Empowering students and guiding families


“Ellie helped our daughter prepare and apply to the college of her choice. We are thrilled!”

Why colleges like to see what you did last summer…

Junior year is almost over. Time to kick back and relax poolside, lakeside, beachside and hang out with friends 24/7, right? This sounds like the perfect reward for busting butt all year; acing classes and killing it on the SAT.

This sounds great, but it will get old and most importantly for the college going student, this is not what colleges want to see. It’s also probably not what parents want to see… and they’re still probably paying for at least your cell phone.  Got to keep them happy!

So, what is a rising senior to do? It’s short and simple-get a job! You don’t have to start your own business (though you could) and babysitting does count. You don’t have to have a big fancy summer plan or a trip to Europe to study classics to impress colleges.

Summer jobs provide students with money, (duh), but they are also great for other reasons.

Students who work in the summer might find themselves balancing many things like athletics, dance or music lessons, family vacations and the all important social life. This sounds hard, but it’s really great training for college where you will be pulled in many directions and it seems like you have endless amounts of time. Trust me, you won’t have endless amounts of time. You may only be in class for 15 hours a week, but you will need to plan for many hours of study time each week as well.  You will also be juggling clubs, sports, meeting new friends and other things that eat up a lot of time. Colleges like to see students with time management skills!

Summer jobs are also a great way to learn and practice leadership skills. You might work up to being a second key in a retail store or you may plan and execute a great outing for the kids you’re babysitting. Leadership gained through a summer job could be a great college essay. Oh yeah, that’s another thing you should be thinking about during free time over the summer.

Communication is key to having a summer job. Whether you are scooping ice cream and dealing with the sweet loving public or lifeguarding at the local pool, you will be dealing with all types of people (customers, bosses, parents-you get the picture). You will learn to advocate for yourself if you want to ask for time off or negotiate schedule changes with a co-worker. You will deal with upset people-you didn’t really run out of triple chocolate brownie fudge???

You might even experience a bit of failure at your summer job. You might find out that you hate dealing with the public or that you can’t pass a lifesaving course no matter how hard you try. This sounds awful, but it is still an opportunity. Essay, anyone? Showing how you dealt with, and what you learned from, failure can be a very powerful essay. Knowing what you don’t like is just as important as knowing what you do. It’s always better to experience failure before you go off to college and while you still have a great support system at home.

You will also learn about money management and perhaps budgeting. Colleges may not care as much about this unless you need that money to pay the bill! You will surely benefit from the experience when you go out to live on your own.

Sticking with a job all summer (even if you hate it) shows colleges that you can see something through. It also shows a certain level of maturity and colleges like this.

Basically, what it comes down to, is that colleges like students who have a bit of life experience. And yes, you can get this right in your own hometown.

College application season is about to officially open…

Ready, Set, Go…here are the common app questions for the 2015-2016 application season. Current juniors- you can get started at any time…..though I would suggest that you finish junior year strong, take your AP tests and perhaps the SAT or ACT, enjoy prom and wait ’til summer to work on your college essay!


Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

3  Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

5  Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.


College Fair Season is Here

So, yesterday I drove up to the University of Maine to attend the annual NEACAC fall college fair.  There were over 100 colleges and universities represented and busloads of high school students. The large room had an undercurrent of good energy. The college reps that I spoke with were more than happy to give me info about new programs and facilities at their schools. Students were stuffing plastic bags with literature from all sorts of different institutes of higher education. It was a frenetic two hours. I left feeling that I’d made some great connections and learned a lot in a short period of time. It’s not an alternative to a college visit, but it’s a great way to get a taste for a place and, later, plan a visit if interested.

It was what I heard when I was leaving that made me feel a little disheartened. “I only talked to one person,” “I couldn’t wait to get out of there,” “Those kids from X high school looked like they are in their 20’s.” I think you get the picture. A lot of the high school students were not very engaged in this fabulous resource. Did they attend because they had to? Perhaps they had Physics first thing on a Tuesday morning. It doesn’t really matter, but it got me to thinking about how a college fair can be done right. I’ve gathered some tips for students and parents. I hope that you’ll find them useful.

