Understanding the admission process

Ever wonder what happens behind closed doors? The International Counselor goes into the committee room of over a dozen highly selective colleges to show you. More »

Free Tools for self-discovery

Know thy self, so said The Bard. But which self ought you know? These tools allow you a way of learning about various parts of yourself. More »

Guide to essays and personal statements

One of the most comprehensive lists of college essay writing resources and insights anywhere. More »

Are you ready for the summer?

Want to do something different? Check out the omnibus of fun filled possibilities. More »

Acing the interview

Some college require an interview. Check out our resources and insights. More »


Colleges posting the Gallup Purdue results

Gallup and Purdue teamed up back in 2014 to look at what actually matters during a person’s college years. They found six dimensions that prove transformation:

1. A professor who made them excited to learn;

2. A professor who cared about them as individuals;

3. A mentor who pushed students to reach their goals;

4. Working on a long-term project;

5. Completing a job or internship related to classroom lessons;

6. Being engaged in extracurricular activities and groups.


The following colleges share their own data:








Goucher –one of the best usages I have seen. 

Grace College

Indiana public and private colleges

James Madison University

Ohio State


Robert Morris University

St. Michaels College

Temple University

University of New Hampshire

University of Pittsburgh

University of Tennessee

University of Virginia and here

Virginia Tech



Day 2 of the purpose challenge

Day two starts with a video of Jimmy Fallon talking about his personal meaning and how Victor Frankl helped him. They ask you to reflect on a Victor Frankl Quotation. I choose not to put it here as i think it is important for you to experience itself. 

Next is a value sort. AFter you sort they ask you to reflect on your top three and how they influence your life. 




Finding your purpose, writing your admission essay and winning

The John Templeton Foundation along with The Greater Good Society and Prosocial are sponsoring a unique college essay contest. “The Purpose Challenge provides students with an opportunity to enter a contest by submitting a college essay they write based on provided guidelines, including a description of a personal long-term goal and what motivates them to achieve it. One grand-prize winner will be awarded a $25,000 scholarship for college, and five second-place winners will each receive a $5,000 college scholarship.”

Unfortunately it is only open to US citizens, but the toolkit and resources they created are useful for anyone crafting a college essay and trying to define their meaning in life.

Designed to be done in four sessions, with each session providing a prompt to focus your attention on some aspect of your life and meaning. It starts with a pre-survey of 21 likert scale questions that focus you on where you are at with your own sense of purpose. Day 1 continues with a 360 Review whereby you send an email to five adults to ask them to help them with a project by answering four questions:

  • What do you think are my strengths and talents?
  • How do you think I can I use my talents in a meaningful way?
  • How do you see me contributing to the world in the future?
  • What advice would you give to help me achieve these goals?

Just with that one act, the challenge has upped the anti. It gives you five touchpoints to look at the world, or more accurately their impact in the world. Wow. 

Each day includes not just activities but also information to educate you on purpose.  

The final activity of day 1 asks students to write about their ideal world, and more importantly, what is something they could do to move it towards that imagined future. 

It does not let you proceed unless you complete each part and it only allows you to work on one day. IE, I have to wait until tomorrow to see where this purpose challenge is going. I really like the idea, though. Even if the teen does not craft a college essay from this experience, they just might find meaning where they had overlooked it. 

Where do teens get a sense of purpose?

Yet, only one in five teens have identified a purpose. The video above makes a great distinction between How (what do you want to do) and Why (the meaning and motivation driving you). 

CIS Forum 2017

Essay writing workshop ideas

Before you start


  1. Consider your goals. Hopefully it is not only to produce an essay, but also help the student better understand themselves. 
  2. How many students will you be working with?
  3. Consider your space. Space can dictate what you can do. 
  4. Consider how much time you have. 



There are two keys: 1) Get your kids reflecting and 2) Get them writing. 

To get the juices flowing, you need to structure the event so you scaffold the kids writing time with self-discovery and sharing. For the most part, intersperse short self-discovery and sharing exercises with 15-20 minute writing sections. 

Resources to get you going

Firstly, Check out Pam’s fantastic Finding Your Voice website. She does 1 hour a week for six weeks. Lots of great things established there. 

Check out the Free resources from the College Essay Guy. His webinar trainings are fantastic.

Here he is talking about how to lead a life changing college essay workshop.

Warm-up exercises

Values Clarification

  • Via Character Strengths assessment–Free. Learn about the 24 character strengths  and how to build them here.

College Essay Resources

I have curated a lot of resources on the college essay and personal statement here

Essay Hell offers a lot of interesting ideas. 


