Congratulations, Arne Duncan! But Before You Go, Can You Please Answer My Question?

Congratulations, Arne Duncan, on your upcoming resignation as US Secretary of Education!  We’re happy to hear that you plan to continue your professional journey as a change-agent for education in your hometown of Chicago.   But please pardon my persistence, Arne, you still haven’t responded to my question and suggestions about programs to help high school seniors mindfully navigate the college research, application and selection processes. #AskArne

Excerpted from Trish Portnoy’s blog, College Push: Room 106:


The question comes up again in my Twitter feed…because educators and college planning professionals realize that many families are overwhelmed by and struggling with this process.  Parents don’t know whom to trust, which websites to use, in what order to complete the tasks, or even what exactly needs to be done to apply to college.  If parents aren’t comfortable with the process, how can they confidently approach it with thought to select the “right-fit” school that won’t strap their child with enormous amounts of student loan debt?


And thanks to @CollegeForAll we now get to continue this conversation!  Parents need guidance and answers to the following questions, but not in a two-hour presentation where the whole college-thing is glossed over by experts who do it every day.  I support weekly parent/child workshops where they can work together to complete tasks for “homework,” ready to come back next week, over the course of a month or two, with the information, knowledge and building blocks necessary to make mindful decisions.

 1.  How does college work?

Most teens and many parents aren’t familiar with the terms and vocabulary used in higher education…consider Early Action vs Early Decision, Undergraduate vs Graduate, Associates vs Bachelors, Registrar vs Bursar, Credits vs Courses, or Subsidized vs Unsubsidized.  How can we convey the meanings of these terms beyond distributing a piece of paper with definitions?

2.  How does a 17-year old know which major to pursue in college?

Students and their families are committing time and money to this endeavor, and they don’t want to waste either or do it twice!  It’s a very early age to be making this commitment, but there are indicators and assessments available to guide each student to a course of study that should appear and feel like a natural fit.  Let’s create programs to identify and explain free and available resources that will provide information to teens while they learn more about career opportunities available in the Information Age and within the global economy.

3.  How do we find great schools for that major?

A great school or even a good school will have the reputation for properly educating and training future employees in the field.  A savvy employer wants to quickly hire employees who can “hit the ground running,” know what to do and how to get the job done.  An investment in a college degree carries the weight of the school’s reputation.  Parents and teens need assistance looking beyond name-brand recognition to find the best opportunities.

4.  What tasks and documents are required to complete a college application?

Some documents and tasks are completed by the guidance counselor, others by the student, one or two by teachers, and a few by parents, but they all come together to complete the college application.  Who should be the project manager for this job and how can he/she get it done in a high-quality, timely, organized manner?

5.  How do we pay for a college education?

Parents and teens should know the limits of their resources, in addition to identifying and taking advantage of opportunities for scholarships, grants, work-study and student loans.  Ultimately, the final decision-making moments of selecting a college may be determined by finances, first.

6.  Which school is the “right-fit” socially, economically and emotionally?

If the list of colleges has been well-crafted, then a high school senior should have at least two or three colleges from which to choose.  Some students prefer to live at home while pursuing their degree, and some families prefer it, as well. Visiting each campus while classes are in-session is the best way for students to “see” themselves as future members of the community.

7.  How do we prepare our 17- or 18-year old to be successful on campus?

Teens and their families must believe that the college student will be successful on campus.  Education on time management, academic integrity, campus-life and safety, commuting, date-rape, hazing, binge drinking, and health and wellness is vital to college students’ achievement.

These self-directing questions may serve as a guide to small-group discussion and workshops because their answers will lead participants to the next step in the process.

We need programs and resources to bring college planning programs to the masses, low-income and middle-class alike, so parents and teens can answer these questions for themselves based on their family-mindset which may include interests, abilities, goals, expectations, limitations and resource allocation.

Trish Portnoy is a blogger, writer, app developer and high school teacher who helps high school students and their parents research colleges, understand their options, and make choices using resources from the Internet, guidance counselors and other helpful people.

Follow Trish on Twitter!


Thank You POTUS for the #CollegeScorecard…but was it really necessary? Students and families need more guidance, more structure, but no more data, please!

