College Planning During a Pandemic

College Planning During a Pandemic

First, I hope that you and yours are well during these crazy pandemic times. I must express my gratitude that all of us at CPSi are well, and so are our students and their families. CPSi’s office is closed, but we continue to work with our students remotely, using video calls, email, and phone.

Second, let’s acknowledge the gravity of the situation. We grieve deeply with those who have suffered. Yet the most obvious effects – loss of life and the serious illness so many suffer, coupled with business and personal economic hardships and mental health issues as we remain physically distanced from our friends and extended family – are far from the whole story.

Uncertainty brings stress. We are planners, but cannot know exactly what to plan for. As we’ve all become aware, the pandemic brings many layers of uncertainty and hardship for even those who remain healthy and can weather the economic shut-down. For example, our graduating seniors who must give up their high school rites of passage (prom, commencement, etc.) are anxious about whether they will “go” to college or stay home to take classes remotely, and about how to make college friends from a distance. Parents are rightfully concerned about college costs for online classes, if that’s where things go. These are real and deeply-felt worries amid many others that leave wounds and scars that will remain with us. It seems the fabric of society will be changed into the foreseeable future – yet exactly which things will remain changed and how much is also uncertain.

Finally, we must find a way to cope, remembering that this situation is temporary. Although we cannot know when the virus will be contained, history and science indicate that it will happen. I choose to believe that each of us will find a way to help one another move forward as we learn more about what is needed and how we can help. Everyone I know is ready for that and already doing what they can. Keep it up.

Meanwhile, be well and hang in there. Focus on preparing for your future, which includes learning and preparing for college admission. Help where you can, and reach out if you need help. We’ll get through this.

49 views Debbie Schmidt

What is the return on investment (ROI) for a liberal arts education? Is it worth the money compared to something more career-oriented like business or engineering?

According to a recent study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, the median return 40 years after enrollment approaches $1 million – more than 25% higher than the median for all colleges. That is a significant positive return over the course of a career, making an education at a liberal arts college a very practical choice.

In a Washington Post article on the Georgetown study, Susan Svrluga suggests that liberal arts students develop flexibility (I would call it intellectual agility) and draw on a deep source of knowledge they can later access in their careers as a result of taking general education courses along with their major field of study. In this way, liberal arts graduates are strengthened by a well-rounded and diverse perspective to take on the workplace.

This reminds me of a great post by Michael Simmons (, where he writes “Modern polymaths …[build] atypical combinations of skills and knowledge across fields and then [integrate] them to create breakthrough ideas and even brand new fields and industries where there is little competition.”

And that’s exactly what a liberal arts education equips a person to do.

396 views Debbie Schmidt

Admissions Scandal Lesson: Do the Right Thing

The current college admissions scandal is shameful because the reputation of honest students admitted to elite colleges is called into question when undeserving students are admitted by cheating. The carnage, driven by the perception held by some unethical parents of college admission prestige and the money made by those who enabled the ruse, is unforgivable.

While some complained about the college admission advantage given to some excellent student athletes, there was always a sense that students admitted to play on a college team had earned that advantage through long, hard training in their sport. In fact, most college student athletes earned coach-supported admission, but now #CollegeCheatingScandal has tarnished the honor of their admission.

Some also complained about test accommodations for learning disabilities. Still, when genuinely qualified learning-style difference students earned a coveted college admission after testing well with accommodations, they were cheered and admired for their hard work and resilience. Now those admissions are viewed with skepticism as well.

Those are just two examples of students who carry the weight of all this; many more are also affected.

To all CPSi students and other honest students who earned college admission through persistence, hard work, and integrity – step back from this frenzy, take a deep breath, and be proud of your achievement. No one can ever take away what you earned. And remember to continue living this CPSi mantra:

Do the right thing.

You are not responsible for what anyone else thinks, as long as you do the right thing.

There is nothing above doing the right thing.

2,243 views Bob Mahmoudi

Quality Colleges vs. College Rankings

For the past 25 years, has introduced families to a systematic and logical method of identifying quality colleges. The approach is vastly different from the college rankings published annually by US News and World Report, which combines overall graduate and undergraduate factors to rank the schools. Mixing things like graduate school research publishing and grant writing with undergraduate offerings creates a meaningless comparison for a high school student when selecting colleges to apply to.

