Gender Advantage at Some Colleges

Yes, sometimes it matters if you’re a boy or a girl.  There have been more women than men applying to, and attending, four-year colleges for the past 30 years.

Most colleges and universities strive to maintain as much gender equivalence as possible to insure a truly co-educational experience. An imbalanced ratio of men to women can impact the entire campus culture. That said, some colleges do have significantly higher acceptance rates for women than for men, and vice versa. 

For example, at schools with a strong engineering or hard science program, men generally apply in much larger number than women, hence giving women a competitive edge. At the highly selective, MIT, the acceptance rate for women is twice as high and at Harvey Mudd College, which only offers majors in engineering and the sciences, women are admitted 2.5 times more often.

According to a recent survey completed by The Washington Post, there are measurable gaps favoring men at some colleges and women at others. Below are partial lists for these institutions.

National Universities with a gender gap favoring men:

·         William and Mary (28 percent women, 42 percent men) 14 points

·         Pepperdine (31 percent women, 44 percent men) 13 points

·         George Washington (41 percent women, 48 percent men) 7 points

·         Brandeis (33 percent women, 39 percent men) 6 points

·         Wake Forest (32 percent women, 38 percent men) 6 points

·         Tufts (15 percent women, 20 percent men) 5 points

·         Brown (7 percent women, 11 percent men) 4 points

·         Stony Brook (39 percent women, 43 percent men) 4 points

·         Vanderbilt (11 percent women, 15 percent men) 4 points

National Universities with a gender gap favoring women:

·         Worcester Polytechnic Institute (54 percent women, 40 percent men) 14 points

·         Clark (60 percent women, 46 percent men) 14 points

·         Georgia Tech (41 percent women, 30 percent men) 11 points

·         Caltech (16 percent women, 6 percent men) 10 points

·         Purdue (65 percent women, 55 percent men) 10 points

·         American (49 percent women, 41 percent men) 8 points

·         California-Davis (44 percent women, 36 percent men) 8 points

·         Lehigh (39 percent women, 31 percent men) 8 points

·         Vermont (77 percent W, 69 percent men) 8 points

·         Wisconsin-Madison (61 percent women, 53 percent men) 8 points

·         Delaware (71 percent women, 64 percent men) 7 points

·         Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (63 percent women, 56 percent men) 7 points

·         MIT (13 percent women, 6 percent men) 7 points

·         Texas at Austin (43 percent women, 36 percent men) 7 points

·         Carnegie Mellon (28 percent women, 22 percent men) 6 points

·         Penn State (53 percent women, 47 percent men) 6 points

·         Boston U. (37 percent women, 32 percent men) 5 points

National Liberal Arts Colleges with a gender gap favoring men:

·         Vassar (19 percent women, 34 percent men) 15 points

·         Wheaton of Illinois (64 percent women, 77 percent men) 13 points

·         Davidson (19 percent women, 26 percent men) 7 points

·         Bates (23 percent women, 28 percent men) 5 points

·         Pomona (10 percent women, 15 percent men) 5 points

·         Bowdoin (13 percent women, 17 percent men) 4 points

·         Carleton (21 percent women, 25 percent men) 4 points

·         Reed (37 percent women, 41 percent men) 4 points

·         Richmond (30 percent women, 34 percent men) 4 points

·         Haverford (23 percent women, 26 percent men) 3 points

National Liberal Arts Colleges with a gender gap favoring women:

·         Harvey Mudd College (23 percent women, 10 percent men) 13 points

·         Earlham (70 percent women, 59 percent men) 11 points

          Allegheny (76 percent women, 67 percent men) 9 points

·         Wheaton of Mass. (73 percent women, 64 percent men) 9 points

·         Furman (72 percent women, 64 percent men) 8 points

·         Connecticut College (40 percent women, 34 percent men) 6 points

·         Lafayette (33 percent women, 27 percent men) 6 points

·         Dickinson (50 percent women, 45 percent men) 5 points

·         Hobart & William Smith (50 percent women, 45 percent men) 5 points

·         Muhlenberg (55 percent women, 50 percent men) 5 points








Summer Steps for Juniors and Seniors

Rising seniors truly should begin their Common Application in July to reduce the pressure later.  Ideally, rising juniors should know by now which standardized test – the ACT or the SAT – they plan to take in the fall or winter.  Summer is the best time to jumpstart the college roadtrip and take the important steps necessary to reduce the stress of the fall semester.