Last week President Obama introduced the College Scorecard,  an online tool for students and parents researching and selecting colleges.  Reviews of the site and its data have been mixed, as discussed in  Jordan Weissmann’s  post “The Government Just Made it Much Easier to Tell Which Colleges Are a Waste of Money”  where he appreciates the information on the earning power of schools’ graduates.  His view directly contrasts with J. Randall O’Brien’s  Huffington Post article “President Obama’s New College Scorecard Receives an “F”  where the university president criticizes salary information as an indicator of a college’s worth as it may discourage liberal arts or service majors by focusing on the lower earning power of these graduates.

Taking the College Scorecard for a Test Drive 



Dear Mr. President, the underlying issue is not a lack of data…there are thousands of websites that already use solid US Government data to provide ratings, rankings and profiles…but rather how students and parents should be using data, along with advice from guidance counselors, admissions officers and well-meaning community members, to make mindful decisions.

As a classroom teacher, I create exercises where students use these tools for college research and planning …basically, we take them for a test drive by compiling specific data in an organized fashion and then attempting to draw conclusions which will assist students in their decision-making process. At West Islip High School on Long Island,  we offer a semester-long course where students have the opportunity to explore and use many of the tools available on the Internet in a structured environment.  Students reflect and share their results with peers, guidance counselors and parents to take command of the college planning process while synthesizing an individualized course of action for higher education.

And, I am sure Mr. Arne Duncan, Secretary of the US Department of Education, knows that there is no tool or website that can take the place of the arduous, stressful and sometimes complicated multi-step process of #ApplyingToCollege.  Students and parents need instruction in how to go about the whole thing…they need more guidance, more structure, but no more data, please.  @ArneDuncan How about a video series, grants for weekly, hands-on workshops for parents and their children or specific funding for college planning courses in high school like we have in West Islip?

To begin the conversation, this type of program should include the following objectives:

  1. Identify the student’s interests, including aptitudes and natural abilities, by using resources available on the Internet and at his/her school.
  2. Match potential college majors and career paths to the student’s interests, aptitudes and abilities.
  3. Begin a List of Colleges to Consider by asking the guidance counselor, professionals in the field, and well-meaning community members for their recommendations.
  4. Conduct research on career path(s), including education and licensing requirements, daily tasks, and expected salary. The student should consider obtaining an internship, part-time position or Job Shadow experience in the intended field to build confidence and confirm interest.
  5. Add more schools to the List of Colleges to Consider by reviewing Rugg’s Recommendations on the Colleges and other valued references and resources, including the newly introduced College Scorecard at
  6. Use data-heavy tools such as College Navigator at and College Scorecard to compare and contrast factual information about each school on the List of Colleges to Consider.
  7. With the guidance counselor’s assistance, pare down the List of Colleges to Consider to create a List of Colleges to Apply To based on many factors  specific to the individual student and his/her family’s expectations and needs, including admissions requirements, location, cost, etc.

The “mix of schools” on the List of Colleges to Apply To should include local and “away” schools, expensive and sensibly-priced schools, and schools where the student is reasonably assured of acceptance.  Once the acceptance letters are in, the student should ideally have two or three schools to choose between based on “factors of the heart” and cost.

  1. Students and their parents should visit colleges to get a feel for the campus facilities, surrounding area, current students and faculty. It’s VITAL to visit while classes are in session (not during summer!) so that the student connects with the “factors of the heart” which are identifiable when stepping foot on campus, touring dorm rooms and dining halls and interacting with students.

Note: Parents can wait until acceptance letters arrive to visit schools in order to cut down on unnecessary expenses and time off from work.

  1. Complete and submit the required college applications which may include the student’s transcript, SAT or ACT test results, extra-curricular resume, essays, portfolio of creative arts, letters of recommendations, and so on.
  2. Once the college applications are submitted, students and their families can focus on scholarships, financial aid and finishing high school on a high note.

An Exercise Using College Scorecard

As listed in objectives five and six, the College Scorecard is a useful tool when used within the process of #ApplyingToCollege to identify additional schools for consideration and to compare and contrast a limited number of colleges.

Here’s how I would use the College Scorecard in class with my students:

Use the College Scorecard website to identify schools to add to your List of Colleges to Consider by completing the following steps:

  1. Navigate to the College Scorecard website, open the Programs/Degrees tab (+) and select the appropriate Degree and Program from the drop down lists.
  2. Open the Location tab (+) and select the States and/or Regions you are considering. If you are planning to stay close to home, enter your Zip Code and 40-mile radius.
  3. Click the Find Schools button to continue.
  4. Use the Sort By menu to sort the results by % Earning Above HS Grad. View the list of schools and learn more about each by clicking the View More Details link.  Consider adding schools to your List of Colleges to Consider based on the possibility of earning the highest salary after graduation.  Email the listing of schools by clicking the Share button.