Before you go:

  • You should hear about these events from the guidance office at your high school. If the high school is sending a bus, you may have to sign up for a seat on that bus and probably will need to get a permission slip signed and returned before you go. Do this.
  • You should also be able to get a list of the participating colleges and universities from your high school guidance office. Get this.
  • Use this list to research schools that interest you. Ask yourself some basic questions-do you want to be in a city? How about a single sex school? A school affiliated with a certain religion? A school with a great football team? www.collegeboard.org has some great (and free) resources for narrowing down the college search process. Check them out.
  • After your research you should make a list of which school representatives you’d like to speak with at the fair. Make this list.
  • Also, make a list of questions that you’d like to ask each rep.
  • Plan to wear something comfortable. You won’t be interviewing with any schools, but you do want to make a good impression so keep this in mind when choosing your wardrobe.

At the fair (do’s and don’ts):

  • Don’t clump in a group with your friends. Really, don’t, it’s hard for others to get around you. The fair will be crowded
  • Don’t hide in the bathroom.
  • Put your phone away.
  • Do get a listing of schools and map if available. Also, grab a bag to put materials in.
  • Do look at your school list and seek out these reps.
  • Introduce yourself, shake hands and look the rep in the eye. This is good practice for life. It’s also polite.
  • Schools are often at tables that are arranged in alphabetical order. This makes it easier to find (and re-find) the schools on your list. You don’t have to start at the front of the alphabet, but have a plan so that you’re not spending the whole time walking around.
  • Ask each rep your prepared questions and be open to continuing the conversation if an answer sparks a new question.
  • Fill out info forms only for schools that you’d like to get mail from. Trust me, you will get a lot of mail-you don’t need to fill out these cards for every school in the room!
  • Take materials from schools that interest you. You don’t need to stuff your bag with materials from every school. It’s not Halloween and they usually don’t have candy.
  • Take a business card if you are thinking that you might like to apply to a school.
  • Thank the representative for their time; move away from the table and let others have a chance to learn about that fantastic school.

After the fair:

  • Email a quick thank you to the reps that you spoke with if you are interested in their school. This is why you grabbed a business card.
  • Look over the material that you collected. You may have a lot of stuff and it’s overwhelming, but you picked it up for a reason.
  • Do further research on the schools you liked. Check out their websites-that’s why they have them.

As for parents-some fairs are in the evening or on weekends. Let your child do the research and speak with representative. Perhaps you could provide transportation to the fair and become more involved when it’s time to visit specific schools.

As is true with most things, students who put a little bit of time in before the fair will definitely get more out of it. And you never know what application tips you might get while talking to these reps. I know that I got a few good ones yesterday!

College Process Doesn’t Take the Summer Off

Schools out-you’re free for eight weeks, right? Not so fast. Many rising seniors (high school graduation 2015) will have summer reading and/or other assignments so that they can hit the ground running for senior year. You should also be using this time off to continue to work on your college applications. Hopefully, you will have lots of time to relax, recharge, make some cash and enjoy family and friends, but it would also be an excellent idea to take some time for college planning. It doesn’t matter where you are with the whole college process-you can make many gains over the summer with a solid plan. Here are some of the things that you can do:

Brag Sheets-If your high school sends out brag sheets before the end of the school year, you will have all summer to work on these. If your school doesn’t give these to you until fall, you can jot down some notes so that you’ll be ready. This is what you need to think about:

  • School activities that you’ve participated in since freshman year, (think sports, clubs, drama, jazz band, debate…I think you get the picture).
  • Any leadership roles that you’ve held in said activities, (think captain, president, historian…).
  • Any outside of school activities that you’ve been heavily involved in, (think karate, community theater…).
  • Any consistent volunteering that you’ve done over the course of your high school career.
  • All paid employment-summer and school year, (babysitting counts).
  • All awards and honors that you’ve received, (all academic, all conference, honor roll).

College List-Hopefully you’ve given this some thought. Now is the time to shape a reasonable list, (no more than 12 schools) where you feel that you could be happy and successful in college. This list should include schools of varying selectivity, (schools you have a good shot at getting into and schools that might be bit harder),  and include a financial safety school-this is generally a state school.

College Visits-Summer is a good time to get out to visit schools simply because you probably have more time to hit the road. It’s always a good idea to see potential schools during the college school year, but getting a first look over the summer can be very valuable.