  • Finalize your college list – At the very least, review your school list and decide which colleges to visit in the fall.  Some schools already have their ‘open house’ and ‘special session’ fall visit schedule online.  Have a final list ready to review with the college advisor at your high school in September and ask him/her to suggest additional options.
  • Continue test prep for fall SAT/ACT and/or SAT Subject Tests – Many students hope to improve upon their scores by focusing on test prep over the summer and re-taking exams in the fall. Some students consider taking an SAT subject test, or two, in order to enhance their college applications. This is recommended even if the colleges to which you will apply do not require subject tests.
  • Application Essays – July is the perfect time to complete the personal essay for the Common Application. In August, the supplemental essay prompts for individual schools will be available and students will get busy drafting those. While many students have summer jobs/internships or are taking summer classes, there is time on weekends and evenings to begin composing the personal essay – the main college essay.


  • Begin Sat/ACT test prep –  Whether or not the student has taken the PSAT and/or PLAN, it is advisable to take a diagnostic SAT and ACT over the summer to determine which exam makes the most sense. If it is possible, students should begin practicing for a fall test. This leaves ample time for re-testing in the winter and/or spring.  
  • Start perusing the college guidebook - Parents can pick up any of the college guide books on bookstore shelves and start a preliminary list based on location, size, and possible majors (liberal arts vs. sciences). For parents who want to take the next step, use the guidebook to identify colleges of interest and spend time on each school’s website.
  • Website Research – You can spend hours on college websites as they are chock full of information. One piece of information that can help discern if the college is a real possibility or a long shot, is the 'student profile' for the incoming class. This includes the SAT and ACT scores; GPA range; and a slew of demographics. If your student’s current GPA falls close, it may be worthy of consideration.
  • Start planning fall college visits – Starting campus tours in the fall gives students a huge headstart and takes the pressure off of the spring when exams, school work, and extra-curriculars ramp up. The more schools students visit, the more focused they become.

ReadySetCollege has a unique approach to executing these steps more effectively than families and high school counselors can alone. Contact Franca today.

Starting the Personal Essay

Next to grades, the personal essay is the key element to a student's college application. Yet, all students struggle with writing it. Unlike analytical papers written for literature and history classes, the personal essay does not follow a rubric, it is not formulaic in any way.  This actually makes it more difficult to write as there is no template or outline to follow.

Self-reflection is crucial

The self reflection that the essay requires of students further exacerbates their apprehension and uncertainty.  Writers need to share specific stories, anecdotes, and experiences. To do this effectively, the student must dig deep and use words that may feel slightly uncomfortable.  They must show that through this introspection they have come to understand themselves. The qualities and experiences unique to the writer help colleges learn more about the applicant and why this student belongs on their campus.

Probably the hardest part of writing this essay is getting enough detail on paper.  Students tend to write in general, vague, even cliché-d terms.  A lot of words that say basically nothing.  My role is to pull those details out because they are always in there.  Once prodded, students recite wonderful, exciting, dramatic stories that come to life on paper.  I encourage as many visuals as possible so the reader can truly “see” and “feel” what the writer is relating.  The more the reader feels, the more effective the essay.

Layering with many drafts

Writing is a process that takes time and perseverance and many drafts. But this is precisely what students heading off to college need to learn.  The essays, research papers, theses, they must compose even as college freshmen will require several drafts, each one adding greater support to the previous draft.  With the personal essay, each layer adds clarity and conviction culminating in a compelling narrative that flows smoothly, but also touches.


Colleges That Change Lives, and the Admissions Journey

Each spring, the media frenzy around record low college acceptances sends students and parents into a tail spin of nerves. And then the breath of fresh air arrives – the Colleges That Change Lives College Fair.  Here, executive director, Maria Furtado, calms the hysteria and imparts a smile with her reality check of today’s college admissions landscape. 

“The average admission rate at four-year colleges over the last 10 years is roughly 65%,” noted Ms. Furtado. And the percentage of college freshmen who say they are at their first choice college ranges from 80 to 88% year to year.  So the important take-away is that high school students are much more successful with their college journey than one would perceive from the entire buzz.

Liberal Arts for the Sciences

The Colleges That Change Lives consortium consists of 44 liberal arts colleges throughout the US. These are the undergraduate institutions first profiled by Loren Pope 20 years ago as smaller schools offering superior education experiences that enrich students’ lives.  To be clear, liberal arts colleges are not just for students interested in the humanities.  If you have a teen who is science/math oriented and looking for a strong STEM program, these colleges are excellent options for several reasons.

