The College Process 101 – Visually

by Roland Allen ~ September 26th, 2011

Wordle: College Applications

Seeing Dollar Signs

by Roland Allen ~ March 5th, 2011

It’s never too early to think about paying for college. In fact, the college counselors urge parents to share the family’s financial situation with students at the start of the college process. Finances and family financial priorities may factor into how a student assembles a prospective college list.

The big question, of course, is where to begin. I’ll describe three online resources that can help you get started.

1) Most colleges ask students to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to begin the financial aid and scholarship process. The FAFSA is required in many cases for students applying for need-based financial aid and/or merit scholarships. The FAFSA website is a great resource that includes financial aid calculators that help families estimate how much colleges will expect them to contribute towards the cost of their students’ education. The FAFSA is at:
2) is a favorite “go to” website that does a great job laying out various options for financing a college education. Additionally, includes a scholarship search tool. This is the same tool many financial aid advisors use to help match students with scholarship possibilities.
3) Orange County Community Foundation ( matches students with scholarships that benefit students who live in Orange County. This is a great resource that is not as overwhelming as a massive scholarship database. Students receiving OCCF scholarships may attend college anywhere in the country.

There are other resources to help students and their families understand and navigate the daunting task of paying for a college education. Irrespective of the tools families choose to use, it’s important to start this research earlier rather than later.

Eight Days, Seven Colleges, and a Conference

by Roland Allen ~ October 8th, 2010

This post is by Ms. Amy Warren, Associate Director of College Counseling.

What a week! From Milwaukee to Madison, St. Louis to Kansas City, it feels like I have been all over the place! I started the week flying into Milwaukee to start the COWS (Counselors Observing Wisconsin Schools) tour. Along with 40 other counselors from across the world (American School in Cairo, anyone? Rift Valley Academy, Kenya?), we were met with enthusiasm (and lots of cow puns), by the staff at Marquette University. Marquette is a Jesuit University and is much more urban than I thought it would be. The school blends seamlessly into the city of Milwaukee, which was surprisingly accessible and diverse. Milwaukee is located right on Lake Michigan, and although they get a lot of snow, the beauty of fall and spring is worth it. Our tour guide was from Orange County, and she reassured us that she does not have a car, is a southern-Californian at heart, and survives each winter! I was impressed with how new so many of the building were. So much for a recession there!

The next morning, we headed to Ripon College in the small town of Ripon, Wisconsin. Ripon’s most famous former student is Harrison Ford, who completed all coursework except his senior capstone project. Harrison, get it together! The senior capstone is a highlight of a Ripon education. Students work closely with professors and advisors to conduct original research—but at a teaching college! It’s the best of both worlds. Ripon has just over 1100 students, great Division 3 athletics, and an outstanding financial aid program. In fact, it costs about the same as a UC education, but your classes only have 15 students. They have a ton of scholarships and do a great job bringing diversity to campus. At lunch (which I had in the dining hall, by the way—I love all-you-can-eat dining situations), I sat next to a student from Nepal. Pretty cool.
Later that afternoon, we mooooved (I couldn’t help it) onto Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. Lawrence is one of the Colleges that Change Lives, and I can see why. The campus is beautiful—built overlooking the Fox River, with tons of new buildings. The school is small (about 1500), so each student really gets personal attention. They have an amazing organic garden, and they sell much of the produce back to their dining hall. Our tour guide was the 6’8” captain of the men’s basketball team, who had to run from our tour to pilates class. I love this place! Lawrence has a music conservatory in addition to the liberal arts college. Students apply to one or the other, but can also do two bachelors degrees in five years, which about ¼ of all conservatory students do. I think it’s a great way for students to really develop their musical talents while still pursuing other interests. Lawrence students have the motto, “Too many interests” and most will double major and minor because there is just so much to choose from. All freshman also take a Freshman Studies class the first two trimesters. You are placed into a class with 14 other freshmen and all sections study the same texts, art, music, etc. That could make for some pretty interesting dining-hall conversations. What is also cool is that these classes are taught by professors from across the curriculum. We had a sample class with a math professor, who was teaching about literature. What better way to prize the benefits of a liberal-arts education.

Next, we headed to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The school has 28,000 undergraduates and is beautifully situated on an isthmus (AP Geo, anyone?) between two Wisconsin lakes. While being on an isthmus makes for a gorgeous setting most of the time, it gets a little “congested” when say, the President, is visiting at the same time. That’s right, Barack Obama was on campus the same time we were, and let me say, it was electric. Or, that may have been Ben Harper’s guitar (he was at the same event). Our hosts did a great job making it work, though, and we had a great tour of campus despite the road blocks. Literally. The campus is large but very accessible. There is a great downtown area and a cheerful rivalry between two freshman housing clusters. Luckily, we had time to run into the bookstore so that I could get my son a “mini Badger” T-shirt.

