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Wait List 101--10 Difference Making Actions to Take!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

If you have accepted a place on the wait list of your first-choice college, the next thing to do is to spring into action and, despite the daunting odds discussed below, perform these 10 tasks. And you need to do them with a confidence you may not feel.

These actions fall into three major categories: letting the college know how very much you want to come; reminding them of how you will contribute to and enhance their campus community; and informing them of your ongoing involvement in activities, as well as any new accomplishments you have achieved and any new recognition you have gotten.

  1. First and foremost, make sure, in a letter to the dean of admissions and to your regional rep, that you let them know that, despite all the other colleges you have been admitted to, going to their college is what you want and, if you are admitted, you will definitely come.
  2. Have your guidance counselor or school principal communicate the same message. This school is your first choice! If accepted you will definitely come.
  3. In the same letter from you to the dean of admissions and to your regional rep, be sure to enumerate any new forms of recognition you have received. If you have made all-state in a sport, cite that. If you have been chosen from state choir to now be in the national choir cite that. If you have been given an award as employee of the month cite that.
  4. Be sure also to mention ongoing activities that you have continued beyond January 1, or the due date of your application, and of which you are proud.
  5. Getting to the most substantive part of the letter, please reiterate all the ways that you think you and the college are a good match. Tell them how you see yourself on the campus. What will you contribute to the college community? What are the plans you have and the places you look forward to being? Thoroughly describe three or four activities you can see yourself doing. Will you be doing research in their neurobiology lab? Will you be performing in, or an audience for, the improv theater? Will you be on the co-ed flag football team? The frisbee team? Will you be a member of the art coop? Or a leader in the new meditation space? A helper in the organic garden? A member or the investment team?
  6. Be sure also to mention any new recommenders whose letters are in the mail to the college.
  7. With reference to this, you need to search in your mind to consider if your contacts and your parents’ friends, as well as employers, athletic or arts coaches, or other contacts could write a recommendation that would strengthen your waiting list spot.
  8. When you are looking online at the college, it is very important, in general, that you thoroughly look at the college’s website. Look at all the majors you might be interested in, look at what their requirements are, look at what special opportunities they might have, look at other majors that might be related. Look at study abroad opportunities. Look at clubs, activities, sports, and student life information. Open, also, every email and communication from the college. Colleges are using the number of clicks and the electronic interest you show as an indication of your real interest. And you want to be VERY interested and attentive.
  9. I recommend you visit the school. Colleges may tell you not to and that they are busy wooing the students they have already accepted (It’s reality.). But you can walk around, take another tour, and just say hello to admissions. I know too many stories about students of mine who have gone to see their school one more time and be offered admissions during that visit. It happens.
  10. Finally, be prepared for whatever happens. The odds are long (see below) and you never know what the college’s situations is. Maybe so many students have accepted their offers of acceptance that the school is worried about where it will house all of its students for the next year. But one thing is certain, you’ll never get in if you don’t, at the very least, try.

    The odds of being accepted!

    This kind of information for a college can sometimes be found on the admissions website of a college. Or sometimes elsewhere on other websites. It is always available through the “Common Data Set (filed by colleges each year with many educational and publishing organizations)” for each university. To find it search for “common data set for 2016 + university of ________”.

    For example, in the recent (2014-15) data for the University of Richmond, it was reported that offers to be on the wait list were made to 3,621 students.  Out of those, 1,466 students accepted this offer and were placed on the waiting list. Out of those, 12 waitlisted students were ultimately admitted. In other recent years Richmond reports they have admitted up to 131 students off the wait list.

    The University of Virginia reports the same kind of data. In 2014-15, they offered 5,543 students the chance to be on the wait list. Of these, 3,456 students accepted. And of these, 42 students were accepted. In another year as many as 402 students were accepted off the wait list.

College Readiness through Great Family Dinners

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

“One of the most important things in my life as I grew up were family dinners,” said a friend who seemed to have amazing confidence, as well as the ability to navigate life with great intention, wisdom, and aplomb.

She said that each member of her family knew from very early on, that it was his or she responsibility to arrive at the dinner table prepared to answer two questions. The first was: what is the most important thing that happened to you today? The second was: what is the most important thing that happened in the world today?