CPSi’s college comparison approach places major emphasis on the undergraduate programs. More specifically, qualities such as a mentoring environment, the power of collaborative studies among students, and a focus on in-depth, fearless learning lead to exploration, discovery, and success.

Feedback from thousands of CPSi alumni reveals that in-depth learning and discovery is linked with students’ feelings of accomplishment, satisfaction, and happiness. Students who graduate from smaller mentoring colleges that emphasize in-depth learning tend to be unafraid of tackling difficult tasks in their jobs. They self-identity as proactive problem solvers, leading to quicker promotion and higher income. An October 2018 article from Inside Higher Ed points to similar conclusions from a Stanford study of US News rankings; the rankings often leave families confused and lead them to make decisions based on irrelevant information when choosing undergraduate colleges.

To learn about identifying quality best-fit colleges with outstanding undergraduate programs, schedule to attend a private evaluation meeting.


2,418 views Bob Mahmoudi

College Application Short Essays: 5 Steps to Writing a Great One

The key: Be sincere, succinct, and specific.

When your college application requires a response limited to 100 words or fewer, you may think it requires little effort—but an admissions officer can immediately spot a half-hearted response in such a short piece. If you are seriously interested in admission to that college, take the time to write an essay that is sincere, succinct, and specific so it will strengthen your application. Here’s how.

Follow these 5 steps to writing a great short-answer or short essay response:

  1. Answer the question as directly as you can, in your own voice. Be thoughtful and sincere, but get right to the point.
  2. Forget about an introduction, a conclusion, or metaphors; jump right into your response.
  3. Use words that reveal your own feeling about the experience. Admission officers have likely heard similar stories before; it is your perspective that will make your story unique.
  4. Simplify language to reduce word count, especially if you’ve written too much, or if you are adapting a longer essay for the response.
  5. Be sure to include specific details, but stick to the details most relevant to the prompt and go deep on those. Be open to cutting entire passages, even some that you really like.

Remember that short essays are intended to help the admissions officers get a feel for the degree of your interest in the college and who you are. If you approach the question seriously and follow these 5 steps, your response will support a favorable reply to your application.


5,042 views Debbie Schmidt

Boost Your College Applications

No matter whether a student is earning straight “As” while taking rigorous AP/IB courses or hovering nearer a B average in general high school classes, participating in the right extracurricular activities can boost their college applications.

High school freshmen and sophomores should explore a variety of clubs and organizations to discover which ones are a good fit for their strengths, abilities and interest areas, and then commit to two or three to expand their knowledge, gain leadership skills, and achieve a specific goal during the remainder of their high school years. While juniors do not have the luxury of sampling a variety of options, they can still enhance their opportunities by purposefully engaging in extracurricular activities. For students interested in business, for example, joining Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) is one way to learn more about business; to improve communication, presentation, and teamwork skills; and to network with other students and business professionals through state, regional, and national competitions and conferences.

Participating in strategically-chosen clubs and volunteering regularly within the community can help students learn more about themselves and their intended fields of study. Such involvements also offer personal growth opportunity and memorable experiences to write college essays about that are authentic and insightful – essays that will add value to their college applications.

It is with those goals in mind that CPSi develops a strategic plan and recommends specific involvements for each of our students.

Photo credit: NASA Johnson Space Center

1,972 views Steve Laing

Upgrade Your Reading!

While the year is still new, step up your reading plan to make a habit of reading regularly beyond what is required. As you’ve heard, reading regularly helps:

  • Expand your vocabulary;
  • Improve standardized test scores; and
  • Strengthen your writing skills and proficiency.

If you haven’t been a reader, start small; reserve 20-30 minutes daily to read, and go for it! Here are some ideas for what to read, just to get you started:

