  First, while this article sheds light on some of the finer print of being international, remember that each university has its own nuances. It is therefore important to check the international requirements at every school to which you are applying.  Second, this article focuses on the differences between regular and international admissions, which assumes that the reader already has some advance knowledge of the application process e.g. typical application deadline dates (between October and June), or the differences between need-based and need-blind financial aid.  Third, this is meant for first-time undergraduate applicants.  The policies for graduate schools and transfer applicants may be similar but not entirely the same.

I hope that this article will make or has made the application process easier for internationals out there. As always, questions and comments are welcome!

Spend Your Summer Meaningfully

Note: Scroll down to the numbered items if you want to just get to the ways in which you can spend your summer.

I was thirteen years old and the end of Form 2 (Grade 7) was quicklyapproaching. My seventeen-year-old sister came home bursting with excitement.  She and her friends were going to start a summer camp to make some extra money and please, please, could she do it at our house? Always on the lookout for a sibling bonding moment, my mom agreed, with the non-negotiable stipulation that I would be made an equal partner and a full-fledged camp counselor.  The quintessential second child, I saw nothing unfair or unusual about this. I was immediately on board.  When the dust settled, my sister was left with the difficult task of founding a summer camp with a person who had no inkling of business fundamentals, and who was only three years older than the oldest camper.  Somehow, past the inevitable disagreements and repeated vows that we would never, ever do something this crazy again, we hosted that summer camp for two years together and I continued for two more years when she left for college. In the summer after Lower Six, I got a more conventional job, where I learned an entirely different, but equally useful, skill set.

So, when college application essays asked what I had done for my summer and what my most rewarding summer experiences had been, I had an excess of stories.   I eventually focused on the challenge of managing thirty campers with varied interests, from the initial phases of marketing and registration, to organizing transport and permission slips for outings, to the grand finale: a dance show for the parents and take-home CDs with pictures of the children’s exploits (both my sister’s brilliant ideas).

At the time, I had no idea how lucky I was: that my sister had been entrepreneurial, that my mother had demanded my involvement, that she had also allowed us to use our house as a base, and that I had continued down the path they paved for me.

Universities looked at my application and thought: entrepreneurial, self-starter, passionate, creative, leader, management skills.  My primary thought, on the other hand: super tough for three weeks, but more money than I could make in six.

Now, as an admissions consultant, I speak to Form 6 students, who want to know how to craft fantastic applications.  And, without freaking them out, how can I explain that one of the keys to my success was accidentally handed to me at age thirteen?

Snapshot of the activities section of the Common App


First of all, how important is the non-academic part of your application?  Speak to colleges, listen to webinars, google “factors affecting undergraduate admission” and, for the more selective schools, you will come up with similar results:

Academics 30%
Extra-curricular activities (and summers) 25%
Essays 25%
Letters of Recommendation 15%
Interview 5%

What this quick breakdown fails to point out (shout out to a College Vine webinar that explicitly focused on this) is that your essays often focus on one of your extra-curricular activities, so extra-curricular may affect as much as fifty percent of your application.


Snapshot of a supplemental short essay topic required by Amherst University


What does this mean for current Form 6 students? Is it too late to supplement your application? Of course not.  My sister founded the camp when she was in Form 6; she subsequently attended the University of Pennsylvania, at the time ranked fifth in the U.S. alongside MIT and Stanford.  Does it mean that you should start a summer camp? Also no.  Many people do not have the resources to do this.  More importantly, you are trying to create an application that shows your personality and how that personality will contribute to college and beyond.  I was applying to a major in Economics, so starting a business made complete sense.  However, there are many summer activities that may supplement your specific application in a more cohesive manner.  Finally, I am writing this primarily for internationals and, this year in particular, applicants from Trinidad and Tobago.  Although universities see thousands of applications, those from Trinidad and Tobago tend to be few and therefore unique, and it might look a little strange if this year’s applicants all founded some version of a summer camp.

So let’s focus on how you can make your application as strong as possible this summer.  (I will address school term extra-curricular in a different post.)

Selective colleges are searching for students who enhance the school community.  They are also looking to find students who will be successful well after graduation.

Below, I have broken down four ways in which you might signal to colleges that you are one of those students.

1. Pursuing passion

One of the key indicators of community participation and future success is passion. And passion is observed in activities that go above and beyond the normal.

Examples include an aspiring writer successfully creating and marketing a blog, a musician teaching music to younger children in his free time, a future lawyer spending time at court listening to court cases, a student-athlete attending a specialized, technical summer camp, or a potential doctor doing work at a research lab or in a pediatric ward.