Get writing…for writing’s sake

Below are two free write ideas. Both are excellent. Sometimes you need more direction. Here are 

Julia Cameron popularized the idea of stream of conscious writing first thing to start your day–Morning pages. Her idea is 750 words or 3 pages:

Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing,
done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*–
they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about
anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes
only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and
synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put
three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.

Proprioceptive Writing is a method for exploring the mind through writing. A simple method anyone can learn, PW is a powerful tool that can be used to:

        ~ Focus awareness, dissolve inhibitions, and build self-trust
        ~ Unburden your mind and resolve emotional conflicts
        ~ Connect more deeply with your spiritual self
        ~ Write and speak with strength and clarity
        ~ Awaken your senses and emotions
        ~ Liberate your creative energies

How The Method Works

(Source: Room to Write) Many have experienced the benefits of Proprioceptive Writing by attending workshops. However, the authors note that it’s very appropriate to carry it out at home — perhaps similarly to the way that some people keep a journal. Indeed, they advocate for a regular, daily practice of 25 minutes. They say that part of the power of the process is in the safety of the ritual.

• First, you’ll need to establish a block of alone-time (about half an hour) and a quiet place to be. If you live with others, make sure they understand the importance of giving you this space.

• Provide yourself with Baroque music, preferably the slower movements, played quietly. The authors explain that this type of music has been found to have a calming effect on the body. (I also suspect it is significant that the music provides bilateral stimulation, which is known to shift the way the brain processes thoughts and memories.)

• Light a candle and place it on a firm surface in front of you. Metcalf and Simon write that the candle generates “a luminous glow that can quiet your mind, focus your attention, and help you turn inward.”

• Gather a few pieces of unlined paper – this helps you remember to let go of the regular rules about writing.

• Set a timer for twenty-five minutes and begin writing. “Imagine your thoughts as spoken words and write them exactly as if you could hear them, as they occur to you moment by moment,” the authors say.  They go on to explain that you should not be writing for an audience; this is for you alone.

• As you go along, “listen to what you write.” To do this, you use the Proprioceptive Question: “What do I mean by _________?” Into the blank goes whatever word or phrase catches your attention. Then write what you “hear” in response to the question. For example, in my piece quoted above, I wrote, “What do I mean by ‘lost?’” That question led me to describe images that I hadn’t been aware were in my mind. In fact, it was interesting and helpful to me to find that “being lost feels kind of good.”

• When the time is up, finish your thought and then turn off the music. Then, before blowing out the candle, follow the Write by asking yourself (in writing) four concluding questions:


  • What thoughts were heard but not written?
  • How or what do I feel now?
  • What larger story is the Write part of?
  • What ideas came up for future Writes?


The authors explain that this is often when revelations occur. For writers and other artists, these questions can also help spark future work.


Summer programs for aspiring medical students

Generally open enrollment







More Competitive Programs…

Check out these articles on pre-medical programs aimed at high school students:

Deep Springs goes co-ed…again…this time for real

Last time (2011) they announced their plan to admit women to the venerable men’s only institution, they landed in a lawsuit with themselves. The charter clearly states for men, but courts decided that the trustees can refine that as needed:

The key finding of the appeals court was that the lower court had been within its discretion to approve a change in the trust guidelines for the college from promoting “the education of promising young men” to “the education of promising young people.” There was no evidence, the appeals court said, that the lower court had exceeded its authority to determine which trust provisions were “administrative” (such as the reference to men) and which ones were focused on the central mission of the college (the overall approach.

Now that the lawsuits are done, the board of trustees again voted to go coed for the fall of 2018. With a freshman class of only 14 men people, we can expect it become even more selective since it looks like they will not increase the college size.

The Applications Committee (ApCom) receives between 180 and 250 applications each year. Of those prospective students, 15 are invited to enroll and 10 are added to a wait-list. Our goal is to have 14 students in each matriculating class.

With all expenses paid, Deep Sprigs offers an exceptional possibilities: 

“The desert has a deep personality; it has a voice. Great leaders in all ages have sought the desert and heard its voice. You can hear it if you listen, but you cannot hear it while in the midst of uproar and strife for material things. ‘Gentlemen, for what came ye into the wilderness?’ Not for conventional scholastic training; not for ranch life; not to become proficient in commercial or professional pursuits for personal gain. You came to prepare for a life of service, with the understanding that superior ability and generous purpose would be expected of you.”