  1. Use the Sort By menu to sort the results by Average Annual Costs. View the list of schools and learn more about each by clicking the View More Details link.  Consider adding schools to your List of Colleges to Consider based on paying the least amount for your education.  Email the listing of schools by clicking the Share button.
  2. Use the Sort By menu to sort the results by Graduation Rate. View the list of schools and learn more about each by clicking the View More Details link.  Consider adding schools to your List of Colleges to Consider based on other students’ ability to successfully graduate from that school.  Email the listing of schools by clicking the Share button.
  3. Select a school and open tabs (+) to view additional information on Costs, Financial Aid & Debt, Graduation & Retention, Earnings After School, Student Body, SAT/ACT Scores and Academic Programs.
  4. Record data on ten (10) schools on the provided worksheet.




College Scorecard in the Toolbox

The College Scorecard is the Obama Administration’s effort to assist students and parents in the college selection process understanding that the fall-out from the Student Loan Crisis could have been prevented by properly educating consumers.  But, selecting a college is quite different than buying a car because there are fewer options to consider with a car, and hundreds of facets to each student’s interests, abilities, goals, expectations, and resources.  The College Scorecard, while trying to meet a need as Edmund’s auto-rating website does, falls short as there is no easy way or short cut, each student and family must put in the hard work to find the right fit college.

Trish Portnoy is a blogger, writer, app developer and high school teacher who helps high school students and their parents research colleges, understand their options, and make choices using resources from the Internet, guidance counselors and other helpful people.

Follow Trish on Twitter!


6 Relevant Internet Sites for College-Bound Students (and their parents)

  1. Naviance

Naviance is a multi-faceted education planning, application management, web-based platform used by guidance counselors, teachers, students and parents.  To log in you must follow the link from your school district’s website and register with the code provided by your counselor.

The subscription-only portal offers an easy-to-navigate layout which includes three categories of useful features on Colleges, Careers and About Me:

  • SAT/ACT Preparation
  • Personality Assessments
  • Career Planning Tools
  • College Search Tools & Information Database
  • Application Management
  • Common App Interface

Learn more about Naviance at  

  1. State University of New York (SUNY)

New York State’s system of higher education includes sixty-four campuses in various sizes, locations and specialties, including University Centers and University, Technology and Community Colleges.

Site highlights include the following information and data:

Learn more about SUNY at

  1. City University of New York (CUNY)

New York City, including Manhattan and four more boroughs, is the epicenter of fashion, finance and the arts.  More and more students are including John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Baruch College, Hunter College, Queens College and sixteen more campuses as their top schools.

Important resources available on CUNY’s site include:

Learn more about the CUNY system at

  1. FastWeb Scholarship Database

Scholarship and grants are a great way to keep student loan debt to a minimum.  There are tens of thousands of scholarship opportunities available; however, students must apply for them by completing and submitting forms, as well as meeting the requirements set forth by the donating company, organization or person.

Upon registration, you’re required to complete a profile which matches you to possible awards…please be mindful to skip opportunities for unwanted spam and advertisements by sponsors.

FastWeb’s comprehensive database of opportunities will possibly lead you to scholarships offered by:

  • Ford Motor Company
  • Dr. Pepper/7 Up, Inc.
  • DECA
  • The College Jump Start Scholarship Fund

Create Your FastWeb Profile at

  1. Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Take note of the URL extension at, the .gov signifies that this is an official US Government website…don’t be fooled by knock-offs!  Another thing, pay attention to the word “free” in the title…you should not pay a fee to complete or submit this application…watch out for scams!

The basics on FAFSA:

  • Begin the application after January 1st because the government needs your current year’s salary and income amounts to determine eligibility.
  • Gather personal financial information beforehand, including bank statements, portfolio statements and payroll stubs for both student and parents.
  • The opportunity for financial aid is “first come, first served” so submit the application by March 1st.

Learn why you need to complete the FAFSA by watching this entertaining video at Five-Minute FAFSA

Learn more about Financial Aid, in general, at the US Department of Education’s Website at

  1. College Apps: Selecting, Applying to, and Paying for the Right College for You

College Apps takes a hands-on, step-by-step approach to researching colleges, completing applications and confident decision-making.  The text includes a glossary of college-related vocabulary, as well as insightful tips and tales from high school students and admissions officers.

