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USACollegeChat Podcast

May 5, 2017

We are going to take a tiny detour from our new series, Colleges in the Spotlight, to talk a bit about our brand new book, which we have called How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. First, let us give a shout-out to high school students at Brooklyn Tech for their help in choosing the title for the book. We tried out a few titles on them, and they chose one quite close to the one we are using. For those of you who don’t know Brooklyn Tech, it’s a selective high school full of smart public school kids of all backgrounds, and it is also home to three really great teachers from the Early College high school that we co-founded in 2009. So there’s a shout-out to you, Wandy Chang, Doug Shuman, and Lev (that’s just Lev, like Cher).

1. What’s in the New Workbook?

Let’s start by saying that this book is for high school students. Our last book, How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students, was—obviously—for you, parents. It was really a discussion guide that we hoped you would use to talk with your teenagers about the deal breakers each of you had when thinking about colleges to apply to and then to attend.

This book is a bit different. It is a workbook--and we mean WORKbook--for high school students. It makes the point that many of us already know: It takes a lot of work to figure out the best colleges for your teenager to apply to. And, furthermore, figuring out where to apply is likely more important than choosing where to attend, as we have said many times. I can’t emphasize enough how strongly we believe that. If your teenager chooses colleges to apply to wisely and with enthusiasm and if those colleges meet with your approval as well, then the choice of where to attend is a lot easier to make.

Here is what we said to your teenager in our new book’s introduction, entitled “Why Are We Talking to You Now?”:

If you are a high school freshman or sophomore, you are in the perfect spot to get a head start in the college admission game. You can use this workbook over the next couple of years to put together the best personalized research guide about colleges—ever.

If you are a high school junior, this workbook is ideally suited for your immediate use. You should be able to use it productively at any time during your junior year and up until your college applications are finally submitted.

If you are a high school senior, you should find this workbook helpful, too, if you still have some time before your college applications are due. But you have to hurry up! (And remember that all colleges do NOT have a January 1 deadline.)

Since 2014, we have been talking to your parents in our weekly podcast, USACollegeChat. The truth is that we have given them more information about colleges than anyone could probably use.

We took them on a virtual tour of colleges nationwide and profiled many public and private colleges in every region of the country to try to get them—and, of course, you—to look outside your family’s geographic comfort zone when considering where you should apply.

When we put together that virtual college tour, we realized something very important: There are a lot of colleges out there, and it is impossible to keep up with what is going on at most of them.

We also realized what your biggest problem is (well, yours and theirs, actually): You don’t know anything about most colleges. We have been doing this for a couple of decades, and there was a lot of stuff we didn’t know either, as it turned out. So, how do you solve that problem?

The simple answer is just to ask a guidance counselor at your high school. You would think that guidance counselors would know quite a bit about lots of colleges and that they could pass that information on to you. Here’s why that usually doesn’t work.      

Let’s start with public high schools. As you probably already know, most public high schools don’t have guidance counselors who are dedicated to working only on college counseling. That means that your guidance counselors, with caseloads in the hundreds, have to help students with college applications while dealing simultaneously with students who might be in serious personal or academic trouble. That’s an overwhelming job, and that is exactly why most high school guidance counselors cannot help you enough when it comes to exploring many college options, narrowing them down, and finally choosing the perfect colleges to put on your list.

Some public high schools—and even more private schools—have designated one of the school’s guidance counselors as a college counselor, specializing in college placement and perhaps financial aid and devoting all of his or her time to helping students undertake and complete their college searches. If your school has a college counselor like that, you are lucky indeed. Of course, searching through hundreds of colleges to find the right ones for you and then working through those college applications (including all of the essays) is the work of a lot of hours—at least 20 hours and really closer to 40 hours, we would say. Does your counselor have that much time to spend with you? Unfortunately, probably not, even if you attend a private school.

What if you are homeschooled? Without the help of a school guidance counselor or college counselor—even for a very limited amount of time—you might feel more at a loss than your friends who attend public or private schools. Should you expect your parents to know everything you need to know about a wide array of college choices? No, you shouldn’t. Respecting your parents’ opinions about colleges is certainly important, even crucial. But it is not likely that they are experts on the many, many colleges here in the U.S. (and abroad).

