Pinnacle Summer College Planning Clinic

With school counselor caseloads climbing ever higher, families rightfully fear that students will lack personalized help with planning for college at the same time that admission selectivity reaches a peak nationwide. This summer local independent educational consultant Dr. Lisa Ransdell is offering a six-week reasonably priced college planning clinic to a small group of rising high school juniors and seniors.

The clinic provides 12 hours of instruction and personal guidance with key aspects of college planning, including college searching/matching, essay development and editing, career/major planning and assessment, financial aid guidance, model campus tours and interview preparation, and more. After completing the clinic, each participant will be far ahead of many of his or her classmates with much of the work of applying to college complete or solidly begun. Parents are invited to attend the financial aid and scholarship class meeting.

At the conclusion of the sessions each participant will receive a detailed, personalized report with college matches, the student’s edited essay draft, the college major assessment report, a point-by-point college planning timeline, financial aid and scholarship recommendations, and more.

Dr. Ransdell launched her education consulting practice, Pinnacle Education Consulting, LLC, in 2007 in the Denver area.  Lisa works with all kinds of students, sharing with each insight from her 20-year career as a higher education administrator and 28-years as a college faculty member (ongoing). She is a member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association, and the Denver-Boulder BBB.

Lisa’s past clients are attending or headed to schools like the University of Denver, the University of Colorado, the University of Chicago, Gonzaga University, the University of Southern California, Villanova University, Louisiana State University, the University of Oregon, and many more excellent colleges. The summer clinic is very affordable and offers phenomenal value and terrific benefits to participants and families.

For info/to register:                   303-635-6620

Campus tour at UC Berkeley

Extracurricular Activities and College Admissions


What is the value of extracurricular activities in the college admissions process? Reviewers view these positively, and they WILL boost your chances — provided they generally fit these guidelines:

  1. Activities demonstrate that you are well rounded and capable of sustained commitment; they are NOT more important than grades or test scores. A long list of clubs and activities does not make up for poor academic performance.
  2. It is better to demonstrate depth with activities over breadth. One or two types of involvement lasting multiple years counts for more than a large laundry list of tried-and-dropped interests.
  3. Activities demonstrating leadership potential speak well of you. If you began with basketball as a freshman reserve player, and ended your senior season as the varsity team captain, this shows your commitment over time as well as the respect of your coaches and fellow players. Remember that an important aspect of leadership is taking responsibility, so you don’t need to have held an important-sounding title to act as a leader. Organizing a successful awareness or charity event on your own counts as leadership too.
  4. Consider mixing it up just a little. For example, if you are heavily into the arts and an orchestra and band member, check out student government for something different, involving a distinctive skill set. Similarly, if you are primarily athletic, look at service activities as a way of expanding your comfort zone.
  5. Don’t forget that summertime can be a way of increasing involvement in experiential activities such as volunteer work. I have a promising current client (high school junior) that I’ve known since she was 12, when she and her Mom volunteered along with me at a local animal shelter. Emma pursued that involvement for over two years and then moved on to increasingly responsible volunteer positions at the Denver Zoo. With her interest in biology this long-standing volunteer commitment with animals will serve her well next year when she applies to colleges.
  6. Finally, remember that work counts as an excellent extracurricular involvement also. Holding a part-time job or unpaid internship over a period of time is a time-honored, and perhaps increasingly rare distinction.

With any extracurricular involvement, be certain that you can describe what you did and what you learned from the activity.  This is a true test of the value of such experiences, and the key to getting as much value for them as possible in your college applications.

The Snow Dragon at the top was created by one of my neighbors after a recent Denver snowstorm. I thought it was brilliant! By clicking on it you can see the amazing detail better.

College Preparation, Year By Month

Dr. Lisa Ransdell is an independent educational consultant and college counselor who helps students and their families stay on top of college planning. Lisa’s practice is grounded in 28 years of college teaching and 20 years in higher education administration. She constantly tours, reads, and does professional development in order to give clients the most up-to-date info.

