Category Archives: Fit

Crafting Your Ideal College List

With over 3500 colleges in the United States to choose from, it’s no surprise that many students struggle to decide which of them to apply to. This blog will provide a step-by-step guide to making this process effective and even fun! We recommend that you explore and visit colleges throughout junior year and finalize your college list in the summer before senior year.

Finding Your “Best-Fit” College Features

The most important aspect of the college admissions process is FIT. Which colleges will be the best fit for you as a unique individual? At which colleges will you be most able to grow academically, socially, and personally?

Start by thinking about your preferences. Here are some features to consider as you build your list of “best-fit” features:

  • Size. A small college (with fewer than 4000 students) tends to offer a more close-knit sense of community, with smaller, discussion-based classes, and closer relationships with professors. On the other hand, a large college (with more than 10,000 students) tends to offer more options of courses, specialized programs, clubs and organizations, and even friends. And a medium-sized college (with about 3,000 – 10,000 students) provides a blend of qualities of a small and large school.
  • Liberal Arts vs Specialized Programs. Smaller colleges tend to offer a “liberal arts” curriculum, with courses in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities, such as psychology, history, and biology. On the other hand, larger universities often include specialized, pre-professional colleges within the school, and focus on areas such as business, engineering, communication, and architecture. Your academic interests and preferences for a certain size of college will help you decide which type of school is best for you.
  • Academics: Majors and Minors. What subjects interest you the most? Which classes have you most enjoyed? Research academic programs on colleges’ websites. See how many faculty members are in your areas of interest and review the departments’ courses and research opportunities. If you have a few different academic areas of interest, you will likely be able to pursue multiple subjects at college through a double-major or a major and minor. In colleges in the US, typically you can choose any combination of fields for a double-major or major/minor. For example, I have worked with students with a major in engineering and minor in studio art, a major in physics and minor in dance, and a major in Spanish and minor in biology!In addition, colleges are increasingly offering degrees in interdisciplinary areas, such as Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at University of Pennsylvania, biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, and neuroscience at Washington University in St. Louis.  An academic area that has been growing at many universities is STEAM, the combination of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math.
  • Distribution Requirements. In addition to the courses in your academic major, think about whether you have a strong preference for being exposed to a broad-based curriculum, or having the freedom to construct your entire course of study. Most colleges require that you take 8-10 courses (about a third of your total coursework) in a variety of academic areas in order to receive a broad-based education. Colleges range from having no distribution requirements (such as Brown University) to having a prescribed core curriculum (Columbia University). Most colleges fall in between, offering choices of courses in a variety of categories. For example, Princeton University has distribution requirements in the areas of Epistemology and Cognition, Ethical thought and Moral Values, Historical Analysis, Literature and the Arts, Social Analysis, Quantitative Reasoning, and Science and Technology.
  • Study Abroad. Most colleges offer the opportunity to study abroad for a semester or year and provide credit for coursework at other universities. Some colleges, such as New York University, have developed their own programs abroad, staffed by their own faculty. How important is it to you to study abroad? If so, research colleges’ study abroad policies to see how feasible it would be given your intended major, and find out the percent of students who typically do study abroad to determine if it is part of the school’s culture.
  • Internships. Would you like to work for an organization for a semester or more during your college years? This opportunity can be an excellent supplement to your academic coursework and expose you to potential careers. Some colleges build internships into the curriculum by requiring that you participate in one or more “co-op” semesters. Additionally, internships are more available in cities than in remote areas.
  • Extracurricular Activities. Are there clubs and organizations that are very important to you in college? These might include a cappella groups, theater, athletic clubs and intramural teams, religious organizations, or community service opportunities.
  • Location. Do you prefer a certain location in the US or beyond? Do you want to be in or near a city, or do you prefer proximity to nature? Is it important for you to be close to home?
  • Social Life. What is your preference for the social life on campus? How important is it to have strong athletic spirit or the presence of Greek life?

What is your personality like? As you reflect on these features, take into consideration your personality! Are you more extraverted or introverted? Would you prefer meeting a lot of people or spending time with a small group of close friends? Do you prefer a more structured or laid-back environment? Do you like to learn from classroom instruction or do you prefer a more hand-on approach? The more you understand yourself, the better equipped you will be to find a college that is a good fit for you.