You can imagine how the discussion that ensued helped to develop the family’s connectedness, but more importantly, each member’s 0wn agency and mindfulness. Each member had both the responsibility of observing and interacting in the world around him or her and the task of evaluating what he or she saw, and then the privilege of sharing that story with the others at the table.

An eight year old might say the most important thing in her life was catching a ball during the kick ball game at school. And the most important thing in her bigger world was that there was a visiting scientist talked about the properties of magnets in her classroom that day.

But by 11 or 12 he might be saying that the most important thing in his life was baseball tryouts. And the most important thing in his bigger world was that a gorilla had to be shot at the Cleveland Zoo or that Djokovic just won a Grand Slam by betting Murray in the French Open.

Such a conversation every night and being responsible for both your part and hearing what others have to say helps a student, an individual, learn to grow into and be comfortable with communicating and explaining a position or view, analyzing the views of others, and questioning the opinions of others. It might also stimulate curiosity and a search for more knowledge and deeper understanding of topics that come up. All of these skills are needed for a student who engages fully in college learning. And what better place to begin to develop and hone them than in the safe environment of a family dinner?

So let’s eat together more often. And let’s talk about our observations to each other. It will make your student all the more ready for college.

New SAT Scores--Looking at College Admissions Profiles

Monday, May 23, 2016

The College Board recently (5/9/16) released concordance tables which compare March, 2016’s SAT scores (resulting from the first administration of the new version of the SAT) to previous SAT scores—scores that were calibrated and refined during the years between March, 2005 and March, 2016. It is especially important to understand the equivalent value of the new SAT scores when comparing these SAT scores to reported admissions criteria on Naviance or any published data-based sources which used the SAT scores previous to March, 2016 to report current admissions outcomes.


If you or your student are planning to use ACT scores as a way to evaluate your chance of admission or to submit standardized test scores to colleges then this has no bearing on those scores.


When you evaluate March SAT scores, however, it is very important that you bear in mind this new concordance information. For instance, if your student or you, if you are the student, got a 1300, on the new March SAT this is equivalent to 1230 on the old SAT. So whether you look at Naviance or another data source reporting SAT scores for various colleges, you need to use the equivalent old SAT score, not the new score to compare yourself to this previously collected data posted as a reflection of admission’s trends in various colleges. (Right now, the data represented in Naviance and other data bases is from the years previous to this year's, 2016's, graduating class. So it is listed in old score SAT terms.) 

The same is true of any data on a college website, or in national guides, either in print or online, like Fiske Guide to Colleges, for example. This data is all based on old--pre March, 2016--SAT test score data.


So be sure to adjust your thinking about the new scores and make the adjustment when looking at data collected and published using old scores.


The charts correlating the new and old scores may be found on the College Board website at:

 I found pages 8 and 9 especially helpful as far as converting students scores to the old equivalent scores.

 Jan Rooker #SAT scores #college admissions #student advice #parent advice


Supplemental College Essays Matter!

Monday, May 16, 2016

The question is usually some variation of “Why Do You Want to Attend Our University?” And the answer to this question plays a much larger role in college admissions than you might expect. Usually found in the section of the application called supplemental essays, this question is the first thing college admissions counselors read, after they have reviewed a student’s grades and standardized test scores.  

A panel of admissions officers, who spoke at the May, 2016 Independent Educational Consultants Association Conference, in Boston, Massachusetts, analyzed the relative importance of the different parts of the student application. They said particularly, however, that they especially looked forward to reading this essay, eager to see why the applicant wants to attend their college.

The panel of counselors said that they read this even before the personal student essay, or the high school counselor’s recommendation of the student, or the teachers’ recommendations.

This is very significant feedback for students who, as the summer approaches, will be starting their college applications for the 2016-17 admission’s season. Especially so, as high school students, who are often rushing to finish applications, do not pay enough attention to this essay, thinking it unimportant compared to their personal essays.

Here is more information about the supplemental essay that the counselors shared. They said that they looked, first, to see if the student had shared any insights or revealed any knowledge about himself. Did the student know what he was looking for in a learning environment? In a social environment? Did she know in what career direction she might be heading?  The first part of this essay, then, should show evidence of self- reflection and self- knowledge?

