207: 17 Things to Do Before Going to College

testing anxiety

Download a PDF of The Roommate Contract


Harlan Cohen is a New York Times bestselling author, nationally syndicated advice columnist, and speaker who has visited over 500 high school and college campuses.  He is the author of six books including, The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into In College, The Naked Roommate: For Parents Only, and Dad’s Expecting Too!  

Harlan is a frequent guest on television and radio programs.  He is the founder of Best First Year, an online college readiness and success program for high school and college students. You can find him on social media @HarlanCohen and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/HelpMeHarlan and you can watch his TEDx talk at www.HarlanCohen.com/TEDx

On this podcast Harlan offers so much great advice from:

  • A simple exercise to help set you up for a great freshman year

  • How to find your people on campus

  • Whether or not you should break up with your high school sweetheart (what Harlan says might surprise you)

  • Three great questions to put on your contract with your roommate

  • On-campus resources that he (and I!) wish we’d known more about when we were in college

  • Harlan’s “three-box” strategy for packing


[0:35] Who is Harlan Cohen?
[2:08] How does Harlan get the inside scoop on college-going folks?
[4:16] Tip #1 Identify what you want
[5:57] Tip #2 Tell the story of your first year (as if it’s already happened)
[9:19] Tip #3 Pick 3 clubs or organizations that speak to you
[11:04] Tip #4 Find your 5 friends in your corner
[14:06] Tip #5 Don’t break up with your high school sweetheart!
[15:47] Tip #6 Break up with your high school sweetheart!
[17:45] Tip #7 Take advantage of welcome week
[20:58] Tip #8 Read the campus newspaper
[22:22] Tip #9 Am I the roommate from Hell?
[26:25] Tip #10 Don’t be mean to those we’ll miss the most
[28:14] Tip #11 Check out the school’s free services
[30:47] Tip #12 Look for more money!
[34:45] Tip #13 Make rules for going out
[38:57] Tip #14 Get a box of medicine
[40:06] Tip #15 Have a scary *honest* conversation with your parents
[42:50] Tip #16 The three box strategy
[43:53] Tip #17 Plan to be an imperfectionist
[45:40] The Universal Rejection Truth
[46:50] The Best First Year

206: 30 Ways to Center Equity And Justice Today w/ Marie Bigham

testing anxiety

Here are the practical guides that this podcast inspired:

Download a PDF resource of the 30 ways to share with your colleagues, friends, and family.

30 Ways to Center Justice and Equity Blog Post


For this episode, which is Part 2 of 3 on my series on access and equity, I interview Marie Bigham of ACCEPT. Marie and I jam on 30 practical ways that you can increase your participation in equity and justice in the world of college admissions and beyond. Whether you’re a parent, student, counselor, or admissions rep, you’ll find something for you.

Marie Bigham is the founder of ACCEPT: Admissions Community Cultivating Equity and Peace Today, a social media-based action group for the admissions profession, which received the Excellence in Education Award from the National Association for College Admissions Counseling AND was honored by Facebook at the 2017 Facebook Community Summit

With over 20 years in the profession, Marie has served on the Board of Directors for the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC); as Vice Chair of the Board for Association of College Counselors in Independent Schools (ACCIS); and on the Board of Directors of Texas Association of College Admissions Counseling (TACAC).

Marie is also the Director of College Counseling at Isidore Newman School in New Orleans.

On this episode we discuss:

  • Why you should maybe consider not using the word “ally”

  • How to stand up for others, even when -- or especially when -- it’s most uncomfortable

  • 10 specific ways counselors and colleges can help build a more inclusive environment on their campuses

  • Where anyone can find a treasure trove of resources on racial equity

Hope this inspires!


[0:42] Who is Marie Bigham?
[2:36] What is the CERPP Conference?
[4:20] What does Maire mean by “seeing the data?”
[5:15] Setting the context - getting started
[5:32] Number 1 - “Ally”
[6:34] Number 2 - Diversity or Equity?
[7:23] Number 3 - Voting
[8:14] Number 4 - Bystanders
[9:14] Number 5 - The Hechinger Report
[9:58] Number 6 - Teen Vouge
[10:25] Number 7 - Race/Related
[10:52] Number 8 - Blavity
[11:30] Number 9 - Intellectualism
[12:58] Number 10 - Lobbying
[14:00] Number 11 - Racial Equity Institute Bibliography
[14:36] Number 12 - Panels and groups
[15:29] Number 13 - Standing up for others
[17:43] Number 14 - When tragedy strikes
[19:29] Number 15 - Unknown high schools
[20:41] Number 16 - Equal Access to Honors, AP, & IB
[21:41] Number 17 - All educational opportunities
[22:49] Number 18 - School meetings with caregivers
[24:16] Number 19 - Financial aid information
[25:48] Number 20 - Visiting high schools
[26:48] Number 21 - The culture of high schools
[28:07] Number 22 - Images in your workspace
[29:45] Number 23 - Fee waivers
[30:28] Number 24 - Test scores
[31:13] Number 25 - Ambassador/Tour programs
[32:19] Number 26 - Absentee voter laws
[33:08] Number 27 - College Culture
[34:18] Number 28 - Hiring an independent counselor
[35:28] Number 29 - Sharing Skills
[37:10] Number 30 - Accountability

205: That One Time a University Revoked More Than 60 Full Scholarships (And What You Can Do About It)

testing anxiety


This episode is special. Why? It’s part 1 of 3 on a series I’m doing on access and equity. Now, if you’ve followed my work or know me personally you know that access and equity are a HUGE part of why I do what I do. And sometimes I hear folks saying, “I’d like to do more, I’m just not sure where to start.” or “I want to help. But how?” Through this podcast series--and through other webinars as well as a mini-course that I’ll be releasing later this year--my goal is to provide more opportunities and tools for helping people do more good in the world. #let’sgettowork

For part of this series, I interview Joan Liu, a counselor at a high school in Southeast Asia, who has been working on the front lines of access and equity issues during her career. Wait ‘til you hear her story: this past April, the University of Texas at Tyler first accepted more than 60 Nepali students with full scholarships and then--get this--they emailed those students to say that, due to a clerical error, those students would no longer have a full ride at UT Tyler. Like: sorry.