Making the Most of Your College Visits

Now that you have identified features that are important to you, what’s next?

Research colleges to decide where to visit:

  • Research colleges online. Look up their websites, and read about their academic programs, extracurricular activities, and college culture.
  • Read college guidebooks, such as The Princeton Review and The Fiske Guide.
  • Speak with college students.
  • Attend local information sessions of colleges.

Plan to visit colleges. Now that you have identified schools that could be a good fit for you, visit their admissions websites to see if you need to register in advance for a tour and information session. Plan to eat in the dining hall so that you can speak with students and get a feel for the culture of the school. Try to arrange meetings with professors in your fields of interest; you can ask them why they chose to teach at the college and how they would describe the student body. You can also meet with staff in specialized offices, such as honors programs or learning centers.

In gathering all this information during your visits, you will begin to discover your college preferences.

Creating Your College List

Now that you have visited colleges and evaluated whether they are a good fit for you, you can develop your college list. Keep evaluating their features to make sure that your colleges suit your needs. The goal is not only to be accepted, but to succeed and thrive at your colleges!

Decide on 10-12 colleges to apply to. We recommend that you end up with 10-12 colleges on your list, with a combination of reach, target, and safe colleges.  Generally speaking, here are your admissions chances at these categories of schools:

  • Safe: more than a 75% chance of acceptance
  • Target: about a 50% chance of being admitted (your profile matches the profile of admitted students)
  • Reach: less than a 25% chance of acceptance

Assess your candidacy!  The most important factors in college admission remain the numbers:

  • Grades, especially in the core curriculum courses of English, history, foreign language, math, and science;
  • Rigor of curriculum, evaluated within the context of what’s offered at your high school;
  • Standardized testing, including the ACT or SAT, Subject Tests, AP exams, and IB grades.

Learn about your high school’s admissions history. Most schools use Naviance, a web-based software program that presents the admissions outcomes of students from your school, based on their GPA and test scores. Compare your academic profile with students from your school who have been accepted to colleges in which you are interested.

Below is a scattergram of students who applied to Emory University from Schreiber High School in Port Washington.  If your GPA and test scores place you in the top right of the scattergram, near all the green squares of accepted students, you have a strong chance of being accepted, if you meet Emory’s other criteria.  If your GPA and test scores place you in the lower left below the icons of accepted students, Emory may be a reach for you, unless you have a strong admissions “hook,” such as being a recruited athlete, legacy, under-represented minority, or first-generation student.

Boost your candidacy through your personal qualities. Although colleges place significant emphasis on your grades and test scores in their evaluation of your candidacy, qualitative factors have increased in importance over the last decade.  Colleges are interested in all the ways that you will contribute to campus life outside the classroom. To that end,  engage in extracurricular activities that genuinely interest you.  These activities can play a positive role in the following aspects of your application:

  • Essays and Interviews: you can discuss your involvement in activities in your Personal Essay, colleges’ supplemental essays, and interviews;
  • Recommendations: you can ask for letters of recommendation from people outside the academic courses, such as research mentors, coaches, clergy, supervisors of employment or internships

Balancing “Reach” With “Realistic”

Keep in mind overall admissions trends. The numbers of students attending college has been increasing and is projected to continue to increase over the next decade. More students are applying to college, and each student is applying to an increasing number of colleges. As a result, admissions rates have declined, and selectivity has increased. It has become increasingly more important to have a realistic list.

Make sure your college list is balanced. In a typical college list of 12 colleges, about 5 should be “target” schools (you have about a 50% chance of being admitted), with about 3-4 each of “safe” schools (more than a 75% chance of acceptance), and “reach” schools (less than a 25% chance of acceptance).

Tailor your list. Each individual’s college list should be suited to their academic and personal needs. If you would like a very challenging academic environment and have a strong academic profile, you could have more reach schools. If you would like a more manageable course load, or are trying to manage learning, emotional, or psychological challenges, you may want to increase the number of safe schools.