Deep Springs Founder L.L. Nunn, 1923

colleges who require self -reported grades/coursework on their applications

Colleges who require self -reported grades/coursework on their applications

  • Chapman University, CA
  • Florida Atlantic University,
  • Florida Polytechnic 
  • Florida State University
  • George Washington University, DC
  • New York School of Career & Applied Studies of Touro College & University System, NY
  • Ohio State University, OH
  • Purdue University, IN
  • Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
  • University of California all campuses, CA
  • University of Florida,
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • University of Pittsburgh
  • University of Southern California, CA
  • West Virginia University, WV





Books for counselors of all ages

This summer I co-taught a course for international school counselors at the CTC. We asked the participants to share some of their favorite resources. Below are books that were recommended with their commentaries:

Elementary School Level

  • Our school, in the elementary level, uses Kelso’s Choices as guidance for problem solving and conflict resolution. It provides students, especially younger students, with some strategies that help in social situations or conflict resolution.
  • Guided gratitude journals like this work better than just saying, ‘go journal.’ 
  • Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell is a great book that can be read to ES students. It encourages discussion around positive thinking, values, anti-bullying, etc. The children really enjoy the book and the discussions/learning that follows.
  • I used to be afraid
  • What Do You Do With a Problem?
  • Happiness Doesn’t Come from Headstands by Tamara Levitt (from …
  • Julia Cook’s books – Her ‘bibliotherapy’ type books are unbelievable tools for counsellors, teachers, and parents! A must to add to your collection and or your school’s SEL library section. New releases: Bubble Gum Brain (growth mindset), The Judgemental flower, The Technology Tail. Do visit her facebook page, as well: https://www.facebook.com/juliacookonline/
  • At the Elementary School, we embrace the growth mindset and it is fascinating to listen to how students tackle a problem and encourage eachother when they have a growth mindset. Although these are not exactly for parents, they are all great books that we use with Elementary students to promote growth mindset.   We have had parents who read these books at home and found it very useful to have conversations about growth mindset with their children.

    Middle school Level
    • I have used the book “Bluish“, by Virginia Hamilton, as a class read aloud resource in my classroom. This novel focuses on a girl of upper elementary school age/early middle school, who is exploring feelings and experiences around being new to school/class, new friendships, family dymanics, and a friend’s illness (leukemia). This book is a useful segue for discussions about transitioning schools, how to fit in, making new friends, being ‘different” and how these experiences apply in an international school setting. 
    • “The Drama Years: Real Girls Talk About Surviving Middle School — Bullies, Brands, Body Image, and More” by Haley Kilpatrick
    • A book I used to read aloud to my class each year is the Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. I have a few copies in my office that I regularly lend to students. You can find a breif description and great quotes from the book here 

    High School


    All Levels

    • I would recommend the book NFI: An Inclusive Toolkit by William Powell and Ochan Kusuma-Powell.  It is available on amazon.com, but if your school is a member of NFI (Next Frontier Inclusion), you can download it for free.  Go to the NFI website and check if your school is a member.  If you don’t know your username or password, check with your Learning Support teacher or write directly to NFI.  The chapter titled Typcal High Incidence Populations in International Schools is an especially useful resource when talking to parents about their child, special needs, and service delivery.  There is a definition of each along with information about diagnosis, educational needs and service delivery options.


    • One book I use with parents is the STEP Parent’s Handbook.  There is a general one, young children, and teenagers edition.  It basically uses positive discipline approach based on Adler.  It is written in easy to read language that is good for parents of differing English levels. Also good for parent workshops.


    Counselors and teachers


    Finding the right college by looking at its peers

    This Cartoon pretty much summarizes many people’s attitudes about colleges. They mistake the joining of an athletic conference as a confirmation of shared values and qualities. While the Ivy League IS an outstanding collection of colleges, but several of them are quite different from each other. Rural pre-profession Dartmouth vs Urban Great books of Columbia vs the Open Curriculum of Brown. Would you apply to all three? Perhaps. And Perhaps there is a better way than loading up the shotgun and aiming at just one specific college league. 

    Every year, colleges are asked to list their peer institutions, the ones they compare themselves against. Brown, for example, picked 17:


    • Columbia U
    • Cornell U
    • Dartmouth C
    • Duke U
    • Georgetown U
    • Harvard U
    • Johns Hopkins U
    • Massachusetts Inst of Tech
    • Northwestern U
    • Princeton U
    • Rice U
    • Stanford U
    • U of Chicago
    • U of Pennsylvania
    • U of Rochester
    • Washington U in St. Louis
    • Yale


    Yes, they selected all of the Ivy plus several other intellectual powerhouses. They also slected Columbia (which indetified no peers) and Dartmouth, who choose many of the same in their group of 16:

    • Amherst C
    • Brown U
    • Columbia U
    • Cornell U
    • Duke U
    • Georgetown U
    • Harvard U
    • Johns Hopkins U
    • Northwestern U
    • Princeton U
    • Stanford U
    • U of Chicago
    • U of Pennsylvania
    • U of Rochester
    • Williams C
    • Yale U