Like many of us in the counseling community, Joan couldn’t believe this when she heard it. She decided to do something about it.

That story--and what happened next--is what we discuss on this podcast. This story was picked up by the Washington Post, the Chronicle of Higher Ed and they are seeking help for these students--we’ll let you know at the end how you can help. Enjoy.


[2:17] Meet Joan Liu
[3:10] What happened: The UT Tyler scholarship debacle with a group of Nepali students
[6:00] How did this happen?
[6:42] How likely is it for international students to get full scholarships to US universities?
[9:18] Who these students are, and how they were impacted
[10:05] How the “Nepal Justice League” formed in response
[16:30] Where things stand now
[19:04] How can folks help?

Go to Everest Ed Fund to donate, offer help, or reach out for more information.

  • Long-term, Joan and her team are raising 250K (covering 4 years) to make sure students can pay fees from year to year; and can graduate from college.

  • Short-term, they need about 7K to get two kids to be able to move into sophomore year.

How else can you help?

  • Donate to Everest Education Fund

  • Sponsor a student (email Joan Liu: joan.liu@uwcsea.edu.sg )

  • Help us amplify this story

    • Do you know someone who is in media; runs a YouTube Channel; runs a podcast; is a documentary filmmaker; is a student filmmaker? Joan wants to talk to them!

  • Make an introduction. Link us to someone you know who might care enough to make a transformational gift.

Relevant Articles:

Awesome humans mentioned in this episode:

203: 10 Ways Parents Can Support Their Students Through The College Application Process

testing anxiety


show notes

When it comes to helping parents navigate the college application process, I can’t think of a better guide than Lisa Heffernan. Not only has she been through this process herself a few times, but she and Mary Dell Harrington are the co-founders of one of the largest online parent communities, Grown and Flown. Their Facebook group has, as of this recording, over 50,000 members. The group offers parents support, guidance, and just a ton of great ideas for other parents who have gone through or are currently going through this process. Oh, and by the way last year Lisa and Mary Dell were named 2 of People magazine’s 25 Women Changing the World. On this podcast we discuss:

  • Why parents should stop telling their students that there are tons of school and to not worry about where they will go

  • Why (and how) to limit the amount of time you spend talking about college

  • When the best time to start talking about college is

  • The three most stressful parts of college admissions for students--and how to mitigate that stress

  • What Lisa is most and least proud of as a parent when it came to helping her own kids through the college application process



2:13 Introducing Lisa
2:58 How Grown and Flown started
5:03 Why students entering college is a difficult time for parents
5:19 How important time management is for students
5:58 How can parents be a part of the solution?
7:17 Why parents should stop telling their students that there are tons of school and to not worry about where they will go
8:43 The key to making the school-finding process much easier
9:13 Constrain the amount of time you spend talking about college
10:33 Don’t talk about how easy it was to get into college in the 80s
11:53 The importance of starting the college process no sooner than 11th grade
12:58 The #1 source of accurate and useful information about college admissions
15:02 How to help students in ninth and tenth grade
15:40 The three most stressful parts of college admissions for students
18:31 Grown and Flown: the Facebook community Lisa cofounded (now with 50K+ members)
18:55 How the group started and what surprised her the most about it
20:36 How the group can help with unique problems
24:00 Lisa’s most and least proud moments as a parent helping her kids through the college application journey
26:25 One thing that Lisa wishes she’d done differently
27:23 The help that Lisa’s family received on the college essays
29:21 How college coaches can make the process easier for students
30:12 Other kinds of success besides admissions that can come out this process
34:22 Two things that Lisa wants to leave with students
36:40 Lisa’s Show and Tell: a yellow legal pad
37:58 Ethan’s Show and Tell: How Not to Die
39:32 How to connect with Grown and Flown

204: What You Need to Know About Standardized Tests and Mistakes to Avoid

testing anxiety

show notes

This is Ethan Sawyer (aka College Essay Guy) and my goal is to bring more ease, joy and purpose into the college application process. Welcome to the College Essay Guy podcast where it is my job to interview the most brilliant minds in the college admissions world, to analyze their genius, and then break it down for you into a series of practical, actionable steps that you can take whether you're applying to college yourself or helping someone else apply.

This episode is the third and final part in this miniseries on standardized tests. Part One was on test optional schools and the test optional movement, Part Two was on how to reduce testing anxiety and this episode is basically on everything else. My guest, Adam Ingersoll, has spent more than 25 years working in SAT and ACT prep for more than 100,000 students and he’s seen it all. In this episode you’ll hear Adam’s take on:

  • What’s a “good” score?

  • How much do SAT scores matter?

  • Do students even need standardized tests?

  • When should students take the test?

  • What’s the difference between the SAT and the ACT?

  • Do students need the optional essay?

  • The most important things to know about subject tests

  • A few words about the PSAT

  • Important notes for students with learning differences

  • How students should define success in college admissions testing

And all that in a breezy 45 minutes. Let’s get to it.