The second part of the “why us?” essay needs to show that the student knows about the college and its campus. Hopefully the student has been to an information session. And to the campus for a tour. Or taken the virtual tour. Has the student read any of the student blogs on the college website? Looked at postings on Instagram about the college? Studied the majors that are offered? Looked at related programs of study? Figured out whether the academic atmosphere on campus is collaborative or competitive? What role do sports play on campus? What role performing arts? What is the character of social gatherings? Is there community awareness?

Finally the student needs to talk about how she sees herself fitting in on campus. What activities and programs will the student participate in? Will he play intramural sports? Do research in the physics lab? Perform in a comedy group? Sing in a girl’s a cappella group? Paint himself blue for the big game? Where does the student see himself fitting in?

How will the student ultimately contribute to make a difference to life on this campus? And, above all, who does the student hope to become during the time on campus?


10 Things to Know about Your College Essay

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

It is almost time to start working on your college essay, if you are a rising senior. Probably sometime after junior finals you will sit down to write. Here are a few things to know.

1. Admissions readers typically read about 30 files a day between January 1 and March 1, and sometimes during the “early admissions” reading period.

2. The purpose of the essay is to share with the college what else you, the applicant, will bring to campus. Colleges already have your grades, your scores, your recommendations, and your activities. So you need to show them something new. Would you, for example, be a caring, supportive friend in the dorm? A planner of major social events? An aesthetic sole who will appreciate art exhibits, concerts, and plays produced on campus? A person who would actively respond to an emergency? A survivor who knows how to persevere when things get tough?

3. An effective approach in writing the essay is to find a story about you to share. Maybe tell a story that shares an approach to life. Or a story about a particular moment of clarity. Or a story of how you became the you that you are. Or a story about overcoming setbacks. The story and the details, as well as the words you employ reveal who you are.

4. What kind of stories can capture the attention of an admission’s reader who is reading his or her 23rd file of the day? I have probably read more than 5000 admissions essays, which is not many in the scheme of things, but the ones that work for me are those with a genuine voice that let me see an awareness of life or offer an openness of self.
I remember one story called “Don’t get You Head Down” about a young woman who believed it was her mission in life to made sure others didn’t get discouraged. I remember a story called “Kankles” about an athlete who shot lacrosse goals and philosophized with his friends after practice, while they good-naturedly made fun of his short calves. I remember one story called “3000 Tries” by a future engineer who like Edison never gave up. Edison didn’t make 3000 mistakes when he invented the light bulb; he discovered 3000 materials that could not be used for a light bulb element. I remember another story called “Two Floating Sandwiches” about a young sailor who flipped her boat three times while attempting her first open-ocean race. If you can tell a good story, you will be remembered.

5. The obvious goal for your essay, given the statistics above, would be to strive to engage the reader in the story. To do this well, you should begin with a good “grabber,” continue with on-going tension, and finish with a final resolution.

6. & 7. Another goal for your essay is to talk in a conversational voice—not the voice you would use to speak to a teacher , but the almost informal voice you use when you are thinking out loud to a friend. A related goal is to imagine you are telling your story to a sympathetic listener who already knows and likes you. This audience could be an affectionate older brother, your savvy grandmother, your fairy-godmother. But I must be someone who already appreciates the real you and will value your story. This will make your story more authentic and real.

8. To brainstorm for the story you want to tell use a list of 60-80 adjectives and choose those that describe you. Then pick 4 or 5 that suit you the best. Tell a full story to yourself or others that illustrates why each specific adjective describes you. Then choose among you stories.

9. Your essay is only one part of the application. But sometimes it ties together other pieces into a better presentation. Other parts are: transcript, with school profile and level of academic challenge (1), standardized test scores (2), counselor and teacher and other recommendations (3), a list of your activities (4), and an interview report, if interviews are recommended or required (5).

10. How important is the essay? It has more weight at some schools than others. At the University of Michigan, I have heard, where GPA can be worth up to 80 out of 100 points, and SAT scores can be worth up to 12 out of 100 points, the essay is only worth up to 2 points. At some smaller schools, however, an apathetic essay can be the cause for denial even if grades and SAT scores are strong. I have also heard that in actuality in 3% of application outcomes, a student who would have been admitted otherwise is not admitted because of his essay. And in 2% of application outcomes, a student who would have been denied otherwise is admitted because of his essay.