  1. Try a book that helps you explore ideas or interests in various fields, like one of these:
    • Delve into The Economics Bible: The Definitive Guide to the Science of Wealth, Money and World Finance, by Tejvan Pettinger for a detailed introduction to a wide array of economic concepts. If you’re new to learning about economics or even if you’ve finished taking AP Economics, this book is filled with concise explanations of concepts and theories to answer your questions.
    • As scientists learn more about changes in the climate, engineers are developing solutions to address issues. Learn about the developments in this field in Geoengineering Earth’s Climate: Resetting the Thermostat, by Jennifer Swanson.
    • If you’re curious about the role of STEM fields in developing solutions to the world’s obstacles, check out Adapt: How Humans are Tapping into Nature’s Secrets to Design and Build a Better Future, by Amina Khan.
    • Learn about the technological progress behind artificial intelligence and what might be next in Thinking Machines: The Quest for Artificial Intelligence–and Where It’s Taking Us Next, by Luke Dormehl. The book explores the history of artificial intelligence, from World’s Fair predictions about the future to our present-day smartphone technology.
    • If you’re considering a psychology major, check out The Skeleton Cupboard: The Making of a Clinical Psychologist, by Tanya Byron, for a look at how a clinical psychologist approaches mental ailments.
    • In Made to Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath, dive into what makes ideas incredibly interesting to people and how to develop concepts that “stick” with audiences. These concepts apply naturally in business, marketing, communications, and any other field involving people.
  2. Remember to read some fiction, too, to encourage thinking about things in complex ways, considering human factors and philosophical ideas as well as straight-line logic. These books are all highly recommended by the American Library Association:
    • The Lie Tree, by Frances Hardinge
    • On the Edge of Gone, by Eric Lindstrom
    • The Serpent King, by Jeff Zentner
    • The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon
    • Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green
    • American Street, by Ibi Zoboi

CPSi recommends titles specifically chosen for each student to help them achieve their reading and personal growth goals in the college preparation process. This is just a glimpse, and there are many more where these came from!

Photo credit: ZapTheDingbat (CC BY 2.0)

1,676 views Staff Consultant

Who benefits from applying REA, ED, or EA?

Despite popular belief, applying to colleges Early Decision (ED), Restricted Early Action (REA) – also known as “Single Choice Early Action” – or Early Action (EA) is not always advantageous.  I wrote about this two years ago; here is a bit more focused information.

How to make REA, ED, or EA decision requires an understanding of admission types as well as the student’s academic standing and depth of extracurricular activities. Below is a discussion of what each option means and when it can be an advantage.

REA (Restricted Early Action)

  • What is it? REA means the student signs an agreement promising, in exchange for an early answer from the college, not to apply Early Action or Early Decision to another school. The typical REA application deadline is November 1.
  • How does it work? If a student applies REA, they will receive an answer by mid-December.

Admission via an REA application is non-binding; the student can still accept admission to another college, or wait until May 1 to accept the REA admission offer. Approximately 10 colleges offer the REA option, the most elite of the elite colleges. Those colleges are confident that a student admitted REA will attend, even if they have other admission offers later or wait until May 1 to commit.

  • Who will benefit from applying REA? Applying REA benefits the college, not the student, because the college will admit only the VERY BEST QUALIFIED of the BEST STUDENTS. A student who is not among the very best qualified is unlikely to be admitted. In fact, applying REA is a disadvantage to the student, since the student foregoes opportunities to apply Early Decision or Early Action to other colleges.

ED (Early Decision):

  • What is it? ED (Early Decision) means the student signs an agreement promising, in exchange for an early answer from the college, that if admitted to the college, they will attend. It is a binding agreement, one that requires the parents and the school counselor to also sign an affidavit saying the students understands the agreement. The typical ED deadline is 11/1. A few colleges also offer an “ED 2” option in December or January.
  • How does it work? When a student applies ED, they will typically receive an answer by mid-December (or within 30-45 days for ED 2 applications). A student can only apply to one college ED (and an REA application is not allowed). If admitted via an ED application, the student must respond to accept the offer, typically within 2 weeks, and place a deposit soon after. Per the ED agreement, the student is then required to withdraw all other college applications. A few hundred colleges offer the ED option. 
  • Who will benefit from applying ED? For the right student, this option can increase the chance of admission by up to 2%.

EA (Early Action)

  • What is it? EA (Early Action) means the student submits the application and all supporting documents by a college’s EA deadline (ranging from 10/15 to 12/15) in exchange for an early answer from the college. A student can apply to multiple colleges EA, in addition to an ED application if they wish. The EA option is offered by several moderately to less selective colleges.
  • How does it work? If a student applies EA, they will receive an answer within 30 to 45 days after the EA deadline. An EA admission is non-binding; the student can wait and decide by May 1.
  • Who will benefit from applying EA? For the right student, EA applications offer a chance to complete the process early and then have peace of mind. Knowing they will have good college options allows them to calmly wait for answers to their college applications AND focus on making their senior year successful and memorable. For other students, however, an EA application is a disadvantage.