Test Prep-Do you need to retake the SAT? Subject tests? Make a plan for when you’d like to test and make a study plan for the summer while you’re at it.  Check out www.collegeboard.org for SAT info and free test prep materials.  All set with testing? Congrats!

Essay-If you are applying to schools that use the common app, you can get started on your essay now. The questions are the same as last year and can be found at:


You only need to pick one. Make sure that it’s between 250 and 650 words. Don’t plan to bang this out in an afternoon. A thoughtful essay will take several drafts.

Common App-You can open a common app account any time after Aug. 1 for the 2014-15 application season. It would be a great idea to do this while still on summer break because there are a lot of demographic questions and such. It could easily take an hour to fill this out. You can do parts of it and go back in later if you save your work. You will need to know things like where your parents went to college and what year they graduated.

If you have a clear plan going into the summer, you will save yourself a lot of aggravation in the fall.  Senior year is really busy and can be stressful so get done what you can over the summer. And be sure to save time for some fun!

Finish Strong-Colleges Care!

It’s mid-May and school will be wrapping up in the next month or so. High school graduation might be as soon as three weeks! We all know that it’s easy to let things slide at this point in the year, but please don’t. I know you have a lot going on…planning grad parties, acquiring summer jobs, sports, prom and just enjoying the finally warming weather.

Spring fever and senioritis can be very detrimental to your high school transcript-even if you’ve already been accepted and deposited into your college of choice. Here are some things to think about:

  • Seniors- Your college of choice will get your final transcript and they may rescind your acceptance if your grades drop dramatically. Additionally, there is always the very real possibility that you could take your foot off the accelerator and end up not getting credit for a class that you need to graduate. Not cool.
  • Juniors-You’ve been pushing yourselves  so hard during this very important year. It would really be too bad to blow it now by blowing off assignments and not studying for tests. AP classes do NOT end after the test. Follow all classes through to the end and you will be rewarded next year as you go through the college application process. Trust me.
  • Sophomores-You may be seeing seniors with a little more free time at this time of year-they are generally wrapping up classes when you still have at least a week or two to go. Don’t look at them and think that you’re out of the woods. You’ll get to where they are, but you need to wait ’till senior year. Be patient and do what needs to get done.
  • Freshmen-You’ve finally figured out what this high school thing is about and you’re looking forward to not being at the bottom of the totem pole in the fall. This is exciting, but not an excuse to not study for your finals!

The excitement in high schools at this time of year is practically palpable-it’s the best time of year! It’s just really important to take care of business. It might feel like you can’t do even one more thing, but push through the temptation to let things slide. You will enjoy your summer  so much more if you finish strong.

Fun Facts That I Learned on My Spring College Tour

With a nod to the ‘practice what you preach’ saying, I set aside some time in April do some college tours. Some of the tours were not within the April vacation week and I was given the full attention of my tour guide, while others were full of expectant faces of current juniors and their parents. I enjoyed them all…

Some fun facts that I discovered:

  • Polar bears are friendly (students and alum, that is. I didn’t meet any of the white furry creatures at Bowdoin)
  • The mall at UMaine is 1865 square feet-interestingly, the school was founded in 1865
  • Colby College is 100% carbon neutral-this is so impressive given the scope of central Maine winters!
  • Thomas College has the friendliest college president-shout out to Laurie  Lachance
  • Husson has a former Federal Agent teaching in the criminal justice program
  • Colby has free parking for students for all four years-how about that, city schools?
  • UMaine could hang a fully loaded Hummer from the ceiling of one of the classrooms in it’s new media building
  • Thomas is one of 11 schools with accreditation for sports management by the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA)
  • Unity College tracks bears… not the UMaine kind
  • Before graduation, it’s a Bowdoin tradition to go to the local donut shop at 4 AM (it’s when they make the donuts, you know)

What fun facts did you learn on your college tours?

The May 3rd SAT is right around the corner!

By now, many people may have heard talk about the ‘new’ SAT, college admission test. The test will still be administered by the CollegeBoard and not without controversy, but it’s not at all relevant to current Maine high school juniors who are mandated to take the ‘old’ SAT on May 3rd.

With this in mind, I’ve come up with a few suggestions and pointers to help students prepare for the test.