Suffice it to say, the essay is important enough, or might be, that no one should write it the night before it is due. And also at some point it is the only thing left within a student’s control that can influence his or her admissions outcome.

Good Luck!
Jan Rooker #college #essay #teenadvice




Be an Ally against Aggression

Friday, April 15, 2016

The teenaged student sitting across the desk from me says, “My friend was being harassed by some stupid boys in the cafeteria today. I am so upset for her. But also … I couldn’t think of anything to do to help her.”

I work with high school students by helping them to figure out who they are and who they want to be and what colleges might help them get to where they want to be.  Our college considerations can be categorized this way: academic match, professional opportunities available, social environment on campus that will shape events, and, for lack of a better word, temperament fit—is the campus atmosphere supportive, collaborative, competitive, mostly shaped by responders, initiators, that kind of thing.

Things like real time interpersonal aggression, though, do come up. A student will say, “My history teacher was picking on my friend today.” Or, “My dad was mean to my brother last night.” Or, “I am the only freshman on the team and it’s rough.”

Or sometimes we are answering college application essay questions, like Oregon State’s Personal Inventory question which says, “Describe your experience facing or witnessing discrimination. Tell us how you responded and what you learned from those experiences and how they have prepared you to contribute to the OSU community.”

That is when we both confess, yes, we know that being a witness to verbal aggression, and remaining silent is a tacit sign of agreement with the speaker who implies or states some damaging false assertion. Yes, we say, this kind of abuse is destructive to the whole social unit, whether it is a family, a classroom, a school, or something even larger, like a town or a country. But we both confess we often do what Kerry Ann Rockquemore talks about in her Chronicle of Higher Education article (1/13/16), we freeze when it is our turn to act as an ally. But we also agree that we want to and can work toward being a better responder, one that overtly supports the victim. We do not just want to apologize after the incident to the victim and tell him or her that we know they were wronged.

Professor Rockqueman was responding to a professional situation, which is different, but she encourages the by-stander to employ a technique called “OPTD--open the front door.” This mnemonic represents a set of behaviors for a by-stander who speaks up in support of a victim. It represents: observe (describe what you see), think (say what you think about it), feel (express what you feel about the situation), and desire (assert what you would like to see happen). “When you treat my friend that way, she is uncomfortable and I feel embarrassed. I would like you to leave her alone.”

Another solution, given that in such a heated situation it is too hard to think and it might be socially awkward to say so much, is, “I am not sure I understood what you said. What did you mean by it?” This might be enough to cause the offending person to think twice.

Dealing with this difficult circumstance is hard for most adults.

And we all know that recognizing the aggression is just the first step. But working toward allying with the victim is a step toward making a difference—to a friend, a school, a city, a community of others.

Jan Rooker, College Consultant, 4/15/16  #Teen #Bullies  

Solving “The Most Difficult Problems” ……at the end of a chapter, at the end of a test, at the end of the SAT

Wednesday, March 23, 2016
 We all know the kind of questions I mean. At the end of the physics chapter they might be called the “challenge problems.” At the end of a history chapter they are called “questions for further thought.” And in references to the SAT test I have seen them referred to as “the last three most difficult questions.”

These kinds of questions cannot be studied for ahead of time. A memorized formula or set of facts, alone, will not provide the solution. It is creative thinking that will be required to formulate a solution. Yes, you will be using rules and laws and facts you have learned in the past, but you will be required to use them in novel, creative ways. And this will require a state of mind that is fluid and relaxed, one that many test takers may not have by the end of a difficult test.

To understand the relationship between creativity and the state of mind one needs to be in to allow creativity to flourish is something studied by Dr. Heather Berlin at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She explained her studies to Kurt Anderson of “Studio 360” in a recent broadcast. Dr. Berlin did an experiment with rappers. First, the rappers had their brains scanned using a functional MRI [fMRI] while they voiced the lyrics of a memorized rap song. Then, the rappers were shown an image and given an fMRI while they composed lyrics to a rap song about the image. The second task required that the rappers come up with creative lyrics that: made sense (1), stayed on beat (2), and rhymed (3).