1:51 Who is Adam Ingersoll?
2:38 Adam talks about what it was like to be on the USC basketball team
4:07 How Adam got into test prep
6:36 Are standardized tests evil?
8:32 What’s a good score?
11:41 How much do SAT scores matter?
14:28 Do students even need standardized tests?
16:54 When should students take the test?
21:10 What’s the difference between the SAT and the ACT?
25:03 Do students need the optional essay?
27:03 How many times should students retake standardized tests?
29:56 What the highest number of times you’ve ever heard of a student taking the SAT or ACT?
31:35 Does Adam enjoy taking the SAT?
34:02 The most important things to know about subject tests
36:22 A few words about the PSAT
37:35 Important notes for students with learning differences
38:26 Compass Prep’s guide to testing accommodations
41:22 How students should define success in college admissions testing
43:56 Show and Tell
46:50 Adam makes a confession


Here are some of the most common standardized test questions asked and answered:

  1. What’s a good score at XYZ College?

  2. Do I even need the tests? What’s test-optional all about?

  3. When should I take the tests?

  4. How do I know which test - SAT or ACT - is best for me?

  5. What’s the difference between the SAT and ACT anyway?

  6. What about the SAT and ACT have an optional essay--do I need that?

  7. How many times should I take the test, will colleges see all my scores, and does that even matter?

  8. What about Subject Tests? Who needs them, which ones should I take and when, and what’s considered a good score?

  9. What is the relevance of the PSAT? How does National Merit work?

  10. Tell me about accommodations for students with learning differences.

The Most Awesome Test Prep Resource I (Ethan) Have Seen:

Guide to College Admission Testing - What is it? The Guide is a nearly 100 page resource addressing every question imaginable about college admission testing.

What can students do with the guide?

  • It’s really helpful both broadly and narrowly.

  • Reading it cover to cover will provide a complete perspective on what these tests are all about, how they are actually used by colleges, what scores do and don’t say about a student’s ability, and what a reasonable and successful approach to test prep looks like. And you’ll know how to use it as a resource when specific questions come up along the way

  • Specifically, the college admission testing world is full of lists. There are many finicky questions that tie back to testing policies and how scores are reported and used. Testing requirements, restrictions, and rules vary widely from college to college. The Guide and companion resources on our website keep track of every detail.

202: 25 Ways to Reduce Testing Anxiety

testing anxiety


show notes

This podcast is special for a few reasons:

  1. It’s with Jed Applerouth, who is not only a close friend but also knows a TON about testing (he taught test prep for years, runs a Applerouth Tutoring and is one of the leading voices in our industry on test prep).
  2. Jed has a PhD in Educational Psychology and is a research nerd (he’d laugh if I said this, and probably agree with me) and he’s studied facets of student cognition, memory, motivation, and learning strategies… but having said that:
  3. This episode is incredibly practical. I asked Jed for 10 ways to reduce test anxiety and he gave me 25.
  4. It’s a video. So if you’re only listening to the audio version, go to collegeessayguy.com/podcast and click on the “Jed Applerouth” episode. Or just go to YouTube and search “College Essay Guy Test Anxiety Jed” and you’ll find it.

On this episode we discuss, among other things:

  • How common testing anxiety is (you may be surprised)
  • How anxiety functions in the body
  • Strategies for changing how you think about anxiety #reframing
  • Some ways you can understand and adjust self-talk
  • What cognitive rehearsal is and how it can help
  • A brief intro to the emotional freedom technique
  • How regulating your breathing can help

I loved listening to Jed drop these 25 bits of wisdom--I hope you do too.


2:45 Who is Jed Applerouth--and what is “Pink Fury”?
5:31 Why is anxiety in education important?
8:45 How common is testing anxiety? (#1)
9:39 Where does anxiety come from? (#2)
10:05 How anxiety functions in the body (#3)
11:39 Draw confidence from your other strengths (#4)
13:08 The power of self-care (#5)
13:45 Writing about your testing anxiety (#6)
14:38 Change how you think about anxiety (#7)
15:58 Build on tiny victories (#8)
17:12 Understanding and adjusting self-talk (#9)
18:10 Correcting maladaptive self-talk (#10)
19:41 Speaking to yourself in the third-person (#11)
21:00 Personifying negative thoughts (#12)
22:05 Cognitive rehearsal (#13)
23:07 Regulate your breathing (#14)
24:40 What is HeartMath? (#15)
25:21 The power of exercise (#16)
26:07 Holistic relaxation (#17)
26:32 Sleeping enough (#18)
27:43 Posture (#19)
29:13 Tapping: the emotional freedom technique (#20)
30:37 Exposure to nature (#21)
31:00 Human connection and physical touch (#22)
32:10 Grounding yourself in physical objects (#23)
32:41 Using mental images or wisdom figures (#24)
33:25 Replicate testing conditions as closely as possible (#25)
35:05 Jed’s favorite stress-reducing techniques
38:05 Ethan’s favorite stress-reducing techniques
39:08 One final bonus technique (#26)
40:05 The key to integrating these 26 tips
42:46 Jed’s show and tell
43:38 Ethan’s show and tell

201: Test Optional Admissions 101: What, Why, Where, Who?

test optional


This episode is the first episode in Season 2 (yay!) and the first in a three-episode miniseries on testing. In this episode I sit down with Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director of FairTest: the national Center for Fair & Open Testing, a non-profit that advocates for better forms of student assessment.

Why is this podcast important? Some students assume they have to take the SAT or ACT or that all schools require these tests for all students--but that just ain't true, as Bob will tell you. In fact, Bob's got a list of test optional schools that he updates regularly, which I’ll let him tell you about.

