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If You Have Time for Just Three Things...

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Are minutes in the day shrinking or is the calendar just moving faster?  Sometimes it feels like both are happening.  Seniors in the midst of finalizing early applications know this better than anyone -- while high school junior, sophomore and freshman parents are astonished at the fact that their students are moving up the high school ranks en route to their college futures.

In reality, the college process has sped up in many regards, with all students in my practice completing at least one early application.  For juniors, early fall is a great time to gain a head start on pieces of the college process and optimal for seeing schools when the weather is still good and academic obligations have yet to pile up.

Most seniors are done with application tasks by now -- but not all.  Some students are still making campus visits and re-visits as well as making one final attempt to boost SAT/ACT scores. For juniors ready to step into their college process, it's worth taking time during the next couple of months for the following:

1.  Register and prep for standardized testing
Chances are a student will be required to take either the SAT or the ACT as a condition of application to at least one intended college.  Some students align with and focus exclusively on one of these tests, while others try out both to see which one best fits their testing style.  At the very least, it's smart to visit the SAT or ACT websites to sample the style and types of questions one may encounter on these exams.  Most students will begin testing during the winter of junior year, if not earlier, espeically if their winter and spring schedules are full with extracurriculars.

2.  Schedule campus visits

It takes more than a little planning to organize student and parent calendars in order to make campus visits a priority.  With busy weekends full of homework, projects, athletic and family obligations, campus visits may easily slide onto the back burner.  Before you can say "summer’s here,” senior year has arrived with its own set of priorities that may tighten up schedules even more. Besides, it’s best to visit schools during the normal ebb and flow of the academic year rather than during summer break when there are typically few students in attendance. Prospective applicants need to view campus life in action, in part, to determine a good college fit.

3.  Don't ask teachers yet for college recommendations…

... but start to consider the fact that most schools require at least one academic teacher's evaluation.  Students should begin to think about connecting in some way with teachers and how to get to know them better in or out of the classroom -- or both.

The college process is made up of many more steps than mentioned here, but with these three items underway students and parents are off to a good start! ________________________________________________________________

Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admission process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and NACAC.  Contact Marla via  

Um...Mr. Morgan?

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Requesting Teacher Recommendations

As junior year chugs along, Recommendation Request Season draws near. This is the time of year when teachers, not typically accustomed to students seeking them out between classes, find many stopping by with growing frequency and a shy “ask” in their eye. The sought-after payoff: “Yes, I would be delighted to write a college recommendation for you.”

For students who feel confident in their classroom performance and hold rapport with their teacher, requesting a recommendation may feel natural. For those students who have not yet made a strong connection with a teacher, there is still an opportunity to consider what they have gained from their classes and how it connects to their interests, whether present or future.

How Many Recs Are Needed?

Colleges vary in the number of recommendations they welcome. There is a surprising range of policies around this aspect of the college application, spanning as few as one optional recommendation from a school counselor to schools that will allow five or more from a variety of sources. Within the scope of recommendations, schools commonly request 1- 2 recommendations from teachers in academic “solid” classes rather than electives or arts classes. Additional outside recommendations may come from employers; coaches; volunteer coordinators — anyone who has known the student in a context that allows comments based on personal qualities such as leadership; maturity; impact; character; and more.

When to Ask

Asking early, before the end of junior year or early senior year, rather than up against last-minute deadlines demonstrates maturity as well as proper appreciation of the writer’s time and effort. May or June is a great time to approach teachers, when junior year progress is fresh in the teacher’s mind and the student still has time to boost engagement in the classroom.

What A Good Rec Sounds Like

It may be surprising to learn that a solid recommendation does not necessarily need to stem from the student’s highest performing class. Qualities in evidence may include engagement; work ethic, contribution to the class’s learning; attitude and drive. Student’s do not necessarily have to earn an A+ to demonstrate these strengths!

How to Ask

Whenever possible, requesting teacher recommendations is best done in person.

While it seems obvious, students should make a point to thank the teacher who has agreed to write on their behalf.  Students may follow up or thank a recommender in person, via email or — another personal gesture — through a handwritten note.

Perspective and Paying It Forward

While students sometimes agonize over whom to ask and what that teacher may say in his rec, keep in mind that colleges review applications in their entirety and recommendations are one corner of the multi-piece puzzle. Students: Be sure to thank Mr. Morgan for his time now — and check back in later during senior year to let him know where you’ll be headed next fall. This way, you’ll come back full circle, letting your recommenders know that their hard work has paid off, setting the stage for the next group of juniors behind you.

Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and NACAC.  Contact Marla via

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