In these examples, students aren’t just happy doing what interests them.   Instead, they feel the need to share, teach, expand upon, or practice these interests.

Since students have so much more free time during summer vacation, this is where admissions officers can identify students with passion according to how they spend their time.

2. Showcasing talent

Another key indicator of future success is talent and strong performance of that talent.  Examples include regional or national team tournaments, dance performances, music recitals or competitive academic pursuits.


Think about cataloguing your performance, from MVP in a specific game, to bronze medalist of the league.  Keep videos or pictures of your performances and document events that might be significant to universities.



3. Stepping outside your comfort zone/ broadening your interests

A third indicator in identifying strong applicants is looking at instances in which they have tried something unique.  Athletes are a dime a dozen, but an athlete who has also learned to play the violin well is much more difficult to find.  Again, summer is when students have more free time, so while a deep focus on one extra-curricular may be understandable during the term, candidates who use their summers to explore other interests are considered more desirable. Other examples include traveling alone for the first time, taking a coding class, or learning a new language.

When admissions officers see international students trying new activities, they identify these students as more likely to easily adapt to a new country, unfamiliar classes and a different culture.

4. Supporting your community

Not everyone has the luxury of exploring an interest, or the depth of ability to perform at a competitive level.  Good news – the final indicator of unique, desirable candidates is how they contribute to the community, from strong service records, to getting jobs that helps support their families, to taking care of ailing relatives, to participating in political youth groups.  These candidates show that their communities – which can be defined in many ways, including family, neighborhood, race, gender, religion, country and more – are of paramount importance, sometimes more important than their own pursuits.  This signals to universities that the candidate will both value and enhance his/her college community.

Conclusion: Creating an application narrative

In the application, your summers will feature prominently in your essays and in the extra-curricular section.   Universities are not looking for students who pad their resumes with a million summer activities.  They are looking for genuine students, and this will be apparent in the way you write and the emotions evoked by your summer activities.

Summer should complement your existing resume, either by deepening and exploring current passions and talents, broadening your existing pool of interests, or contributing in a meaningful way to your community.

I had one student who spent his entire summer reading philosophy and getting his life back on track.  I had another student who spent her summer struggling with remedial classes to cope with a recently-discovered learning disability.  There is no “right way” to spend your summer.  Simply make sure that what you do makes sense in the narrative of who you are and what type of college student you want to become.

Looking forward to comments and questions below!


You Got In! Now What?

There is a variety of feelings that candidates may experience after they receive their final college responses: pride, excitement, anticipation, disappointment, numbness.  But in the following week, one feeling dominates in particular: relief that the process is finally over.  In the few weeks after that, however, there is a sneaking realization that more decisions need to be made and preparations begun before the journey can actually start.

The good news is that I will continue doing my best to present the pertinent issues to you clearly and engagingly.  The better news is that if you are a college admit, these decisions foreshadow a golden summer – the best of your life so far: a final period in which you face no real responsibilities or worries.

Over the coming weeks, I will dive in-depth into each of the following topics.  For now, focus on the key points that should inform your decision-making.

Decision 1: Finalizing Your College Selection

So you have a general idea of what is important to you. But, as other people begin to weigh in on what school you should pick, you realize that there is so much more at stake than “choosing somewhere with good weather”.

When I was trying to decide between colleges, my dad gave me some very helpful advice: use a “matchstick method”.  First, I made a list of the key attributes that were important to me. Then, I weighted those factors.  Finally, using matchsticks, I scored each college (out of the assigned weighting).  When I counted total matchsticks, I had found my college! Now obviously you can use a fancy excel sheet (see below), a disposable napkin, or anything other than match sticks, but I had a lot of fun doing it this way and was genuinely surprised by the result in the end.

Factor Weight College 1 College 2 College 3
Academics 10 7/10 9/10 8/10
Student Life 15 13/15 12/15 11/15
Campus 5 5/5 3/5 4/5
Student Body 7 6/7 5/7 6/7
TOTAL 37 31/37 29/37 29/37

Table 1: Example of the “matchstick method” at work

Below, I have broken down most of the considerations behind selecting a college.  Browsing through the questions should help you to figure out what factors are important to you.