On this episode we discuss:

  • Are standardized tests evil?
  • What are some other standardized test myths that people tend to believe?
  • To what extent does the SAT or ACT measure what students need to know in college?
  • Important statistics from “Crossing the Finish Line,” a book that outlines the research around how well standardized test scores predict actual student performance in life and in college.
  • What is the difference between “test optional” and “test flexible”?
  • If students don’t submit standardized test scores, does this have an impact on scholarships and financial aid?
  • Does applying to a college without a test score hurt a student’s chances?
  • Advice for students with test scores that are “just okay”

I love the perspective Bob brings and I think this conversation is a great way to begin this little mini-series on testing (and Season 2)! Enjoy.


2:48 Who is Bob Schaeffer?
3:20 Are standardized tests evil?
4:24 What is the best determiner of high test scores?
5:50 Busting a few myths on standardized testing
7:05 To what extent does the SAT/ACT measure what students need to know in college?
7:30 How much do colleges need standardized tests in order to make their decisions?
9:52 Important statistics from “Crossing the Finish Line” 
11:06 What is the difference between “test optional” and “test flexible”?
12:13 What is FairTest?
13:23 The FairTest List of Test Optional Schools
14:13 Why do colleges choose to go test-optional?
15:21 What kinds of students benefit from colleges being test optional?
17:11 What do colleges ask for instead of test scores?
20:22 If students don’t submit standardized test scores, does this have an impact on scholarships and financial aid?
21:52 Does applying to a college without a test score hurt a student’s chances?
23:15 Advice for students with test scores that are “just okay”
25:35 Advice for homeschooled and international students who want to apply test optional
27:09 Advice for students looking for schools using the test optional school list
28:06 How to create a great college list
29:25 FairTest resources for counselors and colleges
30:28 Why colleges being test optional is so important to Bob
34:42 Advice from Bob for students who still plan to take standardized tests


124: College Interview Tips and Strategies

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This episode is an interview… on interviews! Monica James--whom you may’ve heard previously on the podcast in the episode on Demonstrated Interest--absolutely crushes it in this interview, offering more practical advice than you’ll find in most weekend workshops on this topic. And it’s no wonder: for years she’s been teaching people (and in particular high school students) how to give great interviews. We cover, among other things:

  • Why do colleges give interviews?
  • Can a bad interview actually hurt your application chances?
  • How do you prepare for the interview?
  • What’s the one thing that colleges are looking for above all else?
  • How do you answer the “Why this college” interview question?
  • How do you answer the Strengths and Weaknesses interview Question?
  • How do you answer the Tell Me About Your Reading Life or “What books have you read recently” question?
  • What is the hardest interview question and how do you handle it?
  • What if you get a “bad” interviewer?
  • What if you’re asked a question in an interview that you truly don’t know the answer to?
  • How much does body language matter in an interview?
  • What should you wear to an interview?
  • How do I handle a Skype or Phone Interview?
  • How do I set up an interview?
  • How should I practice?
  • What about Scholarship Interviews—are they different?


Who is Monica James? [2:26] 
How Monica first started coaching college interviewing? [3:35] 
An anecdote about the power of storytelling [5:48] 4:07
Why colleges give interviews [4:38] 
Can an interview hurt an applicant? [5:29] 
Which schools require an interview? [6:23] 
Why students should do suggested interviews [7:30] 
How do students prepare for an interview? [9:55] 
The formula for preparing an excellent interview question answer [11:26] 
One thing colleges are looking for [16:50] 12:12
How less intellectual students show intellectual vitality [17:45] 13:05
How students prepare for the “Why Us” question [14:33] 
How to prepare for the “what is your weakness” question [17:23] 
How to answer the “what is your reading life like?” question [21:17] 
The hardest interview question [23:53] 
What if your interviewer isn’t that great? [27:47] 
Monica James’ favorite questions [31:45] 
What to do if you have no idea how to answer a question [34:48] 
Advice on body language, what to wear, and handshakes [38:24] 
What to do if your interviewer goes in for the hug [40:57] 
What to know about eye contact and fidgeting [41:36] 
How to prepare for a Skype or phone interview [44:04] 
How to setup an interview [45:50] 
Who to practice an interview with [47:31] 
How to prepare for scholarship interviews [50:25] 
How to be charming [52:27] 
Develop questions to ask the interviewer [55:00] 
Monica’s Show and Tell [57:57] 
Ethan’s Show and Tell [59:23] 


123: Should You Apply Early Decision or Regular Decision? (And the Chart That Can Help You Decide)

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This is episode three of three with the amazing Jeff Levy and Jennie Kent. Last episode you heard from Jennie on Which Schools Are the Most Generous With Financial Aid… with International Students and on the episode before that you heard Jeff talking about which schools are most generous with domestic students (i.e. students applying from the US). 

But this one is my favorite. 

And it’s on a controversial topic: Should you apply Early Decision or not? Is there a statistical advantage to applying early or not? When making this decision, it might help to know what the regular decision acceptance rate is for a school and what the Early Decision acceptance rate for a school is and then compare those numbers. But imagine doing that for all the schools you’re applying to. In fact, imagine doing that for over 200 schools. Wouldn’t it be better if someone had done that work for you? 

That’s just what Jeff and Jennie have done. They spent weeks--maybe months--last year poring over college admissions websites, calling admissions reps, asking for their numbers so that they could put together for you, in a neat little spreadsheet, all this information. And then they did it again this year!

  • Why do such a thing, you ask? That’s the first thing we cover on this episode. After that we discuss: 
  • Why did they choose the metrics they chose (i.e. why do these numbers matter)?
  • What are some of the dangers of misinterpreting this data
  • Who is early decision right for and who is it not right for?

And, of course:

  • How can you use this chart practically when applying to college?  