The process of deciding which colleges to visit, which to apply to, and which college to attend is complex! If you would like individualized guidance, feel free to contact us at As always, we’re happy to help!

Finding the Right Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities

A learning disability is a neurological/developmental condition that is caused by a difference in how the person’s brain is “wired.” As a result, the individual has difficulty in receiving and processing information. Students with LD are as smart, creative and motivated as their peers, but they have often suffer from discrepancies between their cognitive ability and their academic performance. In most cases, students with learning impairments simply need to be taught in a way that is compatible with their unique learning styles.

We now know that brains continue to develop throughout adulthood. Recent scientific research shows that throughout a person’s lifetime, the brain possesses neuroplasticity, the capacity to rewire by forming new connections in response to experience, learning, thought and emotion.

The sooner an individual with LD begins to learn effective approaches to receiving and processing information, the sooner he or she can take steps to strengthen learning, communication, personal growth and self-esteem. As a result, finding a college that will support and nurture students with LD is critical to their academic success.

Levels of LD Support in College

Colleges range widely in the degree of support services for LD students; some provide only the accommodations that are federally-mandated by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), while others offer comprehensive programs that charge a separate fee in addition to tuition. In between these extremes are colleges that provide moderate support programs that vary in the frequency of meetings, types of services and training of personnel. All LD services require appropriate documentation, including psycho-education testing and evaluation.

Comprehensive or Structured Programs

Comprehensive programs provide a full range of services, are fee-based, and are staffed by personnel with expertise in the learning and social needs of LD individuals. Students meet a minimum of once a week (and often 2-3 times a week) with a professional learning specialist, academic tutor and/or ADHD coach. Students receive structured support on a regular basis throughout each semester of enrollment. The program may be offered all four years, or just for freshman year with strong follow-up services.  Often, a separate application is required.

In addition to receiving accommodations and technology support, students obtain guidance on executive functioning, writing and content area skills.  Services often include:

  • Assistance with the transition from high school to college
  • Summer transition programs (for incoming freshmen)
  • Priority course registration
  • Academic advisement
  • Tutoring services
  • Study skills training
  • Time management training
  • Peer support groups
  • Self-advocacy assistance
  • Assistive technology-based services, such as digital calendars and homework apps
  • Frequent monitoring of student progress

Moderate Support Services

Most colleges provide moderate support, including services beyond what is mandated by the ADA, but not the full array of resources.

Typical characteristics of these programs include:

  • Basic accommodations (see description below)
  • A Learning Center, which may or not be open to all students
  • A dedicated specialist with training in learning disabilities
  • Centralized tutoring by peers, graduate students, and/or professionals
  • Workshops or one-on-one assistance to help with organization and build study skills (not guaranteed on a weekly basis).

Basic Accommodations

Basic support services include those federally mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and are provided free of charge. Typically, colleges that offer basic accommodations have one staff member in the Office of Disabilities, often without a specialized background, who coordinates with faculty and other staff on campus. Services are typically decentralized, and delivered through an Academic Support Center open to all students. At these colleges, LD students must self-advocate and find content tutors within individual departments.

Accommodations include:

  • Extended time to complete tests (ranging from time and a half to unlimited time)
  • A quiet, distraction-reduced testing environment
  • Audio textbooks and/or readers for tests, for students with visual processing issues
  • Visual accommodations, such as sitting upfront.
  • Note-taker in class to produce readable, well-organized notes of lectures
  • Computer accommodation, or the use of the word-processing function of a computer during tests for essays and short-answer questions
  • Hearing accommodations, such as captioned videos and sound amplification systems

For example, in New York State, Cornell University and Union College provide accommodations that are federally-mandated, while Hofstra, Marist and RIT provide comprehensive support programs. A variety of colleges fall in the middle, offering moderate support services. These range from small liberal arts colleges (such as Bard, Colgate, Hamilton and Skidmore) to large research universities (such as Columbia, New York University and the University of Rochester) to public institutions (such as SUNY Binghamton and SUNY New Paltz).

Two excellent sources of information about individual colleges’ support services include Bass Educational Services and College Supports for Learning Differences.