Senior students and parents, this is what we have been discussing in your meetings at CPSi about the REA, ED, or EA decision and which application method is best for you

For other students and parents who want to learn how to become the “right student” who would benefit from an REA, ED, or EA application, connect with CPSi. We’ll tell you the facts about the most compatible steps to improve the chance of getting into the quality colleges you most deserve.

6,645 views Bob Mahmoudi

Are Foreign Language Classes Worth it? Why you may need more than 2 years of language

Students – Do you wonder if you need another year of Spanish, French, Chinese, or other World Language?

The Yale office of admission provides this advice:

… try to take courses each year in English, science, math, the social sciences, and foreign language. We encourage you to pursue your intellectual interests, so long as it is not at the expense of your program’s overall rigor or your preparedness for college. Be honest with yourself when you are deciding between different courses. Are you choosing a particular course because you are truly excited about it and the challenge it presents, or are you also motivated by a desire to avoid a different academic subject?

Rather than simply thinking about meeting graduation or college admission requirements, consider these benefits of learning another language:

  1. Enhanced listening skills and memory;
  2. Improved analytical skills;
  3. Increased creativity;
  4. Improved scores on standardized tests;
  5. Increased appreciation for cultural diversity (something you will likely be required to write about on a few of your college application essays); and finally,
  6. Increased job opportunities post-college graduation.

Still aren’t sure whether continuing your language studies is the best decision for you? Before you choosing classes for next term, contact CPSi to help you decide the best option for achieving your education goals.

37,453 views Staff Consultant

Summer Programs and Activities? An Opportunity Too Good to Miss

Summertime may still feel like an eternity away – but don’t let that stop you from starting to plan and think about how you can utilize the upcoming summer months to set yourself apart from other students in today’s competitive college admissions market. Colleges aren’t just looking at your GPA or SAT scores anymore – they’re looking for students with motivation and demonstrated interest and experience in the subjects and activities they’re passionate about. Even more, the right summer involvement improves your college admission opportunities.

Need some ideas? Check with CPSi about which options are right for you. Here are just a few examples of the categories their specific recommendations for you may fall into:

1) Volunteering

This is an easy and productive way to gain experience in a field that interests you. Since there are so many volunteering opportunities to choose from (usually with little or no “competition” or application process), find one that correlates most closely with one of your primary interests and then stick with it throughout the summer. Nothing shows an admissions office your passion for a given subject area or activity like committing and donating your own time.

2) Summer Programs

Many local colleges and organizations offer high school juniors and seniors the opportunity to attend pre-college summer programs. These types of programs can run from 1 week to 2 months, depending on the intensity of the curriculum. Again, try to look for program subjects that will add to your knowledge and experience in one of your primary interests. If you’re unsure what to look for or where to start, it’s never a bad idea to get some ideas by simply scrolling through the summer programs being offered by the colleges at the top of your preliminary best-fit colleges list.

3) Working

This one may seem obvious, but obtaining a full or part-time summer job (especially if you can secure something related to one of your primary interests) will impress admissions with your work ethic, and is also a great way to save up some much needed cash for impending college expenses. It may seem early, but start researching and applying for positions now – the best summer jobs tend to go very quickly. This goes for summer internships opportunities too. An alternative employment option, that can often show even more initiative to colleges, is to start your own business. Don’t worry about starting out simple – even small painting projects or babysitting will demonstrate resourcefulness to potential schools.

4) Maintaining Your Online Presence

Don’t get too excited here – we’re not talking about spending more time on Instagram or Twitter! Rather, spend time creating a significant online presence that you can use to showcase your professional and educational interests to potential colleges. Consider crafting a blog or website relating to a subject or activity that you’re passionate about, and then post often and consistently. If you haven’t already, create a thorough LinkedIn account that shows off your biggest educational and extracurricular accomplishments, as well as any employment, intern, or volunteering experience. Since we all know that admissions officers can now easily conduct online searches of applicants they’re interested in, make sure to also give your recreational social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.) a good look-through and clean-up to make sure that colleges are seeing the best version of yourself.

Whatever combination of activities you decide to participate in, just remember not to waste your summer by thinking of these upcoming few months as “time off.” Some rest and relaxation is definitely important in moderation, but the opportunity to use this extra time to make yourself a more hard-working, interesting, and balanced admissions candidate is just too good to pass up!

1,773 views Ryan Flannery