What the Early Decision and Regular Decision Acceptance Rate Chart is [7:29] 
What these terms means and why this chart is awesome [10:58]
How much work did you put into creating this chart? [9:56]
Why did you pick these specific metrics? [11:10]
What the percentage of students accepted early decision tells you about the school [13:07]
The danger of misinterpreting this data [14:47]
Why is this resource important in the admissions process? [16:03]
Who is early decision right for and who is it not right for? [17:02]
How can this chart help students practically in the process? [20:33]
What resources do you recommend to students for developing a college list? [22:06]
How to practically use the chart in your process [27:15]
What is early decision II? [30:10]
Should I apply early decision or not? [30:40]
Do you tell your students to write your regular admission essays after or before they hear back from their early decision schools? [35:47]
Jennie and Jeff: if you were applying to school again now, where would you apply? [40:30]
Ethan: if you were applying to school again, where would you go? [42:13]
Show and Tell [44:16]


122: Which Schools Are the Most Generous With Financial Aid? (International Version)

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This is part two of three in my series with Jeff Levy and Jennie Kent. In our last episode we covered which schools are most generous with financial aid for domestic students (i.e students applying from within the US), while the episode you’re about to hear, with Jennie Kent, covers which schools are most generous with financial aid for international students (i.e. students applying from outside the US).

Jennie and Jeff have painstakingly pored over many many college websites and talked over the phone with many many colleges to put together a spreadsheet that lists over 400 colleges and not only what their total cost of attendance is (because that’s easy to find), but what percentage of financial need they meet, and--get this--what percentage of students receive merit aid from the school AND what the average merit aid award is. So: how much money does the school give to international students and to how many students per year.

On this episode I talk with Jennie about:

  • Why she created the chart in the first place

  • She explains why your student doesn’t have to be incredible in order to get merit aid

  • How much students’ ability to pay matters in admissions

  • How to use the chart, including how Jennie walks students through a consultation

  • Why students might decline to ask for merit-based aid


Who is Jennie Kent? [2:43]
How Jennie got from kids books to educational consulting [4:14]
Why Jennie created this resource in the first place [8:43]
What is the chart and why is it useful? [10:17]
Why your student doesn’t have to be incredible in order to get merit aid [17:00]
A quick run-down of two important financial aid concepts [17:26]
How much does students’ ability to pay matter in admissions? [20:26]
Examples of how students have used the chart successfully [23:30]
How an international student with some financial need would use the chart [27:02]
How to calculate how much need you might have [28:54]
Why students might decline to ask for merit-based aid [31:34]
How Jennie first walks students through a consultation [32:16]
What international students should know about applying to US schools [33:44]
Jennie, why do you do what you do? [36:39]
Jennie’s Show and Tell [38:51]
Ethan’s Show and Tell [40:57


121: Which Schools Are the Most Generous With Financial Aid? (US Version)

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I’m super excited about this episode as it’s part one of three in a series of incredible resources put together by my beautiful colleagues Jeff Levy and Jennie Kent. The first resource (which is the topic of this podcast that you’re about to hear) is a spreadsheet with a list of over 400 colleges and tells you what their total cost of attendance is, what percentage of financial need they meet--get this--what percentage of students receive merit aid AND what the average merit aid award is. Yeah, kind of nuts. I’m so so grateful to Jeff and Jennie for putting this information together. 

This episode is with Jeff Levy and covers financial aid for students who are applying to college in the US and who are from the US (in other words domestic applicants). The next episode covers how much financial aid is given to students applying from outside the US (in other words international applicants) and that interview is with Jennie Kent, since that’s her specialty. For the third episode I interview both Jeff and Jennie and they share with you perhaps their greatest resource… which I’ll tell you about on that episode.

On this episode Jeff and I discuss this rad resource on which schools are most generous with financial aid and after he shares with us his story, we discuss: 

  • Three huge myths that students and parents have about financially planning for college

  • Why parents should ignore the school’s sticker price

  • Which schools meet 100% of demonstrated need (and what that means)

  • A tool for figuring out how much money schools offer

  • What Jeff believes is the biggest problem with the financial aid process

  • Why Jeff created this resource in the first place and, most importantly…

  • How to use this tool (along with a few other resources) to decide where to attend


Who is Jeff Levy? [3:24]
What working in Hollywood taught Jeff about life [4:32]
How Jeff got into education [5:19]
What Jeff loves about college admissions [7:58]
Jeff busts a huge college admissions myth [9:18]
Why 529 is a good plan for saving for college [11:15]
Why parents should ignore the sticker price of schools [12:20]
How much money Ivy League (and other selective schools) generally give in merit aid [15:10]
An incredibly useful tool for gauging how much aid schools offer [17:41]
What is the Common Data Set? [21:28]
Super helpful information provided by the Common Data Set [22:48]
The #1 problem with the financial aid process according to Jeff [23:33]
How to use Jeff’s spreadsheet and other important resources when deciding where to go [27:20]
How to figure out what your estimated family contribution (EFC) is [31:35]
How the CSS Profile and FAFSA are different [33:18]
Given how much time it took to create this resource (I ask Jeff), was it worth it? Will he and Jennie continue to update it each year? [35:39]
Jeff’s Show and Tell [37:12]
Ethan’s Show and Tell [


120: College List Hacking: Better Fit, Less Time, More Fun

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On this episode I interview Anne Wager, who used to work for many years in data and technology but made the transition to counseling and, as she puts it, “out of desperation”, developed a set of cards that she uses with students to help them identify, not just their preferences for what they’re looking for in a college, but what she called “deeper preferences”.

We’ll explore what she means by deeper preferences, explain why they’re important, talk about common mistakes that students make when picking colleges, and how parents can best support their students. All this and more. Enjoy!