While the ‘new’ test will remove the penalty for wrong answers, this is NOT the case with the current test. You are deducted ¼ of a point for every wrong answer. This doesn’t sound like much, but there are lots of questions and wrong answers can add up and affect your score. Don’t guess if you can’t reasonably eliminate all but two options-skip it. Also, it makes sense to skip the harder math problems so that you have more time to concentrate on problems that you might actually have a shot at getting correct. Just be sure to check that your bubbles line up with the question you are working on. And you don’t want to skip too many as you do need correct answers to accumulate those precious points.

About half of the critical reading section is based on vocabulary. The ‘new’ test is changing what SAT words look like, but this won’t help you in May. The best way to increase your vocabulary is to read, but at this juncture, you might Google lists of SAT words and commit to learning a few each day. It’s also a great idea to go on the CollegeBoard website to check out the question of the day and practice questions. If you have your PSAT report, you can use your access code on www.readistep.collegeboard.org/student to see what types of questions you missed so that you can concentrate your studies in those areas. It’s also a great idea to take a practice test, but make sure that you time yourself so that you have a realistic feeling of how much time you will have per question on test day.

The essay is the newest part of the ‘old’ test and will be optional on the ‘new’ test, but this May you will still be expected to produce an intelligent response to a question that you’ve probably never thought about. And to do it in 25 minutes! A few tips here include: making sure that you write at least a page, include variety in your essay construction and word choices and by using lots of examples to prove your point. The essay scorers are looking at what you write as well as how well you write.

The test is long and you may not finish every section in the given amount of time. This is OK-you won’t be penalized for questions left blank. Just do the best you can. Get a good nights rest and eat a healthy breakfast on test day. Remember your number 2 pencils and approved calculator and bring a license or picture ID if your test site requires one for admission. Think of the test as a rite of passage and not as something you’d rather not do on a Saturday morning. Do your best and you’ll be fine.

Hands on Research-Making the Most of Your College Visit

The whole college process is a funny one. First, colleges want you to be interested in them. They send you lots of mail and emails. Admission reps want to talk with you at college fairs and when they visit your school. They tell you all the lovely things that they do when you visit. They want you to fall in love with them.

Later, after you apply, it seems that the tables turn. You are left waiting to see if the very colleges that you love will have you. It can be excruciating.

Finally, you are either accepted, denied or wait listed. It’s very exciting when you are accepted. The tables turn again and it’s your turn to decide where you will go. Colleges will once again send you mail and invite you to accepted student days to show you what they offer. It feels like a roller coaster of emotion. Is there any way to make this less tumultuous? It’s been said that it’s better to fall in ‘like’ with many colleges rather than to fall in ‘love’ with only one. This can be accomplished by doing your research and making the most of your initial college visits, which can begin as early as freshman or sophomore year.

Before you go: Plan your trip. Figure out which schools you’d like to visit and schedule tours. Make time to attend information sessions. You should plan on spending 2-3 hours at each school and tour only 2 schools a day. Once you’ve got your schedule it’s time to do your research. Go on all the schools websites and find some intelligent questions to ask. Don’t just ask questions that are readily available on the website-the school’s mascot is probably on the first page of the athletic section and probably not a great question.

On Campus: You’ve made it! Hopefully your GPS didn’t send you too far afield or construction at the school didn’t mess you up (it happens). First stop is admissions. Make sure that you sign in here. Some schools use this as a way to show that you demonstrated interest in them and believe it or not, in some cases this really does matter when it comes to a positive admission decision. Make sure that you attend an information session if offered. These are general and will answer some of your questions. Take the tour. This a great way to get a feel for the campus.

Questions for students and tour guides (some of these are appropriate for admissions as well): You may get different answers to questions depending on who you ask so it makes sense to have questions ready for students and admissions. Don’t forget your camera (you can have your phone out for pics, but please don’t text all the way through the tour!) When taking pics of schools it’s a great idea to take a picture of a sign first so that you will know where you were when you go back through.