Liberal arts colleges have a great deal of research underway and undergraduates have greater opportunities to get involved in research earlier than they do at larger universities. That’s because there are few or no graduate students at colleges competing for choice research positions.  The lack of grad students impacts classroom learning as well. At the liberal arts colleges, full professors are teaching the introductory courses as well as the electives, and more often than not, their doors are always open.

As a college counselor, I’ve heard countless students at the top universities tell me “my lab teacher is a grad student who speaks with such a heavy accent, I barely understand him,” or “it’s impossible to schedule a meeting with my professor because he hardly has office hours.”   I’ve never heard these sentiments from my students who attend CTCL colleges.

A unique flavor of the college experience

On the contrary, it is the warm campus atmosphere and nurturing philosophy of CTCL institutions that make them stand out.  Speaking to admissions reps at the individual colleges, their enthusiasm is palpable; these people really love their students. The McDaniel College rep beamed as she boasted that over 10 thousand people from all over Maryland come to the school’s homecoming game.  At Willamette, the rep highlighted the plethora of trips - from weekend jaunts to weeks-long adventures - that almost all students participate in.  Each campus offers its own unique flavor of the college experience.

Another pleasant surprise is the criteria with which most of the CTCL schools view their applicants. Yes, the student's academic record is first, and foremost, but standardized test scores fall further down the list than they do at other institutions. And a good number of CTCL colleges are test-optional which can make the admissions process far less stressful.

When CTCL reps tell me they take a holistic approach to applications, I believe them (I typically don’t at other schools).

If you missed the fair, I urge you to explore  and get to know these schools. You’ll be glad you did.

How to Enhance Teacher Recommendation Letters

Juniors!  If you have not already done so, it’s definitely time to request teacher recommendation(s) that will accompany your college applications.   Students are sometimes tempted to leave this part of the process until the fall of their senior year, but that leaves very little time for teachers to complete the recommendations, particularly when confronted with application deadlines as early as October 15th.

Tips to keep in mind:

·         The best recommendation is not necessarily from the teacher who gave you the best grades. Often, a stronger recommendation comes from the teacher in whose class you’ve struggled.  This teacher can address your academic drive and perseverance, qualities that admissions readers love to see.

·         Ideally, recommendations will come from teachers of your “core” academic subjects. Yet, if you feel that another teacher has gotten to know you well and can write about qualities that other teachers will not, by all means. Furthermore, you may want to check with the colleges that you are interested in to see if they require recommendations from specific teachers for some specific majors.

·         Whenever possible, provide your recommenders with a “Student Resume.” This is a list of the clubs and organizations you have joined in high school student as well as leadership positions in these clubs, academic honors, volunteer experiences and employment.  This enables a teacher to put their classroom experience with you into the overall context of your academic and extracurricular life.

Should You Hire an Independent College Counselor?

Parents often ask me what can I do for their teen on the college journey that the high school counselor cannot. Having been in their shoes, I understand the need for parents to weigh cost versus benefit. Parents want to know that I have something valuable to offer that the high school counselor does not. The answer is yes. A recent article in the NACAC Journal of College Admission explores the advantages of having an independent educational consultant (IEC) and the school counselor collaborating in the best interests of the student.

There's been a three-fold increase in the number of independent counselors across the country in the past five years. This is partly due to the overload of students that school counselors must manage. As the article states: "with school budgets being cut right and left [school counselors] don't have time."  Furthermore, while the cost of going to college continues to go up every year, the cost of hiring an IEC has remained stable.

Available 24/7

Every family comes to the college admissions journey with expectations and concerns, and lots of questions.  The number one value that an IEC provides is the availability to answer questions anytime and to offer as much customized guidance as each individual student requires. I tell my families that I am available 24/7 and both students and parents have my cell phone number to reach me evenings, weekends, holidays. The school counselor obviously cannot provide this level of commitment and may have very limited office hours especially in a large school.

Get the Best of Both Worlds

Nevertheless, the school counselor is the student's best ally and I emphasize this to all of my students.  Only the school counselor knows the senior class: where are the student's classmates applying? given this school's track record, what are the student's chances of acceptance to the colleges on his/her list? The school counselor is privy to "inside information" that can be crucial.  If both counselors work together, the student gets the best of both worlds.

By keeping in touch and talking directly to one another, the IEC and the school counselor can not only avoid duplicating efforts, but they can share their expertise and knowledge base about colleges. IECs build relationships with college admissions personnel just as school counselors do. Hence the addition of the IEC's connections to the school counselor's network can only benefit the student. In addition, because the IEC gets to know the student on a more personal level, the consultant can share insights that help define the colleges that are truly a best fit for the student.