Bodleian Library, Oxford

I have blogged about this important topic before, but just came upon a great series of guidelines for high school students on how to best plan for college: year by year and month by month. The guidelines are published by NACAC, the National Association for College Admission Counseling.  Here is a nugget for each year of high school from the piece:

Freshmen: Investigate what high school courses are required by colleges and plan your enrollment accordingly.

Sophomores: Prepare for and take the PSAT in October. This test prepares you for the SAT next year, and can be repeated next fall to try for National Merit Scholarships, a significant source of scholarship money.

Juniors: Begin a preliminary list of colleges of interest, and make contact with them, either by visiting or by requesting literature.

Seniors: Keep grades strong and attend to college application deadlines. Don’t take rolling admission policies for granted at colleges that don’t specify a specific date. These schools will close down admissions once their incoming class is full.

For the full set of suggestions for each year and month, see NACAC site:

I also see they have a Preparing for College newsletter for high school students and families, which is also likely a good source of info.


Local College Admission Tales in the NY Times

Local standout Cherry Creek High School has been heavily featured in The Choice college blog in the NY Times, beginning this past December. Six Creek seniors have blogged their way through the (still concluding) application-notification-decision process, sharing stories of anticipation, anxiety, excitement, and occasionally, despondency. In some cases seemingly joyful outcomes turned to frustration and disappointment when an acceptance from a favored institution paired with little or no financial aid means the offer can’t be accepted, an unfortunate outcome that’s come to be known as “admit-deny.”

The series continues today with a solid piece on deciding among competing offers of admission by counseling department coordinator Kelly Dunham. Ms. Dunham cites a lengthy set of comparable factors and recommends that students develop pro and con lists and weigh the strengths of each school, especially from a “personal fit” perspective.

This past Monday I was at the Cherry Creek counseling office, attending a new client’s junior conference along with his Mom. I was impressed with the efficiency and thoroughness of the program, and appreciate that I was welcome to attend as part of the student’s team of helpers and promoters, a good sign of genuine support for the student.

CCHS blogs will continue through May, when the students will have made their choices.  The pieces are compelling and very well written, a testament to the fine education to be had at Creek. I’m really appreciating the series as well as the comments from readers all over the U.S., who seem to enjoy hearing about the college planning scene in Colorado.

Check it out:

Lisa Ransdell is an independent educational consultant in Denver, Colorado with an extensive background in college teaching and administration. She helps students and families nationwide with all aspects of college planning.


College Entrance Exam Preparation Strategies

One of my services to clients is help in preparing for the SAT and ACT examinations. It’s been some time since I was on the college testing scene as a test taker, but at the moment I am right in there with high school juniors, studying for the SAT myself at the age of 50 with a looming October 4, 2008 test date. I decided that prepping for and taking the test myself would be an interesting, alternative sort of professional development at this point in my career.

What does an educational consultant and former higher ed administrator recommend as the best means of preparing for college entrance exams? As with nearly every consequential thing one plans for, “one size doesn’t fit all,” and “it depends.” For myself, given that I have nothing riding on my exam scores, I am going low level. My preparation consists solely of spending time working my way through the Barron’s guidebook, “How to Prepare for the SAT,” and also receipt and completion of the SAT question of the day from the College Board (and its Educational Testing Service), the folks who created and maintain the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

Generally, there are four broad types of preparation. One is to do what I’m doing, and prepare on your own with the help of a guidebook. There are several out there roughly in the $30 price range and each will help prepare you in relatively similar ways. I chose Barron’s because it is highly regarded by other tutors who are my colleagues and friends. I like it for its breadth of coverage of key test areas (critical reading, writing and mathematics), the fact that it includes a diagnostic test to help identify strengths and weaknesses, and the fact that it includes no fewer than six practice tests. It also comes packaged with a CD-Rom that I haven’t checked out yet.

I would only recommend guidebook preparation for students with solid across-the-board academic strengths, for those who scored quite well on the PSAT, and as an initial strategy when there is plenty of time left to re-test should more in-depth preparation prove to be necessary. Guidebooks also work best for those with the self-discipline and motivation necessary to devote multiple hours per week to study and review for several weeks leading up to the exam date.