Questions to Ask a College’s Office of Disability Support Services

Once students become more aware of “best-fit” college features, and begin to narrow down their potential college list, it would be useful to visit the Office of Disability Support Services as part of your college tours. There is no downside to identifying yourself and asking questions regarding the support that your student could receive.  Legally, colleges cannot discriminate against students based on disabilities, and there is no transfer of information from the Office of Disabilities to the Admissions Office during the application review process.

These questions can be modified based on a student’s individual needs, interests, and goals.

Eligibility for Services 

  • What documentation is required to receive accommodations and services through the Office of Disability Support Services?
  • How current should the documentation be?
  • What is the process for reviewing documentation and determining eligibility?

Staffing of Office of Disability Support Services

  • How many staff members work in the Office of Disability Support Services and what are their responsibilities?  What is their background and training?
  • Do the staff members in the Office of Disability Support Services have previous experience working with other students with my disability? What types of accommodations and/or services have been provided in the past?
  • Who provides tutoring services for specific classroom subjects? Is there a Writing Center and Math Center? Are they paid staff or student volunteers?
  • Who would be my primary contact person in the Office of Disability Support Services?

Support Services

  • What accommodations and support services are available through the Office of Disability Support Services ? (See above for a list of potential services)
  • Does the Office of Disability Support Services offer a distraction-reduced environment for students to take exams and/or to study?
  • Are there services provided to assist freshmen students with the transition from high school to college?
  • What types of assistive or adaptive technology resources are available on the campus?
  • Do students have the following course options:
    • Take a reduced course load
    • Substitute required courses
    • Waive certain graduation requirements, for example foreign language
  • Are there any fees for the services offered by the Office of Disability Support Services?

LD Student Population

  • What percentage of students receive assistance through the Office of Disability Support Services?
  • Do you provide information about the graduation rate and/or the retention rate for students who are served by the Office of Disability Support Services?

Campus Environment

  • What are some examples of how the college culture supports students with learning disabilities?
  • How are professors at the college notified about academic accommodations, and how is compliance maintained?
  • What types of community resources are near the college, such as medical facilities or psychological services? Is the Office of Disability Support Services connected with any of these resources?


Every student (with or without a learning disability) has individual needs. For guidance tailored specifically to your circumstances, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.

How (and Why) You Should Demonstrate Interest to Colleges

Why is it important to demonstrate interest to colleges?

“Demonstrated interest” has become increasingly important in the college admissions process over recent years.* But the importance placed on demonstrated interest varies greatly depending on the type of college. Demonstrated interest typically is more important to colleges that are private, smaller and more selective.

With increased numbers of students applying to colleges, demonstrated interest helps colleges assess the likelihood that students will:

  • Attend if admitted (yield), which helps the admissions office craft its class, and is a leading factor for US News & World Report rankings
  • Be a good fit and engage in activities on campus
  • Be loyal to the school and become an alumni donor

How can you demonstrate “informed interest” to colleges? 10-point plan!

All the colleges on your College List should be schools you would be happy to attend.  Your goal should be to demonstrate genuine “informed interest” that shows you are knowledgeable about the college’s unique features and how you would contribute to campus life.

  • VISIT the college; register in the admissions office. Many, but not all, colleges track campus visits as one of the highest measures of demonstrated interest.
  • ATTEND info sessions at your high school or local college fairs.
  • REGISTER on the undergraduate admissions website.
  • FOLLOW colleges on social media, including twitter, blogs, Facebook.
  • INTERVIEW on-campus or with an alumni interview.
  • RESEARCH the college thoroughly when you write your Supplemental Essays. Write as specifically as possible about the programs and culture of the college; and about the strengths and interests you would bring to campus.
  • THANK college officials after college visits and interviews.  Include specific topics that were meaningful to you.
  • APPLY EARLY!  Applying Early Decision or Early Action shows interest, because you are sufficiently motivated to prepare and submit your application earlier than required.
  • CONTACT the regional admissions officer after you apply by sending an occasional email if you have substantive developments to report or a genuine question that is not answered on the website.
  • CHECK your online portal for your application status.

For more information on how to evaluate your fit for colleges and demonstrate interest, contact

* 2012 State of College Admissions report by NACAC (National Association of College Admissions Counselors).