Achieve Results

Because IECs have experience working with schools, parents should ask a prospective consultant how he or she has handled this in the past and how the parent should broach the topic with the school counselor. You may be pleasantly surprised to learn that both counselors sincerely want what's best for your teen and will do whatever it takes to achieve the best results.



Back from College Vists, Now What?

The answer is really in two parts: part one addresses how to assess the individual visits, and part two entails the steps with which students should follow-up.

Assessment – Here’s where I advise parents to keep their comments/opinions to a minimum (ideally, to themselves).  Most students don’t want to hear how impressed Dad was with the Economics professor who suggested stopping by the Career Center or how touched Mom was to hear how warmly the tour guide spoke of her roommates. Alert! It is your son/daughter who is spending the next four years at college so it is crucial that your son/daughter process the information, campus vibe and student sentiments on his/her own.

Instead, ask the questions that will help your student form an opinion. For example:

·         what stood out to you at X University?

·         what did you hear at Y College that surprised you?

·         what turned you off at W College? Why?

·         can you see yourself at Z University?

Have your student jot down responses in a notebook as well as details that he/she may have noticed. Was there something on this campus that you didn’t see elsewhere? Did you hear stories/anecdotes from students that resonated with you? Did it sound like there was too much emphasis on sports or Greek Life? Did students on campus look happy or stressed?

Next Steps – First, and foremost, make sure your student sends an email thank you to both the college rep who presented the information session and the student tour guide. If you do not have this information, call the admissions office and ask who spoke on the day/time that you were there and the name of the tour guide who followed.

*Students: In the email to the college rep, ask for the name/contact info for a current student majoring in your intended major. Even if you are clueless what you want to study in college, ask to contact someone in a subject area that interests you. Simply asking for some student contacts shows that you are genuinely interested in this college and want to learn more about the nitty gritty of being a student there.

Request a meeting with your teen’s college counselor to review the trip. He or she can help guide the conversation to important points and provide some expertise about the colleges visited. Having an independent third party asking questions can be very helpful.

The college journey is evolutionary, not linear. Priorities change and different realities set in with each visit. What was once on the top of the school list can fall to the bottom of the list, and new options come onto the horizon. But at every step of the way, make sure to allow your teen to take the lead, it is his/her ride!



Why College Fairs Are Important

Most juniors are now returning from campus trips and processing what they’re learned. Chances are that students and parents would like to keep the momentum going and continue visiting colleges closer to home on weekends. For those who cannot make any further trips, college fairs can be the next best option.  Many high schools have college fairs in April; here's how to make the most of them.

Let your son/daughter take the lead - College fairs are meant to be an opportunity for students to confer with admissions reps. Parents, no matter how well-meaning, interfere with that valuable time and may be viewed by the reps as “helicopter parents.” If you have a question or two that you want your student to ask, write it down, and ask him/her to jot down the response.

Head straight to your first choice(s) - Every college fair provides a map of the colleges represented. Because the lines grow quickly, begin with those where you may wait a few minutes to introduce yourself. The less popular schools tend to have shorter lines anyway so you can save those for later.

Be open-minded, explore options.  It’s only natural to stop at the colleges you’ve heard of, and those already on your list. Yet, college fairs are precisely the place to expand your thinking and to explore alternatives to the few colleges you might already be considering. Widen your net and take a chance on a college rep whose table is quiet. He or she may truly surprise you!

Don’t be shy.  While it can be difficult to simply walk up to someone and start asking questions, the reps do want to meet you. It helps to have some prepared questions, but do not ask questions whose answers you can easily find on the college website. In other words, don’t ask how many majors a school offers or if it has club lacrosse. Do ask questions that may be more nuanced – “can you explain how I can get involved in research as a freshman?” or “tell me the most unique feature about X College” or “how would you describe the quintessential X University student?”

Write it down. Keep a college notebook with the details that you’ve gleaned and the name of the person you met. Don’t be embarrassed to request a business card (sometimes they’re right on the table) and make sure to send an email thank you to the rep with whom you spoke. When application time comes in the fall, you may interject those details in the supplemental questions on your application. And if you plan to visit a particular college after the fair, email your contact person and let him/her know when you will be on campus.

Always fill out the ‘contact card’ - Most college reps give you a card to fill out. These are an expression of your “demonstrated interest” so always hand them back. Many schools monitor how many contacts you’ve made with their college so every connection counts.