1. Academics

  • Is the major you want to pursue offered at the college?
  • When do you have to declare your major?
  • Can you switch majors easily?
  • Does the school have good resources (e.g. professors, labs, career services, internships) in your areas of interest?
  • How big are the classes?
  • Is it easy to add a minor, a double major or a certificate program?
  • What electives (classes not required for your major) are interesting?
  • How difficult is the course work? / What percentage of students graduate within 4 years? / What is the average GPA of a graduating student?
  • Can you do a study abroad program fairly easily? What grades are required to do so? Is it feasible to study abroad as an engineer/ pre-med student for example?
  • Can your CAPE/ A Level/ IB provide credits to graduate early? (Article at a later date on whether you should do this or not)

Key Takeaway: Choosing a school with the best academics may not always be the right choice for you. As an international, you will also be coping with new classes, different teaching styles and unfamiliar study methods.  Make sure you think carefully about what you can handle before selecting a school for its academics only.

2. Athletics

  • What level of competition will you be playing at e.g. D I/ D II/ D III?
  • Will this school help you to achieve your athletic ambitions e.g. going pro?
  • How much playing time will you get? / Are you ok with being on a great team but not getting to play often?
  • How often and at what times during the day do student athletes train?
  • Can you maintain a sport/work/life balance at this school?
  • Is there academic support e.g. study hall for athletes?
  • Does the team go dry (no alcohol) for a portion of the season?
  • Did you like the coach/ team if you met them?

Key Takeaway: Selecting a college for athletics is largely dependent on how important the team will be to other parts of your life.  Some teammates are best friends, get housed together on campus and join the same fraternities/ sororities.  Other teams just train together.  Try to meet the team or speak to a past/ current athlete to get a sense of how a particular college matches your preferences.

3. Student Life

  • What does student life revolve around e.g. dorms, Greek life (sororities and fraternities), residential colleges, football games, city life, etc?
  • Can you become a student athlete by ‘walking on’ to a varsity team?
  • Are there club (between colleges) or intramural (within the school) sports that you want to join?
  • Are there other clubs that look interesting e.g. dance groups, singing groups?
  • Does the school have a religious affiliation that affects student life?

4. Campus

  • Is the campus located in a city or near a city?
  • How big is the campus? / How far away are the classes? / How do students get from one class to another e.g. bike?
  • What is the weather usually like?
  • Is it a scenic campus?

5. Financial

  • How much does the college cost?
  • What are the averages costs of living?
  • Are most activities school sponsored or will you be paying for most of your socializing?

6. Student body

  • What is the size of the undergraduate body?
  • What is the ethnic makeup of the students? Are you comfortable being a minority?
  • What are the political leanings on campus?

The best way to answer some of these questions is to talk to past students or to visit campus.  If you visit, make sure to let the university know so that they can welcome you and put you in touch with the right people.  Reach out to me ( if you don’t know any alumni and want help getting in touch with someone. If you call the universities, they will usually be very accommodating with finding students for you to ask questions.  And, of course, you can find information on their official websites or blogs like College Confidential.

Decision 2: Square Away the Legal Stuff

This portion is especially relevant for international admits.  Take care of immigration early since the visa process can have many unforeseen delays!

1. Immigration


  1. Accept school offer
  2. Follow the process outlined by the university: something like this
  3. Pay the fee, receive an I-20 and complete the application
  4. Make sure you are prepared for your visa interview


2. Financial Aid

  1. Determine if you need to send a separate acceptance letter for financial aid
  2. Figure out if you have to submit supporting information
  3. Understand what type of aid you are being offered: free money, free money dependent on meeting particular criteria, earned money e.g. work-study program, borrowed money
  4. Be aware that you do NOT have to accept the full size of your aid package, so if you think you can get by with a smaller loan for example, you should try to do so
  5. Understand the financial aid process in the future: can you apply for more aid in the following year? Do you have to reapply for aid or submit your financials every year to keep receiving aid?
  6. Consider scholarships that may be available to first year students

3. Transcript

  1. Your university may request your end of year transcript, so make sure that your grades do not lead to you losing your offer
  2. Know how your end of year transcript is linked to any financial aid package you have been offered

 Final Note: Don’t forget to contact the colleges you are not attending.  While this is not completely necessary, it’s a really nice gesture – remember that there are other students anxiously sitting on the waiting list, hoping to receive your spot at this school.

 Decision 3: Start Thinking About Dorm Room and Campus Life


There is a lot to consider when preparing to move into a dorm for the first time. Start thinking about whether you want a roommate, what you need to purchase in terms of clothing, furniture and essentials, how far in advance you should fly up to school, what computer you should use, what meal plan you should get, how much you should spend.  More to come in my next post!