  • Why did you choose this school?
  • What other schools did you apply to?
  • What’s the best thing about this school?
  • If you could change one thing about this school what would it be?
  • Do you feel safe on campus?
  • Are office hours for professors convenient and easy to access?
  • How big are the biggest classes?
  • How many classes are taught by grad assistants? (Not applicable to schools that don’t have grad programs).
  • Do you participate in study groups or use tutoring services?
  • Tell me about study abroad programs.
  • How hard is it to get internships?
  • How many hours are you in class and how many hours do you study a week?
  • Where do you study?
  • Do students bring laptops to class?
  • Are freshmen required to live on campus?
  • Are the dorms co-ed? Are the bathrooms?
  • Are there quiet hours in the dorms?
  • How are roommates assigned?
  • Are you allowed to have overnight guests?
  • How is the social life? Best place to hang out on campus?
  • How is the food?
  • Can freshmen have cars on campus?
  • How are the intramurals?
  • Are you involved in student groups?
  • What are the big campus events (Homecoming, etc)?
  • Do you have any unique school traditions?
  • Is there Greek life on campus? What %?
  • How is the gym? Is there an extra charge for fitness classes? Is it super busy?
  • How many students participate in sports?
  • Can non arts majors take part in visual and performing arts performances and classes?

After the formal part of the day: After the tour you should visit places on campus that the tour guide  didn’t take you. Maybe you want to see the library in the science building or the performing arts center was too far away to make sense for the tour. If it’s of interest to you then take the time to see it. Take time to eat in the dining hall or go to the union for a snack. Take time to speak with students. You might want to send your parents to the book store while you do this if you intend to get a straight answer about the party scene on campus. Pick up a copy of the student newspaper and bring it home to check out later.

Back in the car: Make sure that you take time to write down your impressions and notes about the campus. It’s amazing how they all start to blend together after a few tours!  Ask yourself if you could see yourself attending this school. Ask yourself the really hard question-are you a good match academically (scores, GPA…) Clear your mind for the next visit.

Be present and enjoy these tours-it’s an investment in time for your future!

I’m in… now what?

Well, it’s after April 1st so all college decision letters and emails have been sent. And, unless you are stuck on a dreaded wait list, it’s time to make a choice. Even if you are wait listed at your dream school, you need to make a choice and you need to do it by May 1 to insure that your place is saved.

To make your choice, you must send a deposit to your intended school. For ethical reasons, you should only deposit at one college or university. This is, of course, unless you are wait listed-then you can save yourself a place, and probably forfeit that deposit later if your wait list ship comes in. If you double, triple or even quadruple deposit (who even has that kind of money?), you are taking spaces from other students and that’s not cool. Plus, doing  this only drags on the decision making process because you can only attend  1 school at a time!

The very best way to narrow down your choices and make an informed decision (no, it’s not throwing darts) is to do another college visit. You’ve waited months to find out if certain schools want you to attend and now the tables have turned. You need to decide which of these great schools will be your home for the next 4 years.

Accepted Student Days are the perfect vehicle  to test drive a potential school and you should plan to visit each and every one.  Don’t be surprised if your priorities have shifted during the long waiting period and prepare to visit with a fresh set of eyes. Here are some tips:

Academics-Use your visit time to attend a class and/or speak with a professor. Talk with students in your intended major to see  how they like it, how accessible professors are and how easy (or hard) it is to register for required classes.

Student Life-Some schools will be happy to facilitate an overnight visit for you. Do this if you can. If you can’t spend a night, at least get to know the campus. Eat in the cafe, read in the library (even if you don’t think you’ll ever use it), and check out the union. The union is usually the center for all campus activity. Check out the bulletin boards and club and activity offices to see what goes on. Talk with students about weekends-do students stay on campus or go home every weekend? Check out school sports-can you get tickets to big events? Are there intra-murals that you’d be comfortable participating in? Greek life, an outdoor club…I think you get the picture.

Town-Look around to see how far off campus you might need to go to do the things you like. If the nearest ski mountain is 10 hours away, I think it’s safe to say that you won’t be on the slopes by 9 am every Saturday and Sunday all winter long.

Arts-What is the visual and performing arts scene on campus? Can you participate in the arts if you’re not an art major? Is there anything going on in a nearby town?

Financial-Can you make the numbers work? Might want to drop in on the Financial Aid office while you’re on campus.

Health-Does the health center fit your needs? Think about everything from mental health to sexual health to the flu.

This is a lot to think about and you really should try to visit/revisit every school that you are considering. This might be your first big adult decision so take you time, do your research and trust your instincts.



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Contact Information

Duley College Counseling, LLC
124 Court Street
Farmington, ME 04938


ellie@duleycollegecounseling.com www.duleycollegecounseling.com