Making the Most of the College Visit

In the previous blogpost, I explained the importance of the college campus visit and how it impacts “demonstrated interest.”  How can your son or daughter make the most of these trips?  The answer, simply put, is pay attention to everything you see and hear; ask smart questions; take notes; and maintain connections.  Here’s how.

Visit colleges on your preliminary list – this may seem obvious, but many families do not yet have a college list in place and make a trip to a college nearby just to begin the process.  If your son/daughter has not yet met with the high school’s college counselor, make an appointment to speak with a guidance counselor to get some idea of which colleges make sense based on your student’s grades, and PSAT scores (if available).  For students who do have a preliminary list, try to visit one “reach” school, and one “target” school to start.  Leave the “safety” schools for later in the process.  If you have time to visit several colleges, aim to see more “targets” than “reaches.”

Keep the number of trips reasonable – The campus visit is not a quick tour, especially these days when so much emphasis is placed on students finding the “best fit.”  Prospective students need time to soak up the atmosphere on a given campus, to really look at the college students and to sense if this campus “feels right.”  If your son/daughter feels enthusiastic being on this campus, and can easily envision sitting in classes and hanging out with these college students, then he/she is closer to making a solid match.

Three Colleges A Week

Ideally, students should spend several hours at any one college so planning out the trips in a manageable way is important.  If a college is in a city, or even a small town, spend time exploring these also.  For these reasons, I recommend touring no more than three colleges in a week.

Pay close attention – to everything you see and hear and take notes. (Key Pointer: parents, this will inevitably become your job so make sure to write down your son/daughter’s thoughts and reactions.) During the information session, an admissions representative will recite a script about everything the college offers academically, socially, etc. Listen for what appeals to your son/daughter (and you!), and what does not. Most importantly, listen for features you have not heard from admissions representatives at other colleges as these are the aspects that make this school different.

Ask the Tour Guide

On the campus tour, a student guide will recite a script also, but here is the opportunity to go beyond the script.  Try to get an honest answer to: what is the one thing about “X” College that has disappointed you?  What is the number of students in your largest class and how many of these sized classes have you taken?  How much time do students really spend studying? What are the most popular clubs and organizations?

Building the College List ~ Part Three

February is typically the first time students, and parents, meet with the college counselor at their high school. This is an important meeting for several reasons so students should come in prepared.

More and more school counselors have a questionnaire for both students and parents to complete.  Don’t rush through this. Really spend time on thoughtful responses and include as many details and anecdotes as possible. The questionnaire becomes a template for the counselor’s recommendation letter which will accompany college applications so the more information he or she has, the more interesting the letter.

In order to make the most of this first meeting, here are other items to bring to the meeting in addition to the completed questionnaire.

Bring a preliminary college list  – Hopefully you’ve used the previous two blogposts to help you comprise a preliminary list of colleges. If you don’t have a list, be ready to share your thoughts as to what you are looking for in terms of size, location, academic major, etc.  These criteria will help the counselor recommend additional schools for you to research and visit.

Bring a resume – this can be a simple draft of achievements both in, and outside, school as well as community service, summer experiences and employment.  The counselor may not know that you are captain of your basketball team, president of the photography club or treasurer on the student council. If you play on several athletic teams, mention the position you play and any awards you’ve gotten over the years. If you’ve competed in competitions, even if you never won, include the when and where for the contests.

If you are unsure if a given activity or interest merits a place on your resume, put it down and ask the counselor if it is indeed appropriate. You want the counselor to know as much about you as possible, but you also want his/her advice as to what your final resume will include.

Be forthcoming – Remember, the purpose of this meeting is for the counselor to get to know you and to understand what you’re looking for in your college experience. Try to give as much information as you can even if you’re not 100% sure of what type of college you think is perfect for you. Are you excited about going to the football games? Might you consider joining a fraternity? Do you want to be surrounded by creative people? Musicians? Artists?

If your counselor asks a question you weren’t expecting, respond with “I’m not sure, let me think about it and get back to you.”  Make sure he/she knows that you want to keep a dialogue going especially after you’ve visited a few campuses. And always give the counselor feedback on your college visits.

Be open-minded - The counselor may suggest colleges you've never heard of or didn't consider as serious contenders. Ask the counselor to explain why he/she believes this school would be a good fit for you. Then take the time to research the college online and if possible, plan a visit to really understand if the counselor is right.

Do not rule out any school just because of the name. If the location is not appropriate, that's one thing, but you may be pleasantly surprised when you investigate other people's ideas, particularly if the person is a college expert.