All high school students need to get help from somewhere or someone. We believe that this workbook is a good way to get some. That’s why we are talking to you now. We want you to have a way to find out the information you need about many colleges so that you will be in the best possible position to compare those colleges and then to make the right decision about where to apply and, eventually, about where to attend. While you will undoubtedly want and need some adult advice in thinking through the many options, what you need first is information—and a lot of it.

If you already have a list of colleges you are interested in, you will need information about each one of those. But, just as important, you will need information about colleges that are not yet on your list—including colleges that you have never considered because you didn’t know they existed. That’s not your fault now, but it will be if you don’t take steps to correct it. So, let’s get started.

We couldn’t be more serious about this. Most kids and most parents just don’t know enough to choose colleges. The only solution to that is to get information. And the only way I know to get information is to do some work.

2. But First…

Before your teenager actually starts getting detailed information about colleges, it is important to expand your teenager’s list of options, as we have said before. We call this the LLCO in the book--that is, your teenager’s “long list of college options.”

We give your teenager several instructions for how to expand the LLCO so that your teenager can increase his or her chances of choosing the right colleges to apply to. Those of you who are loyal listeners of USACollegeChat won’t be surprised at some of those instructions, like this one:

Make sure that you have at least two four-year colleges in each of the nine geographic regions of the U.S. on your LLCO.

Once your teenager’s LLCO is set, the real work begins.

3. Here’s the Work

So, here’s the work. We created what we are calling the College Profile Worksheet in order to help your teenager gather the information you both need to move forward in the college search and application process. This is what we said in the book:

Before you begin your research into the colleges on your LLCO, let’s take a few minutes to preview the College Profile Worksheet at the back of this workbook. It outlines the critical information you should find out about each college on your LLCO before making a decision about whether to apply to that college. It’s actually 11 pages long--but those pages include lots of space for you to write in!

The worksheet is going to look long to you. But this is an important decision you are about to make. In fact, we would argue that deciding where to APPLY is just as important as deciding where to ENROLL--maybe more important. After all, if you don’t apply to a college, you can’t possibly enroll there. This is the decision that sets all of the others in motion.

The College Profile Worksheet calls for you to make a lot of notes about colleges you are interested in. Why write all of this information down, you might be asking? Because you can’t remember it. Believe us, after you research about four colleges, you will not be able to remember which college had the great bike paths and which college had the required math courses. You need a convenient way to recall each college--without having to go back to the website and look up the information again.

We learned this the hard way. When we were profiling colleges for our virtual college tour, we went back and forth to the same college website far too many times before realizing that we should have just jotted everything down the first time. We actually made a crude version of the worksheet for ourselves, and we have now improved it and put it into this workbook for you. The College Profile Worksheet will save you lots of time in the long run.

Here are the categories of information you will be researching about each college on your LLCO:

History and Mission



Class Size




Security Measures

Activities and Sports

Admission Practices


You will see that the College Profile Worksheet asks you several questions in each category. Answering those questions will give you a good understanding of many important features of each college on your LLCO. As a result, you should be able to decide more efficiently and more accurately whether each college is a good match for you.

This might sound like a lot of work to you--and to your teenager. But we insist that your teenager should not be making a decision about attending a college--or even applying to a college--if he or she knows any less about it. We guarantee that the 52 questions we provide and the 52 answers your teenager will discover will give you both a better picture of colleges in the U.S. than most educated adults have. By the way, we tell your teenager almost exactly where to look to find the answers--for example, on a college’s website or in College Navigator, our favorite online source of college information, which we have talked about many times.

Parents: Listen up. You are about to spend tens of thousands of dollars--and many of you will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars--on your upcoming college purchase. So isn’t it worth it to do a little research up front?

Summer is a perfect time to get your teenager to use our new book to do the work that is necessary before making any important college decisions. Get it now, and let your teenager get used to the idea of his or her new summer job!

Find our books on Amazon!

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