Self-motivation would similarly be necessary for those who are attracted to the idea of using one of the on-line test prep programs, such as Kaplan online, Princeton Review online, and one of the newest, Encyclopedia Britannica online. These programs are more expensive, ranging in price from approximately $399 to $535. I am especially intrigued by the Encyclopedia Britannica online program given their publicized average score improvement of 300 points, and the fact that their program has multiple personalized features that are part of their basic $499 fee.

Next are the classroom based review services, including Kaplan, Princeton Review, and others. These programs offer comprehensive coverage and may work best for those who are more motivated by having a time and place all mapped out for their review sessions. They can be pricey, however, often costing upwards of $1000. I recently affirmed the choice of the Sylvan Learning program to a client in another state who had a positive experience with their services earlier in her high school career as it seemed comforting to her to return to them. If I were a parent, I would make inquiries about the background and experience of session presenters before committing to any of these programs.

Finally, there are private tutors, some of whom exclusively do tutoring, and others who combine tutoring with other educational consulting services, such as help with the college search and admission process. As a professional, I fall in the latter category. As with the classroom-based programs, parents would be wise to inquire equally about the background of private tutors. I am up-front with clients that I am a good test-taking strategist, and strong in the critical reading and writing categories, but far less so in mathematics. I would refer a student needing deep assistance in the math area to another tutor, and feel it would be dishonest of me to do otherwise.

There are two great advantages to private tutors, once you find the right one (and I note that the major test prep companies now also offer their own private tutors). First, the personalized attention simply can’t be beat. Second, the cost can be completely controlled by pre-determining the number of hours of review, as most tutors work on an hourly basis. Many private tutors also utilize a guidebook as they work with students, so there may be a positive triangulation effect from going this route.

One final observation: provided the student launches the process early enough, test-taking can be relatively non-stressful, as the test can be repeated multiple times with no need for anxiety about outcomes, as schools have long pledged to only consider one’s highest scores. Also SAT scores can be cancelled if done within published deadlines, and increasing numbers of schools have recently diminished the weight of standardized tests in their admission decision process. Happy studying, my fellow test-takers!

Lisa Ransdell is a college faculty member, former high ed administrator, and head of a Denver-based college-search consulting firm, Pinnacle Education Consulting, LLC,

College Search Process Heats Up

U.S. colleges will be bursting at the seams this fall (2008) as members of the largest high school graduating class in U.S. history arrive on campus. The large size of the incoming class of 2012 is blamed on a “baby boomlet,” as kids of the later baby boom cohort come of age.

Local institutions view the shift as a mixed blessing. Tom Willoughby, Vice Chancellor for Enrollment at the University of Denver, shares that DU saw a 32% increase in its applicant pool this spring, with 8333 prospective students applying for a total of 1140 available spaces. At the same time, the recent economic downturn is causing families to scrutinize scholarships and other aid offers extra closely in search of the best educational value – so yields are thought to be somewhat unpredictable.

While the increasing trend toward selectivity nationwide is better news for colleges than for students, it is by no means cause for undue angst for those in the college admissions process. What can college-bound students and their families do to increase the odds of desirable outcomes from their college search in an extra-competitive market? Careful preparation is key, along with a flexible attitude. This fall and next, when the record for the largest class will be broken yet again, fewer students will be in a position to set their sights exclusively on one idealized, highly competitive school and see their dreams become reality. This is a good time for families to consider alternative pathways, such as a year or two at a community college or second choice school, possibly followed by a transfer application to the institution of choice. It’s also not a bad time for ambivalent students to defer enrollment and gain work and life experience for a year or two before heading off to the ivory tower. A gap year, where students pursue travel and alternative study, or intensive volunteer and intern-type experiences can also be a great choice.

Finally, this is a good time to look carefully at the factors that constitute a true quality education and consider some of the lower profile/hidden gemstone schools, like Metropolitan State College of Denver and others, where students receive instruction from committed, engaged faculty and enjoy a degree of success in the world comparable to that of graduates of their more prestigious and selective competitors.

Lisa Ransdell is a faculty member and former college administrator who heads her own education consulting firm, Pinnacle Education Consulting, LLC.  She can be reached at