College Apps and the author’s website include the following comprehensive resources:

Order College Apps at

Trish Portnoy is a blogger, writer, app developer and high school teacher who helps high school students and their parents research colleges, understand their options, and make choices using resources from the Internet, guidance counselors and other helpful people.

Follow Trish on Twitter!

Senior Year: Top 5 Questions You Should Be Asking Yourself

  1. Am I really doing enough?

Spend less time watching Netflix, especially during daylight hours, and put more effort into helping others, networking with adults, and engaging in new experiences.  You’ll never know how these outreach activities could enhance your life…by building self-esteem, meeting people who can help you in achieving your goals or getting exposure to a potential career or field of study.  Ask your #BusinessTeacher if there are available opportunities for work-study, internships or community service.

  1. What do I have to give?

Learn enough about yourself to know your strengths and talents.  Each of us comes with natural gifts and the best investment is to develop them to the fullest so you can become an expert in your field.  Use the results of personality tests to discover whether your gifts include deductive reasoning, leadership and interpersonal skills, entrepreneurship, technical aptitudes or creative inspirations.  And, if you don’t know what the heck I am talking about, then it’s time to learn how these terms apply to you in the global economy.   If your school subscribes to Naviance, the Career Interest Profiler will give you the results you need to get started.

  1. Do I respect my Learning Style?

We all receive information and learn through our eyes, ears, and body, but each of us has a preferred style. offers an online questionnaire which identifies your most efficient method.  No matter which way a teacher or professor teaches, you should always adapt the information to your preferred style of learning.  This will allow you to retain and apply the lesson easier, faster and with better recall and test-taking results.  Complete their assessment, consider the results, and follow the recommended strategies  to achieve success.



  1. Is social media advertising my skeletons in the closet?

Be mindful of photos and texts that you post on the Internet.  The Internet is forever.  We all know a friend, or ten, whose reputation was undone by something stupid (or illegal) that was captured in pixels.  A quick Google search of your name and town can give you an indication of what’s out there, but it will never show what’s already been stored on someone’s (or everyone’s) Camera Roll or hard drive.

  1. Is senior year a cake-walk or am I up for a challenge?

Even though you worked really hard last year, it’s not time to sit back, yet, and it won’t be for a long time…sorry.  I know you feel that you deserve a rest and that you want to reduce your course-load, leave school early and take easy classes, but you can’t.  And, you shouldn’t because colleges look at your senior year course schedule really carefully as an indicator of your desire to learn.  Remember, you are selling yourself (not literally) to the Admissions Committee as a life-long learner with huge potential and taking the easy-way-out senior year may red flag a lack of commitment and maturity.

Trish Portnoy is a blogger, writer, app developer and high school teacher who helps high school students and their parents research colleges, understand their options, and make choices using resources from the Internet, guidance counselors and other helpful people.

Follow Trish on Twitter!

Colleges Accept Students Who Are Active Participants In Life, Not Couch Potatoes!

Ideally, this guidance, as well as all other college planning advice, must be given to students before they step foot into high school.  Currently, most of these teaching moments occur during junior year, right before students take SAT or ACT tests, or during the fall of twelfth grade.  Slight problem… by then, some requirements of college applications cannot be changed, except with the wave of a magic wand.

Often times, I will hear high school seniors say in lament, “Oh, I wish I would’ve gotten better grades in 9th grade” or “I don’t really do anything after school, I just hang out with my friends.”

The High School Transcript

Did you know that the high school transcript, the one that colleges base their admission decisions on, lists coursework and grades from ninth through eleventh grade…and for some students, it even includes eighth grade math and science.

We, as parents and educators, are missing the boat by not having the “college planning” talk earlier.  By 9th grade, students should be aware of what colleges are requiring for admission.  For instance, according to State University of New York’s Admission Information Summary, Binghamton University’s requirements for admission are a GPA of 91-97 with SAT scores of 1240-1380 or ACT scores of 27-31.

Binghampton admit


Athletes have better outcomes when they are able to successfully visual their goals…and the same is true for high school students.  When 14-year old students enter high school knowing that their dream college has expectations of high achievement, with a target GPA, then each test and assignment becomes a building block to receiving that acceptance letter.