The fMRI done of the brains of the rappers while the rappers were generating the spontaneous, creative lyrics showed a decrease in activity in an area of the brain called the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex. This area is especially associated with a person’s “sense of self.” It is also associated with the “inner critic” and the “rules” that apply in society and thought. So it seems during the performance of creative tasks the area of the brain that controls the “self-critic” and the “sense of self” and the “rules” is quieter.

You have probably heard this state of mine talked about as “flow” or “being in the zone.” Besides being associated with creative tasks in the mental or artistic area, it is also often spoken of in sports performance. Sometimes during a creative process an individual says that ideas just came flowing through me or the ideas seemed to come from somewhere else. In writing, in particular, this openness and easy flow of ideas is often attributed to “my muses.”

In explaining this, Dr Berlin refers to a concept called “liberation without attention” where, because the sense of self and the inner critic are not attending to the process, the unconscious can step in and bring forth new ideas and connections. The unconscious is liberated to make connections the conscious mind cannot see due to the limits of the conscious mine which is less able to consider so many different ideas at the same time.

So how does this apply to the “the last three most difficult problems?” It is often when such problems are first presented that thoughts such as, “I have never seen this before,” or “I can’t do this kind of problem,” or ”We never studied this,” begin to form. And these are the kind of thoughts that pull you right out of the flow of creativity and back into the dialogue of the inner critic where you suffer a diminished sense of self.

Here is where you, the experienced test taker who has done diligent practice and preparation, can knowingly say to yourself, “No one has seen this kind of problem before. Let me just take a few minutes to understand the question and see if anything occurs to me. I think I did one similar to this in my last test.” This will keep your inner critic and the “rule inforcer” part of your brain quiet and give you the creative flow to possibly solve this kind of problem.

Jan Rooker,

Determining College Fit—By the Numbers

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Very often when students use a short-hand way to determine if a certain college is a good fit, they look up the standardized test scores for the college. But what test score number he uses to make the assessment matters.

Of course, we all know that good fit, even just thinking about the academic part of fit, does not have to do with just the incoming abilities of the students as predicted by their standardize test scores. Besides basic academic abilities, there is also the level of intensity toward academic pursuits on a given campus. And the competitiveness of students--for example, does the campus culture foster collaboration or competitiveness? And academics is influenced by the work/ play style on the campus. And the kind of majors taught and amount of research done on a campus influence the academic atmosphere. And there are more. But these aside, students often look for a short-hand way to determine academic fit.

So if a student is using a number that he calls the average SAT or ACT score of students at Somename State University, it matters where he finds that number. If he is using the score produced by a program called Naviance which is employed by many high schools to give students information about the scores and GPAs of students from their high school who have been “accepted” to this college, then he may be seeing a much higher average score than might exist for those attending this school. This is because some of the students who were accepted to this college will not attend, and the ones who will most likely not attend are those at the very top of the chart. High scoring students tend to apply to more colleges than most other students and have more choices in the end of the process.

If, instead, the student looks on the admissions page of Somename State University’s website for a profile of its average student, he may or may not get the score of the average student “attending” the university. The website may give the average score of the “accepted” students. Or the website may give the score of the average student who is “attending” the university. This is where careful reading matters.

Two places where the student can be sure to find the right reported score for a student “attending” the university in which is interested are: a website called, and a website containing a published document called The Common Data Set for Somename State University for 2016, for this year, for instance. This document contains the data that the college is required to file with the U. S. government each year.

When I did a recent investigation with a student of so called Somename State University, for instance, the score on Naviance at his high school for the average accepted student was 1360 on the SATs. The website for the university sited an even higher score for the average “accepted” student. But when we looked up the information for this university on the site we learned that the score for the average attending student was 1275—85 points lower than what my student had been expecting. It turned out that the school—based on standardized test scores, only—appeared to be a good fit for the student.

Another source of information about standardized test scores that we found helpful was Wintergreen Orchard House data. There the data for attending students is described this way: students who scored: 500-599 44%, 600-699 45%, and 700-800 11%. So, in this case if your student's score was 570, you would know that he or she would fall into the group with scores in the lower half of the attending students and might have to work harder than most.