Finally, we headed to Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin. Another one of the Colleges that Change Lives, Beloit had a lot to offer. Also located on a river (I think there’s a theme here), the campus is really pretty. There are just over 1300 students who seem to really find their voice once they come to campus. I met quite a few students who spoke about the comfort level on campus. Everyone is respected here, no matter where they come from. Students really collaborate with teachers and even call them by their first names! One student mentioned how he had to be careful in the “real world” because he learned quickly that his employers did not want feedback like his professors did! Beloit has an amazing anthropology program with a full museum on campus. They are just starting a “Liberal Arts in Practice” initiative. Now, students are required to have a local internship to relate what they learn in their liberal arts education (creative problem solving, critical thinking), to life off campus. Nothing wrong with graduating with an education and experience!
After Beloit, we headed to St. Louis for the NACAC (National Association of College Admission Counselors) Conference, which was amazing. Three days of networking, workshops, and connecting with old friends and colleagues is always fun. I actually presented a session with some old graduate school colleagues, which both Mr. Allen and Ms. McColgan attended—thanks guys! While in St. Louis, I also took a side trip to Washington University, St. Louis, and man, was I impressed. The campus is so gorgeous, and is as manicured as my grandfather’s country club. I always think of it as much smaller than it is—about 6,000 undergraduates. They are a big research university but manage to make themselves feel welcoming and homey. The dorms are out of control. I felt like I was in a small French village (or a Disney replication) in one new housing cluster. Washington University has a reputation of doing a lot of waitlisting, so we were able to talk about their theory behind that. Ask me if you are interested.
After St. Louis, I drove west to Kansas City for a Saturday night baseball game, but had to stop at the University of Missouri-Columbia on my way. If you want a big university with a super strong Greek like, Mizzou is for you. We saw fraternity house after fraternity house after sorority house, and they really use the Greek system as a way to make a large school feel much smaller. They have a very well-known journalism program, and as a land-grant institution, also offer such interested majors as dairy science. I was most impressed by the recreational facilities. The rec center had a huge pool (with hot tub and lazy river), over 30 group classrooms (turbokick, anyone?), a smoothie bar, indoor track, squash courts, and personal training. And this gym is for the non-athletes! It was surprisingly easy to get to from St. Louis, although they do have their own little airport as well. Go Tigers!
What a great trip. If anyone would like anymore details on any of the schools I visited, let me know! I’d be happy to share.

7 Steps to Find a Great, Affordable College – US News and World Report

by Roland Allen ~ September 13th, 2010

7 Steps to Find a Great, Affordable College – US News and World Report.

The College Admissions Mystique

by Roland Allen ~ September 10th, 2010

This post was written by one of our new college counselors, Dr. Scott Nelson.

Greetings! My name is Scott Nelson, and I’m a new member of the college-counseling team at St. Margaret’s (I also teach AP U.S. History). Reading is a passion of mine, and one of my favorite subjects is higher education in the United States. I plan to make occasional posts on this blog in which I share interesting and informative lessons from the literature on college admissions.

One book I thoroughly enjoyed reading this summer was Bill Mayher’s The College Admissions Mystique. Quite simply, parents of upper-school SMES students should read this book! Mayher (who retired in 2009) worked as a college counselor at high-pressure private schools in Boston, New York, and London, and he shares a wealth of knowledge accumulated over a thirty-plus-year career.

Mayher organizes the text with three separate audiences in mind: parents, students, and college counselors. Helpfully, the book is divided in to seven parts so that readers can easily locate their respective topics of interest (full disclosure: I found all seven parts fascinating). While much of this books could be described as a thoughtful and easy-to-read “How to” guide to college applications, Mayher intersperses his narrative with illuminating anecdotes that breathe welcome life and levity in to what is for many a stress-inducing subject. Along the way, the author debunks an array of myths and faulty assumptions associated with colleges and the application process.

Personally, my favorite sections dealt with how colleges manufacture scarcity (i.e., low admit rates) and the excellent section on the art of writing college essays. As a parent myself, I also found the sections on “Who Gets in and Why” and “Making the System Work for You” particularly valuable. There is even a section entitled “Using Your College Counselor Effectively,” which should be required reading for all SMES students!
In sum, if you are a St. Margaret’s parent or student and want a quick and insightful education on how the college-admissions process works, you would do well to check this book out. It is available for about $10 over the Internet. Given the cost of a four-year college, this would be money well spent.

Visiting Boston College

by Roland Allen ~ June 11th, 2010

Boston College sent us this link on visiting the College and asked us to pass it on to our students who are planning summer visits.

Tartan Today Features Class of 2010

by Roland Allen ~ June 5th, 2010

Tartan Today is currently featuring the college choices of the Class of 2010.

Best Values

by Roland Allen ~ May 9th, 2010

USAToday and Princeton Review published their list of best value colleges.

These college lead the list of public best values:


1. University of Virginia (Charlottesville)
2. City University of New York – Hunter College (New York, N.Y.)
3. New College of Florida (Sarasota)
4. Florida State University (Tallahassee)
5. University of Colorado-Boulder
6. State University of New York-Binghamton
7. University of Georgia (Athens)
8. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Blacksburg)
9. Texas A&M University (College Station)
10. University of Oklahoma (Norman)

As to private colleges and universities, these ten schools top the list:


1. Swarthmore College (Swarthmore, Pa.)
2. Harvard College (Cambridge, Mass.)
3. Wesleyan College (Macon, Ga.)
4. Princeton University (Princeton, N.J.)
5. Yale University (New Haven, Conn.)
6. Williams College (Williamstown, Mass.)
7. Rice University (Houston, Texas)
8. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, Mass.)
9. Amherst College (Amherst, Mass.)
10. Wellesley College (Wellesley, Mass.)