Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills

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How To Build A Great College List

build-a-great-college-listDo you know how to build a great college list? Eric Dobler, founder of Dobler College Consulting, returns as a guest blogger to share his expertise and advice.

Here’s what Eric has to say:

With over 4,000 colleges in the country and an endless supply of rankings touting the best of this and the best of that, your college search can get complicated. And it can happen in a hurry. Your friends will be talking about colleges. Your uncle will wax poetic about his alma mater. You will see all the posters and announcements hanging on the walls of your college counseling office. So many options and yet, you can only choose one to attend.

How do you know which one is right?

While you may never know which ONE is right, you can identify which ONES may be awesome possibilities by doing some homework and building a great college list.

And here’s how you do it:

1. Know Thyself

Before you start looking at colleges, you need to take a good, hard look at yourself. I’m not talking about checking yourself out in the mirror to see if the gear is working today as much as I’m talking about understanding your VIPS – your values, interests, personality style and skills. If you don’t have a good handle of what’s important to you and why, try this exercise suggested in a great book on college admissions called, “Going Geek”, written by my friend, John Carpenter:

Write an assessment of yourself that covers what you are good at, what you struggle with, what is important to you, and how you learn. Then ask a close friend to write an assessment of you and have each of your parents do the same. Once you have all three, compare them and see what common threads exist.

2. Priorities First

Some of the major attributes you should pay attention to when thinking about how you will qualify schools for your college list include:

  • Size
  • Location
  • Major
  • Student life
  • Chance of admission
  • Types of admission
  • Graduation rates
  • Cost

But now that you have a good handle on your VIPS, you should be able to qualify these attributes even further. Forget the US News. Forget your uncle’s drawn out stories of the good ol’ days. Forget about the school that your best friend daydreams about. In other words, realize that you now have the power to create your own rankings based on what is important to you.

3. Channel Your Inner Sherlock Holmes

Okay, you now have a good idea of what’s important to you and why. You’ve created a list of attributes that you want to find in a college. Now, it’s time to do some investigating. Since you can’t visit all 4,000 schools individually, turn to some search engines to identify schools that match up with your most desired attributes. The College Board’s Big Future, College Navigator and Princeton Review each have very extensive databases that allow you to search for schools. is another great website with very helpful information. Produced and maintained by the Education Trust, this website allows you to look up a college’s four-, five- or six-year graduation rates and then compare the school’s rate to those of its peer institutions.

As you identify schools of interest, research them more thoroughly, schedule campus visits, meet with admissions reps at local college fairs and check with your college counseling office to find out when these schools may be visiting your high school. Another great way to get to know a school is by connecting with them through Facebook and Twitter.

4. Edit, Edit and Then Edit Some More

Initially, your college list may contain any number of schools. Ideally, you want to get it down to roughly 10 schools. As you visit and learn more about each school, try to narrow the list down to down to 5-6 finalists where you would be happy enrolling. Some people will tell you to pick a range of schools where admission for you may be a reach, very likely or a sure thing. My opinion is that you should be picking schools at which you can see yourself being happy. Don’t include a school just because you know you can get in but have no intention of ever enrolling.

5. Don’t Be a Sloppy Joe

Building a great college list is one thing but if you fail to keep it organized, the list will lose its value.

Get a binder where you can keep a checklist for each school, notes from campus visits and brochures and other materials. You want to be able to compare apples to apples – keeping your information updated and fresh will help you do that.

6. College Lists are Made of Paper, Not Stone

Be flexible and keep an open mind. If you get soured on a school for a reason that is important to you (the school is too far away, too expensive or just didn’t feel right when you went for a visit) and want to take if off your college list, then feel free to do so.

Same rule applies when you learn something about a school that makes you want to add this school to your list. Spend some time qualifying the new school and if it feels right and matches up with your priorities, add it to your list.

Questions? Email Eric at



Should You Include a Resume with Your College Application?

Today’s post is a guest blog from a colleague: Eric Dobler, founder of Dobler College Consulting in Cheshire, Connecticut. For twelve years Eric has been working with college-bound high school students and their families as a college admissions counselor and academic advisor.

I asked Eric to share his insight on submitting resumes with college applications. Here’s what he said:

I often have students ask me if they should submit a resume with their college applications. Some feel they might be doing too much by enclosing a resume while others fear a resume won’t say enough about them to even matter. My take on it is that resumes, or activity lists as some like to call them, can be quite valuable IF the college wants you to submit one and IF you make sure that it actually provides value in your application.

Let me explain.

The job of an admissions counselor is to try to evaluate and understand each applicant as best as they can in a very short period of time. Your grades and SAT scores are the quantitative piece of this review. They allow the person reviewing your file to get a feel for your abilities as a student. However, it is the qualitative parts of your application, such your resume, which afford you the opportunity to show what kind of person you are.

Some colleges, mostly large state schools who have incredibly large applicant pools, rely more on a student’s grades and SAT scores when they render decisions. In fact, when you look on their websites, you may often find that they don’t mention anything about applicants needing to submit a resume. If this is the case, don’t stress about putting one together. Chances are, it won’t be used in the review of your application anyway.

On the other hand some colleges, like smaller private, liberal-arts schools and the most selective schools in the country, will review a resume and may actually go looking for very specific information. And this is where the value piece of the equation comes into play. If someone is going to read your resume, you need to make sure it reveals things about you that matter. A resume that simply repeats information you have already provided in the application does not matter.

3-items-to-include-on-college-resumeHow do you make sure that your resume matters? A well-written resume will showcase the activities you are most passionate about and it will be apparent to the reader for two reasons. First, the activities should span not just one semester of involvement, but several and second, they will contribute towards your brand. Whether the activities are sports, student clubs, internships, volunteer work or even part-time jobs, colleges want to see that you’ve done things because you care about them. Not because you want to pad your college application. It’s a simple equation of quality over quantity.

So, here’s what you do. Sit down with pen and paper (or a nifty little spreadsheet on Excel) and think about everything you’ve done during your time in high school. Write it all down and qualify each activity by asking yourself a few questions:

  1. How long were you involved in this activity?
  2. Were you actually involved in the activity or did you just sign up because your best friend did?
  3. Did you hold a leadership position?
  4. Did you like the activity? Did you love it?
  5. Is it relevant to what you think you want to major in?

Once you’ve done this, you can then organize everything into easily identified categories such as High School Organizations, Athletic Teams and Non-School Service. Pay special attention to awards, honors, and leadership positions. Make sure you include how many years you were involved and even the number of hours you invested in each activity on a weekly basis. Also make sure you include your name, address and contact information at the top in case your resume gets separated from your application somewhere along the way.

At the end of the day, your resume can be a very helpful piece of your application if, and I stress IF, the college you are applying to wants to see one and IF you have compiled a list of activities that truly matter to you.

If you have any additional questions on resumes or would like some assistance on putting one together, shoot me an email at

related posts
Resumes and Activity Sheets: Good Idea When Applying to College?
Attaching Resumes or Activity Sheets to An Application — The Right Way