Extra-Curricular Activities

A college resume or activity sheet summarizes and describes the activities a student has participated in throughout high school, and even longer.  You see, colleges and universities accept students who are active participants in life, not couch potatoes.  Their outlook is that if students are athletes, club members, activists, volunteers, student government representatives, performers or employed that they will continue those same passions throughout college.  A school earns its reputation through student achievements, and if these amazing students remain active and receive a stellar education, they will go on to dazzle their future employers and do great things to change the world for the better.

From early on, students and their parents should work cooperatively to keep detailed notes, including dates and descriptions, of all school and travel sports, volunteer experiences, club meetings, and music and arts programs.  And don’t forget to add all those church activities, summer jobs, and private programs, like Karate, equestrian lessons and so on…taking special care to highlight any leadership roles or special recognition received.

Trish Portnoy is a blogger, writer, app developer and high school teacher who helps high school students and their parents to research colleges, understand their options, and make choices using resources from the Internet, guidance counselors and other helpful people

The College Essay in 650 Words or Less

You should be jumping with joy for this opportunity to differentiate yourself, articulate your own personal style, and bring life to a college application full of grades, scores and facts.  Instead, most students deliberately procrastinate and resent that they have to write a personal essay which, in reality, is less than three pages typed, double-spaced!

The secret to producing a great college essay is selecting the “right” topic or life-experience. 

Many students haven’t had such monumental growth experiences beyond making Varsity in tenth grade or scoring the winning point in that crucial game, which can be a stumbling block to a remarkable essay.  In addition to generic sports themes, contributor to College Apps, former Assistant Director of Admissions at Sacred Heart University, Michael G. Tarantino, suggests staying away from the 3 D’s which are divorce, disaster and death…the most common (but depressing) life-changing, growth-inspiring circumstances affecting teens.

If you really have no clue what to write… use to search “100 college essay topics” which leads you to a listing of essay prompts previously utilized by colleges and universities through the years.  Note:  You may not be able to use any of these exact topics for your essay, but one may remind or inspire you to recall something relevant which can motivate you to start typing!

Don’t make your essay a play-by-play description of some event or circumstance.

For instance, Matt, one of my students, wrote his essay on an experience he had as a rear-seat passenger during a major car accident.  He went on to describe the road conditions, the speed of the vehicle, the moment of impact, and his mother’s frantic response in the aftermath…a true play-by-play of the event.  The essay was fine… grammatically correct and properly formatted, but it said nothing about Matt!

After a brief discussion, Matt revealed how his friend, who was also riding in the back seat, reached for him before impact to protect and draw him away from the impending impact of the car hitting the guardrail.  That was it!  The “golden nugget” of the story…how another 17-year old kid had the capacity to recognize and react to protect him during such a split-second, frightening and dangerous moment.  Once Matt incorporated his deep respect and awareness of this amazing feat into his essay, the play-by-play details of the accident were left out for more important, almost tear-inducing, insight and speculation.

Expect to write an essay or two to fulfill the requirements listed in your supplemental college applications.

Hopefully, one well-written essay will fit the majority of prompts, perhaps with a different opening thought, comparison, or conclusion.  The Common App at is the gold standard for streamlining the process of applying to college because it allows students to provide the same data to many member colleges and universities through one Internet portal account.

The Common App provides the following five essay prompts to guide students in writing their essay in 650 words or less:

Common App's Essay Prompts


Have you noticed that these prompts are open-ended? The trick is to stay true to an event or inspiration you’re passionate about and relate it back to the prompt you selected.  And if you do, the actual typing of the essay will take less than an hour or two.  The feedback and proofreading efforts, however, should take weeks with the help of others.

  • One of your most respected English teachers will do justice to the grammar, format and syntax of your essay;
  • Your guidance counselor will be a soundboard to the propriety of your topic, including age-appropriate subject matter and purpose; and
  • Your parents and other supportive adults in your life will weigh in on your skill in writing with a true, authentic voice.

I apologize, but my software tells me I am approaching my word-count limit…and I need to be mindful of my requirements.  As you’ve read, 650 words can go quickly if you believe in what you write!

Trish Portnoy is a blogger, writer, app developer and high school teacher who helps high school students and their parents to research colleges, understand their options, and make choices using resources from the Internet, guidance counselors and other helpful people.

How did Georgetown expect her to pay $67k a year?