    These are the company they keep. Motivational expert Jim Rohn opined that  “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Identifying peers can be a proxy for that sentiment on an institutional level. These are often the institutions that the colleges cross apps with. Like, so to speak, finds like. But drilling into the data deeper may help you build a deeper college list. Brown identifed 16 colleges, of which 11 liked them back so to speak:

    • Cornell U
    • Dartmouth C
    • Georgetown U
    • Johns Hopkins U
    • Northwestern U
    • Stanford U
    • U of Chicago
    • U of Pennsylvania
    • U of Rochester
    • Washington U in St. Louis
    • Yale U

    But many other colleges identified Brown–we might call these aspirational colleges:

    • Boston C
    • Bowdoin C
    • Brandeis U
    • C of William and Mary
    • Emory U
    • Lehigh U
    • New York U
    • Stevens Inst of Tech
    • Tufts U
    • U of Delaware
    • U of Michigan, Ann Arbor
    • U of Notre Dame
    • U of Southern California
    • U of Virginia
    • Vanderbilt U
    • Wellesley C
    • Wesleyan U
    • Worcester Polytechnic Inst

    While some of these are similarly selective, many are a little less selective. Building a deep college list means going deeper into the pool. Yet, this information does not really point WHY these colleges include Brown on their list. They do not share what characteristics they identified as worthy of aspiring to. Another tool many counselor love comes courtesy of Steven Antanoff: College Express, which is based on high book of college lists, The College Finder:

    Lists & Rankings 


    You can click on any list to discover other colleges on that list. For example, perhaps you love Brown for two reasons, 

    Lover of Ideas Internationalism

    1. St. John’s College (Annapolis, MD)

    1. St. John’s College (Santa Fe, NM)

    2. Reed College (Portland, OR)

    3. University of Chicago (Chicago, IL)

    4. Swarthmore College (Swarthmore, PA)

    5. Brown University (Providence, RI)

    5. Kenyon College (Gambier, OH)

    5. Oberlin College (Oberlin, OH)

    8. Princeton University (Princeton, NJ)

    9. Bard College (Annandale on Hudson, NY)

    9. Carleton College (Northfield, MN)

    9. Hampshire College (Amherst, MA)

    12. Vassar College (Poughkeepsie, NY)

    13. Amherst College (Amherst, MA)

    13. Grinnell College (Grinnell, IA)

    13. Haverford College (Haverford, PA)

    13. Sarah Lawrence College (Bronxville, NY)

    13. Yale University (New Haven, CT)

    18. Earlham College (Richmond, IN)

    18. Harvard University (Cambridge, MA)

    18. The Evergreen State College (Olympia, WA)

    18. Wesleyan University (Middletown, CT)



    • Beloit College (Beloit, WI)
    • Brandeis University (Waltham, MA)
    • Clark University (Worcester, MA)
    • Colby College (Waterville, ME)
    • Dartmouth College (Hanover, NH)
    • Davidson College (Davidson, NC)
    • Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts (New York, NY)
    • Furman University (Greenville, SC)
    • Goucher College (Baltimore, MD)
    • Guilford College (Greensboro, NC)
    • Hamilton College (Clinton, NY)
    • Hartwick College (Oneonta, NY)
    • Harvey Mudd College (Claremont, CA)
    • Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD)
    • Lafayette College (Easton, PA)
    • Lewis and Clark College (Portland, OR)
    • Macalester College (St. Paul, MN)
    • Marlboro College (Marlboro, VT)
    • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA)
    • McGill University (Montreal, CAN)
    • Occidental College (Los Angeles, CA)
    • Pitzer College (Claremont, CA)
    • Rice University (Houston, TX)
    • Scripps College (Claremont, CA)
    • Sewanee: The University of the South (Sewanee, TN)
    • Smith College (Northampton, MA)
    • St. Lawrence University (Canton, NY)
    • Stanford University (Stanford, CA)
    • Susquehanna University (Selinsgrove, PA)
    • The New School (New York, NY)
    • Tufts University (Medford, MA)
    • United States Naval Academy (Annapolis, MD)
    • University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley, CA)
    • University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)
    • University of Redlands (Redlands, CA)
    • University of Richmond (University of Richmond, VA)
    • University of Rochester (Rochester, NY)
    • Whitman College (Walla Walla, WA)
    • Williams College (Williamstown, MA)