Who is Anne Wager? [1:15]
Why Anne created the Corsava Cards [4:46]
Common mistakes students make when picking colleges [6:50]
What the Corsava Cards can do [8:47]
How different counselors use the cards [15:36]
What does “Corsava” mean? [19:21]
How the cards have evolved over time [20:45]
What the color coding means for the cards [22:26]
How the online version is different [24:55]
How adding definitions to cards has helped students working online [29:35]
How parents have responded to this process [31:44]
Advice for counselors working with helicopter parents [34:14]
How students who don’t have a counselor to work with can help themselves [36:50]
Anne’s Show and Tell [41:45]
Ethan’s Show and Tell [43:50]
Anne’s final thoughts [46:05]


119: How to Improve Your Personal Statement in 20 Minutes

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This episode represents part four of four in my epic mini-series with Tutor Ted and in this one I share what steps to take to turn your essay from “just okay” to “great.” Specifically, though, I share:

  • What I believe the qualities of a great college essay are
  • An example essay that demonstrates those four qualities
  • A step-by-step process for bringing more of each of those qualities into your essay
  • Lots of examples for all the qualities I discuss
  • Even (get this) a step-by-step process for how to make your reader cry
  • Finally, some advice to parents and teachers offering essay feedback

FYI: You’ll hear Ted’s voice at the start, not mine, since he was interviewing me for this one. Enjoy.


Qualities in a great college essay [1:05]
The hard part about writing a great college essay [1:26]
An overview of the four qualities of a great college essay, according to Ethan [2:23]
An example personal statement that demonstrates these qualities [5:23] 
How to make your decent essay better [11:38]
An example of how the example personal statement could better show her values [13:30]
How vulnerability can make your essay stronger [15:49]
Three examples of vulnerability in student essays [16:30]
Why be vulnerable in an essay? [17:40]
How to find your own unresolvable conflicts [19:28]
One great way to be vulnerable [21:25]
How to bring insight into your personal statement [22:33]
An example of insight in a student essay [22:50]
Three steps to improving your craft [25:20]
A step-by-step process for making your reader cry [28:05]
A quick word of advice to parents and teachers offering essay feedback [30:20


118: Who is the College Essay Guy?

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This is part three of my four-part series with Ted Dorsey (aka Tutor Ted). On the last two episodes I interviewed Ted, while on this episode (and on the next one), Ted turns the tables on and interviews me. On this episode Ted just wanted to give folks a chance to get to know me better, so we discussed:

  • How I ended up as the College Essay Guy (Spoiler: that wasn’t the plan)
  • What applying to college was like for me
  • How I learned the importance of asking good questions
  • Why I never tell students to “write in their voice”
  • How I believe writing your essay can actually change your self-image
  • What it’s like working with me one-on-one


How I came to be the College Essay Guy [1:44 ]
Surprising similarities between Ted and my stories [4:58]
My earlier days applying to college [5:12]
If I had gotten admissions help at 17… [7:16]
How I learned the importance of asking good questions [7:50]
How I use the Essence Object Exercise [10:44]
How writing your essay can change your self-image [11:40]
“What is your story?” and other bad questions to ask students [13:47]
Why telling students to “write in their voice” is bad writing advice [14:25]
Two great stories about awesome students I worked with [15:54]
My approach to working with students one-on-one [21:11]
The importance of picking a great essay topic [27:28


117: How to Improve Your ACT Score By 2 Points in 20 Minutes

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Typically my job is to take some of the most awesome and rad people in the college admissions world (I’m not sure if there is a difference, but I’m sure there is), analyze their genius, and break it down for you into practical and actionable steps whether you’re applying to college yourself or helping someone else apply. But this time, I’ve handed the reins over to my guest Ted Dorsey (AKA Tutor Ted), who has scored perfectly on the SAT, ACT, and PSAT, and let him do the podcast, where he’s going to offer up clear steps to improving your ACT score--in less time than it takes to bake a potato. He’ll dish up tips on how to use your calculator during the ACT, the importance of math vocabulary, why you need to be selective in your focus in the science section, and why writing a lot for the writing test can help. Even more tips to come! Stay tuned.


The difference between short-term and long-term strategies [1:50]
A free course at TutorTed.com [3:24]
The #1 tip for narrowing down answer choices on the English section [3:49]
How commas can tip you off to the correct answer choice [4:20]
How underlining the most important part of the question can help [5:12]
Take advantage of programs on your calculator [6:37]
The power of math vocabulary [7:31]
When given a complex formula questions, plug into the numbers into the appropriate spots [8:50]
The most important mnemonic to know on the math section [10:09]
Sacrifice quality for speed on the Reading Comprehension section [10:38]
Being energized will increase your speed: use caffeine if you are already used to it; don’t if your aren’t [12:39]
Be selective in your focus in the science section [13:50]
Two things you should definitely know when tackling the ACT Science[16:58]
Sign up for the writing test [17:23]
Why you should write a lot for the writing test [18:24]
How students generally get really high scores on the writing section [19:58]
Spend your first few minutes planning your essay [21:00]


116: Who is Tutor Ted? (and Resources for Brainstorming a Personal Statement)


This is the first of two podcasts with Ted Dorsey, also known as Tutor Ted, who scored perfectly on the ACT, SAT, PSAT and runs a cool test prep company called (what else?) Tutor Ted.

Now, in the second part of this podcast he’ll show you how to improve your ACT score by 2 points… in just 20 minutes. But before we get to that, I thought it might be great to get to know Ted on a more personal level--and what better way, I thought, than to take him through the exercises I use with my students when we’re brainstorming personal statements. Why? Because I use some exercises that go really deep, really fast--as you’re about to hear.