Kacie Candela chooses the “Right Fit” college instead of being awestruck by name-brand college recognition and publicized rankings.  Selecting the right college should be a methodical approach where you consider factual data, independent sources, self-imposed student loan limits, and personal preferences.

Kacie is a “smart cookie” because she chose the best college for her major that agreed with her bottom-line.  Student loan debt, debt-restructuring and loan-forgiveness plans are all over the news these days with politicians attempting to correct the overwhelming burden facing today’s youth.  But Kacie’s plan is the best of them all…select a school that you can actually afford to attend!

Read more about Kacie at Newsday

Consider this…there are high performance automobiles for sale for more than $200k…does the average teenager even dream of getting that car for high school graduation?  I don’t think so.  Has it ever happened?   It sure has…there are a lot of people out there in the world who can easily purchase one or more of these high-priced vehicles without a second thought.

In the same vein, plenty of families are able to write a check for $67,000 a year to send their child to a highly-ranked, private university without remortgaging their house or sacrificing their retirement funds.  And, to be honest, there’s nothing wrong with it because these families are wealthy enough to afford it and they obviously see value in earning a degree from such a prestigious university.

What is wrong is when a student ignores budgetary constraints, against all mathematics, advice and warnings, and signs on the dotted-line for over $150k in loans to attend her dream school.

Kacie’s commentary should be required reading for every high school student and parent.  It is not failure to make a prudent decision.  It takes strength and courage to walk away from a dream conceived in naivete, and toward a future with financial integrity.

Kudos to Kacie, she is an inspiration to us all!  Thank you for sharing your experience which allows us to begin this conversation.

Trish Portnoy is a blogger, writer, app developer and high school teacher who helps high school students and their parents to research colleges, understand their options, and make choices using resources from the Internet, guidance counselors and other helpful people.

Follow Trish on Twitter!

Learning More About Colleges: Painting a Picture with Data

College Navigator is one of my favorite websites (as you already know) for accessing college-related data.  The information is collected directly from the colleges by the National Center for Education Statistics at (note the .gov URL extension which we mentioned in last week’s article!) and there are no advertisements or frilly distractions.

Let’s go through an exercise so you can see how this information can be used to kick-start your college planning experience.

Here’s our starting point…You and your parents have compiled a list schools that you’d like to learn more about, considering your plan to major in Accounting.

To condense our analysis, we will generate profiles on two schools using selected data available on the College Navigator website at

The search box in the top left corner allows us to locate each college’s profile to access statistical and factual information about the school.


Use the following chart to compare and contrast your research and ultimately “paint a picture” of the two schools.  You can create your own chart on paper or word processing or spreadsheet software, whichever you choose.

College A College B
Campus Setting City: Small Suburb: Large
Number of Undergraduate Students 5,062 4,315

Tuition, Fees, and Estimated Student Expenses

Total Expenses: On Campus $ 58,835 $ 22,173
Total Expenses:  Off Campus with Family $ 46,955 $ 12,823


SAT Critical Reading 590-670 450-530
SAT Math 640-740 460-550
ACT Composite 28-32 20-23

Retention and Graduation Rates

Retention Rate 96% 84%
Graduation Rate 87% 37%


Accounting-Bachelors 48 106
The centered chart headings reflect the tabs where the information is located.  You can expand each tab by clicking the plus sign (+) next to each heading.


Now, let’s begin to paint a picture of these colleges using the data recorded above:

The campus setting and size of each school is very similar…the amount of undergraduate students differs by only 800 students and there may not be a noticeable difference between a large suburb and a small city.

The costs of these colleges are on opposite ends of the scale…a bachelor’s degree at College A could cost over $200,000, while living at home and attending College B would only cost about $50,000.

The admissions criteria reflect that College A is a very competitive, highly selective college.  You can assume by the average SAT and ACT scores that most students attending College A have outstanding high school GPAs, intense extra-curricular activities, and great college essays.   Likewise, the students attending College B should be proud of their consistent, college-ready work completed during high school.

Retention and graduation rates tell a compelling story about the experiences of first-year students, the school’s culture of learning, and the return on investment on tuition dollars.

The retention rate reflects the satisfaction of freshmen students by calculating the percentage who choose to return for sophomore year.  Both schools have acceptable rates of retention, but College A’s rate shows that more than 9 out of 10 students (if that’s even humanly possible) believe it’s a worthwhile commitment.