    • American University (Washington, DC)
    • Bard College (Annandale on Hudson, NY)
    • Boston College (Chestnut Hill, MA)
    • Boston University (Boston, MA)
    • Bowling Green State University (Bowling Green, OH)
    • Brandeis University (Waltham, MA)
    • Brigham Young University — Provo (Provo, UT)
    • Brown University (Providence, RI)
    • Carleton University (Ottawa, Ontario, CAN)
    • City University of New York, Graduate Center (NY)
    • Clark University (Worcester, MA)
    • Clemson University (Clemson, SC)
    • Columbia University (New York, NY)
    • Cornell University (Ithaca, NY)
    • Dartmouth College (Hanover, NH)
    • Duke University (Durham, NC)
    • Emory University (Atlanta, GA)
    • Florida International University (Miami, FL)
    • Georgia State University (Atlanta, GA)
    • Hamilton College (Clinton, NY)
    • Hampshire College (Amherst, MA)
    • Harvard University (Cambridge, MA)
    • Indiana University Bloomington (Bloomington, IN)
    • James Madison University (Harrisonburg, VA)
    • Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD)
    • Lehigh University (Bethlehem, PA)
    • Loyola University Chicago (Chicago, IL)
    • toggle favorite saveYes, connect me!
    • Marquette University (Milwaukee, WI)
    • toggle favorite saveYes, connect me!
    • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA)
    • McMaster University (CAN)
    • Middlebury College (Middlebury, VT)
    • Northwestern University (Evanston, IL)
    • Princeton University (Princeton, NJ)
    • Rice University (Houston, TX)
    • Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey — New Brunswick (Piscataway, NJ)
    • SUNY — Binghamton (Binghamton, NY)
    • Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX)
    • St. Lawrence University (Canton, NY)
    • Stanford University (Stanford, CA)
    • Swarthmore College (Swarthmore, PA)
    • Syracuse University (Syracuse, NY)
    • Temple University (Philadelphia, PA)
    • The College of Wooster (Wooster, OH)
    • The George Washington University (Washington, DC)
    • The University of Arizona (Tucson, AZ)
    • The University of British Columbia (Vancouver, CAN)
    • The University of New Mexico (Albuquerque, NM)
    • The University of Texas at Austin (Austin, TX)
    • Trinity College (Hartford, CT)
    • Tulane University (New Orleans, LA)
    • University of Alberta (Edmonton, CAN)
    • University of California — Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA)
    • University of California, Davis (Davis, CA)
    • University of California, Irvine (Irvine, CA)
    • University of California, San Diego (La Jolla, CA)
    • University of California, Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara, CA)
    • University of California, Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz, CA)
    • University of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
    • University of Connecticut (Storrs, CT)
    • University of Delaware (Newark, DE)
    • University of Denver (Denver, CO)
    • University of Houston (Houston, TX)
    • University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign (Champaign, IL)
    • University of Iowa (Iowa City, IA)
    • University of Kansas (Lawrence, KS)
    • University of Massachusetts Amherst (Amherst, MA)
    • University of Michigan — Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor, MI)
    • University of Minnesota — Twin Cities (Minneapolis, MN)
    • University of Nevada, Las Vegas (Las Vegas, NV)
    • University of New Orleans (New Orleans, LA)
    • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC)
    • University of Notre Dame (Notre Dame, IN)
    • University of Oklahoma (Norman, OK)
    • University of Oregon (Eugene, OR)
    • University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)
    • University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA)
    • University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA)
    • University of Texas at Arlington (Arlington, TX)
    • University of Toronto (Toronto, Ontario, CAN)
    • University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA)
    • University of Western Ontario (London, Ontario, CAN)
    • University of Wisconsin — Madison (Madison, WI)
    • Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN)
    • Wells College (Aurora, NY)
    • Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, MI)
    • Yale University (New Haven, CT)
    • York University (Toronto, Ontario, CAN)


    Only Brandies makes all three lists–the aspirational peers, the college for lover of ideas and the list for Internationalism. Collegexpress has limitation sin that it does not identify how they generate their list. Some comes from experts (who are these), some from actual data, and others from outside sources. Still, for most veteran college counselors, the lists typically prove valid. 

    End Note: The Chronicle of Higher Education has complied the data in an interactive feature that allows you to drill into colleges and their peers. Here is what Princeton looks like:


    Study UK: a Guide for Education Agents and Counsellors

    This online course from the British Council will provide international education agents, school counsellors and consultants with advice on all aspects of UK education. Further information is included around becoming a professional education agent for the UK if relevant for you.

    It will develop your knowledge of:


    • the UK education and training system
    • the attractions for students in the UK
    • quality assurance systems and how they operate
    • student lifestyle issues
    • welfare and support for international students
    • application processes and entry requirements