So in part 1 of this episode you’ll hear Ted and I going through some of my warm-up exercises (which I actually call “vulnerability training” -- you’ll see why in a minute), so you’ll essentially get to see part of my brainstorming process in action.

Ted will do (on the spot!) a distilled version of the Essence Objects and Values Exercises, which you’ll be familiar with from Episode 111 of the podcast, or if you know my book or my website. Then you’ll hear me walk him through my #1 favorite brainstorm, the Feelings and Needs Exercise (which has been called the “20 minute therapy” exercise--again, you’ll see why once we get into it).

By the end you’ll know Ted a lot better and, even though we don’t talk about on this episode, you’ll see that Ted has some GREAT content for a college essay… were he to go back and write one.

I’ll say more about Part 2--How to Improve Your ACT Score By 20 Points--at the beginning of that episode. Right now, please enjoy Part 1 of this two-part episode with Ted Dorsey...


Who is Ted Dorsey? [:38]
Ethan walks Ted through three essay writing exercises [3:47]
Ethan plays the “I Love” Game [4:47]
Ted plays the “I Love” Game [6:19]
Ethan plays the second exercise: “If you really knew me” [7:51]
Then it’s Ted’s turn. [9:53]
The third exercise: Ethan plays the Essence Objects [14:21]
Ted describes his own essence objects [15:47]
Ted tells a story about one of his past students [18:20]
The fourth exercise: Values Exercise [21:19]
Ted’s top core values [22:50]
How creativity has been manifesting in Ted’s life [23:39]
Number five: the Challenges exercise [26:35]
Ted talks about the biggest challenges he faced and how they impacted him [26:45]
The feelings Ted felt along with these challenges [29:05]
What unmet needs went along with these feelings and how he met them [30:58]
What Ted learned from these challenges [35:45]
How Ted’s past challenges connect to his future road trip [36:54]


115: Quick & Dirty College List Builder & The Myth of Fit

Resource informed by this episode


This is part 2 of 2 of podcast episodes recorded last month in Eastern China. I met with Mark Moody, a friend of mine and a fantastic counselor with a ton of experience and some cool opinions you may not have heard before. During our chat we cover:

  • His “Quick and Dirty List Builder,” a document he put together to help students and counselors find their best-fit schools in much less time
  • We talk about Early Decision (also known as ED) and yield and why many schools like it when students apply early… but we also discuss why you might not want to apply early
  • Why it’s important for students and parents to have a good understanding of what an admissions rate really means
  • We also talk about this notion of “fit” -- something you’ll hear counselors talk about a lot -- but Mark has a different perspective on it and he believes “fit” may in fact be a myth
  • We’ll talk about what fit really means (according to Mark’s perspective), how you can use that knowledge when you’re searching for college--and even a gem that can help you settle in once you’re already on campus.


Who is Mark Moody? [2:22]
A regular day sitting by a lake in Eastern China talking about college admissions [3:46]
Mark Moody’s Quick and Dirty List Builder [5:35]
What the list builder includes [6:10]
How epic is the college list? [7:00]
How Mark decided which schools went on the list [7:15]
What is this list for and what is is not for? [8:44]
How should a student use this list? [9:43]
How many schools you should apply to [13:19]
Why schools are shifting in selectivity [13:09]
What is Early Decision? [15:25]
Why schools want students to apply Early Decision [15:43]
Why yield is important to a school [16:10] 
Why schools might be playing with statistics like yield and selectivity [16:45]
Why it’s important for students and parents to have a good understanding of what an admissions rate really means [16:52]
Why you may not necessarily want to have an early decision school [18:23 ]
What is the idea of fit? [20:12]
What does fit actually mean? [21:42]
Mark’s favorite idea about fit [24:56]
What to say to students who are in college and not sure if they’ve chosen the right school [25:39]
Mark’s Show and Tell: a cup of Chinese tea [27:20]
Ethan’s Show and Tell: The Rap Year Book [27:53]
And: Don Quixote, College Choice, and the Myth of Fit [28:16]


114: Free College Application Tools That Students (and Counselors!) Should Know About


If you know me, or if you’ve listened to the podcast before you know what a resource junkie I am… the same can be said, I think, for my guest on this episode, Shaun McElroy. Shaun is the publisher of two blogs: www.internationalcounselor.org which focuses on all things college admissions and which, I do believe, is one of the oldest continuously running blog on college admission (started in 2003) and www.strengthsmining.com focuses on applying research and principles of positive psychology into practice.

And if you, dear listener, are a resource junkie like Shaun and I are, then this podcast will be like food to your soul -- -as Boyz 2 Men so beautifully put it in their 1997 hit “A Song for Mama” hashtag I love 90s R&B hashtag Nate Mike Shawn and Wan.

You’ll hear me say at the start of our conversation that Shaun is going to share “eight” free college application tools… but once we finished I went back and counted and there were more like 25.

For fun, I asked my editor Nathan to give a little [ding] every time Shaun shares a new resource.

So enjoy that.

And do enjoy this fast-paced resource extravaganza courtesy of myself… and Mr. McElroy.