The graduation rate of College B should be a major red flag for every student and parent and we all should be asking why only 37% of students graduate with a degree.  There may be many reasons for this low number and you must find out what they are. College B may still be a fine choice for you, as long as you’re aware of the potential pitfalls and hazards that prevent the school’s students from achieving success.  On the other hand, College A’s percentage reflects a solid return on investment with just about 9 out of 10 students graduating with a Bachelor’s degree within a specific period of time.

The amount of student Accounting majors graduating in a specific year reflects the size of this particular program at each school.  By looking at the popularity of related majors, you can draw conclusions about the specialties of each school.  For the record, College A is highly recognized for the preparation and achievement of their accounting graduates even though the quantity of participants is significantly lower.

This exercise in data analysis is the perfect place to begin your college planning journey…well before you visit any schools, purchase any branded sweatshirts or fall in love with the beautiful campus square.

However, you shouldn’t discount a college until you consider all factors…especially the acceptance letter!  You need to apply to 8 – 10 colleges, including a mix of public and private institutions, some where you will live on campus and others at home, a couple that are “dream schools” and many that you have a great chance of being accepted to. And don’t forget your bottom-line…the rule of self-imposed student loan limits:  Advise yourself not to take out more than $10,000 per year in student loans!

Don’t get too comfortable or too overwhelmed, we are just beginning this journey which will continue right up through Thanksgiving…we still need to consider your college major, personal preferences, and many other factors.

To be continued…

Trish Portnoy is a blogger, writer, app developer and high school teacher who helps high school students and their parents to research colleges, understand their options, and make choices using resources from the Internet, guidance counselors and other helpful people.

It’s Still Summer…But What Can I Do to Get Ready for Senior Year?

It’s mid-August and many teens are experiencing anxiety from the mere thought of returning to school, but none more than those who are about to begin their final year of high school.  They know the pressure is on…applying to college, playing Varsity sports, going to Prom, navigating the social scene, dealing with peer pressure and finally, and most importantly, maintaining those good grades.

There are a couple of tasks that you can begin now, before the big crush, to get a head start on #ApplyingToCollege.  The first one is to write your college essay…and the hardest part of that assignment is picking the perfect topic.   Many students are dumbstruck by this requirement…we will explain more about the college essay  and offer inspiring resources in next week’s article.

Today, we’re focusing on the information available to you on the Internet…it is a manageable topic to start with since most teens are sleeping with their phones under their pillows anyway.

Who doesn’t love to surf the Internet to learn about new products, read personal advice, experiences and cautionary tales or watch entertaining videos?  That’s what teenagers do all the time, but now we are going to focus those same efforts to learn more about SCHOOLS, COLLEGES and UNIVERSITIES!

The National Center for Educational Statistics offers the College Navigator website at

This easy to navigate, comprehensive database offers admissions, financial aid, and campus-culture related data which is reported directly from the schools to the US Government….please notice the .gov extension at the end of the web address.

Some of my favorite information (pay attention!) to gather includes student population percentages, campus safety statistics, graduation and retention rates and financial aid facts.

I consider this website to be a “heavy hitter” meaning that you can spend quite a bit of time compiling useful facts, trends and information on all colleges and universities.  It is one of my favorites…chock full of data, all on one page, no hyperlinks, no ads, no distractions.

Take some time to look up schools you’ve heard of and may be considering.  Use scrap paper (or a spreadsheet!) to compile the important information I mentioned above…use your critical thinking skills to compare and contrast.

Here’s a fun fact:  Each college’s official website is designated by the .edu extension at the end of the web address or URL.  I consider the information found here to be a “primary” source because the schools are responsible for their own content and they have immediate access to keep the information accurate and up-to-date.

Here are some examples off the top of my head:,,,,,

And don’t forget that you can always use Google to find the link…just remember to look for the correct file extension.

Use these official sites to obtain specific information about academic programs and majors, course offerings, admission requirements, social media accounts and contact and application information.

Most high school students have already visited College Board’s website for SAT, Advanced Placement, and Subject Test registrations.  College Board also offers college planning tools and college-related data similar to that of College Navigator, however their Big Future website  provides the information in a more teen-friendly layout, size and font.

Each year US News publishes a guidebook solely devoted to the best colleges and their rankings.  It is great resource for the coffee table and family discussion purposes.  Their ranking system is based on a complex formula which has received mixed reviews, and for a subscription fee you can gain online access to their school profiles, rankings and college planning tools at

A user-driven community forum for questions and answers, reviews, articles and tools related to colleges, admissions, campus-life, and so on, many teens enjoy reading the advice and cautionary tales written by their peers at

A highly entertaining website which contains a great catalog of well-produced videos that capture the essence of the college and surrounding campus-life, as well as the faculty and student population at each school. is a great tool to virtually visit those “far-away” schools which you may be considering or dreaming about.