Of course there are other issues to discuss concerning “averaging” test scores, but that is for another blog. 

To overcome test anxiety: Practice, Practice, Practice!

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Test anxiety or performance anxiety is something that can get in the way of strong results on a test. And when that test is an important one—one that seems like it can determine a student’s future, for instance, because it is related to what colleges he applies to--test anxiety can be very incapacitating.

 In its mildest form test anxiety might cause butterflies in the tummy, and tight muscles in your neck and back that you notice only when you start to get sore an hour into the test. At its worse, test anxiety can cause difficulty in concentrating, even sometimes causing your mind to go blank. As an example of how difficult anxiety can make things, the admissions director of an East Coast college told me this story. He was preparing to give his first speech to the faculty at the campus where he had been newly appointed. When he was introduced in front of an auditorium full of dignitaries he walked to the stage and placed his speech on the podium. Looking down, preparatory to beginning his speech, the top page of the speech appeared blank. He took a very deep breath and looked around smiling; when he looked down again, the words of the speech had reappeared.

When it comes to avoiding test anxiety, there are four behaviors you need to master to be well prepared for a test:

Know the material on which you will be tested is the first behavior to master. Know it as it was taught, but also know how to apply it in new situations and be able to manipulate it. Sometimes students think that being familiar with the material is enough. They say, “Well I read the chapter twice.” But in a situation where you are likely to be nervous, you have to know it better than this. It is like the difference between being able to recognize information and being able to recall information. If I ask you to recognize the U.S. states in a group of words on a page, all you have to do is circle the familiar words that you know are states. If I ask you to recall the U. S. states, I might give you a blank sheet of paper and ask you to list all the states. The second activity is much more difficult to do. It requires much more preparation. And if you were anxious, it would be much easier to forget the names of the states.  But this is how well you need to know that material on which you will be tested.

 Know the format of the test is the second behavior to master. How many sections does it have? How much time will you have for each section? How will each section be graded? Does each section always contain these same kinds of questions? Are they always in this order? How do you usually perform on this section of the test? Do you run out of time? How can you compensate for that?

 For instance on the ACT Exam, the Reading Section always comes third in the test—after the English and Math Sections. It is always 35 minutes long. It always has four reading passages, each followed by 10 questions. The first passage is always fiction; the second, social science; the third, humanities; and the fourth, physical science. If you have trouble finishing all the questions in 35 minutes, it is okay to guess on the ones that are left, because the test givers do not penalize you more than one point for wrong answers. And if you have to rush in your reading, it is easier to skim the social science or the physical science sections because they are less likely to have a “voice” you need to “get”.

 Practice is the third behavior to master to avoid test anxiety. I remember watching a world class tennis player practicing at Harry Hopman’s Tennis Academy. She hit the same shot for about an hour and a half. There was a towel on the court that the ball was supposed to hit. After she finished that she ran wind sprints for 15 minutes in 90 degrees until she couldn’t breathe. The idea was that if she could make the shot under these conditions she would be able to do it every time even with the pressure on the court in competition.

 The only way to experience taking an admissions test and building up the endurance you need to concentrate for three and one half hours is to take practice tests. The students of mine who have become the most successful test takers have committed to taking a whole practice test every Saturday for four weeks before they actually take the real test. And I believe in rewards. So I tell each student to treat him or herself to something nice when finished. Sometimes one buys a new article of clothing; sometimes one watches sports for four hours lying on the sofa. You get the idea.

 Practice behaviors to employ incase test anxiety strikes during the test is the fourth and final behavior to master to avoid test anxiety. These behaviors usually have to do with interrupting the kind of thinking that takes you away from the task at hand and toward a whirlwind of negative self doubt. One behavior might be a deep breathing exercise. Another might be repeating a mantra of positive affirmations that you have memorized ahead of time. Another might be systematically tightening and then loosening the muscles in your body. I like a new ritual I have recently learned: take a deep breath, close your eyes rub your hands together a few times and then put one hand on your heart and one on your head and let you breathe out. After a half a minute, open your eyes and move on.

 And good luck on your next test!


















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