Who is Shaun McElroy? [2:00]
Naviance [2:16] [4:08]
Take a Myers-Briggs personality test [5:15]
Do What You Are [5:24]
16 Personalities Myer’s Briggs Personality Test [8:06]
How Shaun uses the Myers-Briggs test in his counseling process [10:17]
Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking [12:15]
VIA Character Strengths [14:24]
The montage essay (Note: requires typing in your email to view) [18:59]
How knowing your strengths can help you pick the right school [21:08]
The Feelings & Needs Exercise [23:10]
Strengths Mining Blog [25:31]
VARK, a learning style questionnaire  [26:23]
Coggle, creating visual mind maps [28:38]
Most students will change their majors during college [29:02]
MyMajors can help you find a major [31:34]
Ethan’s article on Five Reasons Why It Doesn’t Matter What You Major In [34:10]
How The College Finder can help you develop a great college list [34:40]
College Xpress offers interesting lists of great colleges [38:50]
80 Thousand Hours [40:18]
Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance [44:48]
Mindset, self-view and self-efficacy [49:23]
Why you can’t ignore the shadow version of yourself [52:22]
Positive Intelligence, a free self-assessment where you get your list of self-saboteurs [53:22]
Meditation [57:14]
Smiling Mind, free guided meditation online and on your phone [58:42]
The Meditation Bell, join a meditation group [59:11]
The Tim Ferriss Podcast, awesome for life tips [59:51]
Shaun’s show and tells: reading literary fiction and waking up early [1:02:53]
Ethan’s: the most relaxing song ever is Marconi Union - Weightless [1:06:17]
Why Shaun does what he does [1:06:57]


113: Debunking the Myth of the Starving Artist

The Awesome PDF That Accompanies This Podcast Episode

While there is no “practical guide” for this episode, if you’re interested in this topic I highly recommend that you click this link, where you can download a PDF of the presentation Laura Young gives on this very topic. It is so so good and I thank Laura for letting me share it.


My guest on this episode is Laura Young, a friend of mine who is the director of enrollment management at the UCLA School of Arts and Architecture. She was (and I think still is) an “art kid” and in our conversation we talk about why that’s cool, how that has served her in her current job, and how someone can still make a living even if, dear listener, you are an art kid (or know one who is applying to college). We also talk about: 

  • Data that proves art degrees are important

  • The freedom that working a side job gives to self-employed artists

  • The truth about the myth of the starving artist

… and all that in the first 10 minutes!
Then we discuss...

  • How to know if art school is for you

  • What your ability to take feedback says about you

  • The difference between visual and performing arts schools, conservatories, and trade schools

  • What cliches to avoid using in your art school application, and

  • How parents can best support their child wanting to go to art school

 All this and more on this episode with Laura Young--please enjoy. 


What Laura does as the director of enrollment management at UCLA Arts [2:52] 
How Laura became an “art kid” [6:15]
The truth about the myth of the starving artist [8:30] 
Data that proves art degrees are important [9:37]
What is an “art job”? [10:16] 
The freedom that working a side job gives to self-employed artists [12:16] 
How Ethan fell in love with his “side gig” [15:49]
The superpowers artists have [17:33]
How to know if art school is for you [19:54]
What your ability to take feedback says about you [22:06]
The difference between applying to art school and applying to college [24:05]
The difference between visual and performing arts schools, conservatories, and trade schools [26:36]
What to look for in a for-profit school [31:41]
The role of location in choosing a school [33:37]
Hidden gems: art schools in smaller, less-known cities [35:46]
What schools can I get into if I’m talented, but have a low-GPA? [36:18]+1:36
What cliches to avoid using in your art school application [39:31]
How parents can best support their child wanting to go to art school [42:42]
Advice Laura would give to her 18 year-old self [44:17]
Why prospective art students should study abroad [46:42]
Laura’s show and tell: Flanagan’s Smart Home [48:47]
Ethan’s show and tell: The Art of War and The Inner Game of Tennis [52:29]
Why Laura does what she does [53:27]


112: How to Listen (and Why)


On this episode I interview an old friend of mine, Ben Mathes, founder of the Urban Confessional, which is a free listening project. A few years ago Ben started posting up outside bus stops and on street corners with a sign that reads “Free Listening” and he would do just that: listen. Over the last couple years it’s ignited something of a movement and Urban Confessional is now in 73 countries, 2000 volunteers strong, and  has been featured in the Huffington Post, The Atlantic, Fast Company, The Big Think, Glamour Magazine, and in over 45 international publications.  His blog, HOW TO LISTEN WHEN YOU DISAGREE, has been read over 2 million times and republished in over 100 publications across the world. They are currently the subject of a PBS produced documentary called "ARE WE LISTENING", and this year, they launched the HEARD PODCAST, which features honest conversations from visionaries, leaders, and other interesting people.

On this episode we discuss how Urban Confessional started, what Ben has learned about listening over the years, how these lessons have impacted his relationships and even what it was like doing free listening at last year’s Republican and Democratic National Conventions. At the end he offers a great resource called the “Practice Partner Guide,” with some great practical tips for how to listen. It’s wonderful stuff from a wonderful human, as you’ll soon see, and the applications include, then go much beyond the college application process.



The toughest decision Ben made last year [3:18] 2:18
Ben’s process for healing [6:08]
One of the biggest challenges Ben faced [8:55]
The impact of Ben’s most difficult challenge [10:13]
Reasons why receiving generosity can sometimes be hard [13:25]
What Ben finally did that changed everything [14:43]
Why it was hard for Ben to ask for help [15:41]
What Ben has learned about how to listen [18:41]
Some of Ben’s favorite questions [21:00]
How Ben decides whether or not to go deep with someone [22:50]
The mystery of learning to walk without a destination [26:07]
Two values that come into conflict in Ben’s life [27:37]
How Ben resists wanting to fix people while listening to them [29:00]
Lessons Ben learned from his free listening project [30:29]
How these lessons have impacted Ben’s life and relationships [32:31]
Ben’s experience doing free listening at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions [35:53]
How to listen when you disagree with people [38:32]
Why Ben does what he does [40:53]