That’s already a bunch of resources which will keep you busy for a long time.  The best part is that you can access these resources from the comfort of your own home, day or night…which means it’s  time to get off Instagram and Snap Chat to do something productive with your life!

But one last point…there is a challenge when using the Internet…it is vast world of data and knowledge…some of it true, some false and some opinion.  It can be overwhelming if you don’t know which is which or how to pull out the meaningful information while leaving the unnecessary behind.

Trish Portnoy is a blogger, writer, app developer and high school teacher who helps high school students and their parents to research colleges, understand their options, and make choices using resources from the Internet, guidance counselors and other helpful people.

Follow Trish on Twitter!

More Guidance, Less Information…I am overwhelmed by my choices!

As a high school student or the parent of one, you should take some time to acquaint yourself with the counseling/guidance/or college planning center at your school.  Most high schools offer many “information night” sessions throughout the year…call to inquire!

This brings us to our next group of resources…which will be very helpful to you when overwhelmed by the opportunity to apply to any of the 3,000+ colleges in the US… which you then have to pare down to identify a group of 20 to 30 schools to really consider further.


One of the most dynamic tools offered to students is a web-based program named Naviance.  School districts pay a substantial cost to offer this program…which, I’d like to note, is free from spam, advertisements and pop-ups.  Guidance counselors and teachers also have access to data and documents which allows for seamless transmission of letters of recommendation, counseling opportunities, and application tracking.

One of my favorite areas of Naviance is the About Me tab where students have access to multiple career-interest and personality assessments…which really should be the starting  point for all college and career planning activities.

Additionally, there is school-specific data on admission trends from previous years’ seniors…including maps and outcomes.

Ruggs Recommendations on the Colleges:

I love the fact that Mr. Ruggs has a photo of himself, dressed as the detective Sherlock Holmes, on the cover of his book.  It is a perfect characterization of how he investigates each of the most studied Academic Programs and Majors until finds the best colleges for each of them….and it’s not based on heresay, or from the neighbor’s wife or from the college’s own staff…Ruggs is independent…he is like the Consumer Reports of colleges.

You can find copies of his previous editions on every counselor’s bookshelf or at the local library, but his newest, the 32nd edition is only available as a PDF.

At first, I thought this non-paper copy would be problematic, but when I realized that I could get a classroom of high schools seniors searching his life work simultaneously with the ability to print out single or multiple pages…I was sold.

Your Guidance Counselor and Teachers:

Well, here we go…these people care about you very much.  They are older than you and they have you best interest at heart.  Be kind and courteous when receiving their advice…consider their wisdom and incorporate what “feels right” into your own plan.

Don’t neglect those who are right under your nose when making your plans.  Tell everyone your developing plans and see the consistencies in their responses.

Also, reach out to those professionals you meet…speak to your dentist, doctor, lawyer or accountant.  Ask them where they went to school, ask them their opinions of the industry and what their experiences have been with recent graduates.

You will be overwhelmed by how these people will go out of their way to support you and assist you in reaching your goals.

You are literally surrounded by resources to assist you in the college planning process. Just using the internet along will give you access to thousands of college-related websites.

College Push iPhone App

A favorite “hand-held” resource is theCollege Push App, available on iTunes.  Some of the  greatest features about College Push are:

My Passwords–Store usernames and password hints to the most-used college planning portals, including College Board, Common App, FAFSA and more.  Add additional URLs through the customize option

My Vitals–Store your important academic information at your fingertips, including your advisor’s phone number and email address, SAT and ACT scores, and more.

Daily Pushes–Receive daily instructions, tasks and reminders to assist you through the college selection and application process.

Plus, College Push includes an export feature that allows you to send this information in report form to your parents, guidance counselor or yourself.

Thanks for spending time with me in Room 106.  I hope that you gained a deeper understanding of the resources available to you for college planning and decision-making.

Trish Portnoy is a blogger, writer, app developer and high school teacher who helps high school students and their parents to research colleges, understand their options, and make choices using resources from the Internet, guidance counselors and other helpful people.

Follow Trish on Twitter!