Summer Vacation and College Readiness

It’s late May, and most students are looking forward with pleasant anticipation to summer vacation. Summertime is a point when high school students traditionally recharge and regroup; however, it is definitely possible to recharge and also engage in activities that will help with boosting college readiness.

The following are my top eight suggestions for the most productive ways to spend summer vacation with an eye to enhancing your college profile:

1 – Seek out a summer job. Work experience counts as something that demonstrates commitment and maturity to college admissions officials, and it is increasingly rare.

2 – Engage in some volunteer work, especially something that you might maintain beyond the summer months. As with work, this also demonstrates commitment, maturity, and also discipline.

3 – Seek out interesting, growth-enhancing experiences that will expand your perspective on life. This may involve travel, a service learning project, or a challenge that you set for yourself and meet (for example, hiking all the Colorado 14ers).

4 – Continue to stimulate your mind by engaging in intellectually engaging activities. If you have a weak academic area, this is the perfect time to review or work with a tutor, and a chance to start the school year ahead of the game in the fall.

5 – Related to the previous suggestion, if you struggled in a high school course and didn’t perform as well as you would like, and there is an opportunity to repeat the class in summer school, consider doing so. This demonstrates your seriousness as a student and may well improve your GPA.

6 – Launch or continue activities that are involved with applying to college. Tour schools of interest, contact colleges and request informational materials, review sample ACT and SAT tests to assess which is your better exam and so forth.

7 – Set out to learn a life skill that you haven’t yet mastered, whether it’s cooking, basic car maintenance, home repairs, etc. This will stand you in good stead later in life, and you never know when it might come in handy, even in your freshman dorm!

8 – Read, read, read, read. Read anything that’s interesting to you, and push yourself to expand your horizons here as well by delving into topics you know little about and genres that are less familiar to you. A key college success skill is reading comprehension. Readers have an edge on developing into good writers as well.

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

ACT Review Series for Colorado statewide test

Dr. Lisa Ransdell of Pinnacle Education Consulting is offering a low-cost, intensive review series in preparation for the statewide administration of the ACT on April 24, 2012 to Colorado high school juniors.

When: Saturdays beginning March 10 at 2 p.m. on the downtown Denver Auraria campus (building and room to be announced). With the exception of April 13, most meetings will last 90 minutes.

Cost: $25 for textbook (ordering information will be supplied).  Each session costs $20; the full six-session series may be paid for in advance for $100.

ACT Review Session Dates/Topics:

March 10:

  • overview of the ACT, ACT test sections, and test-taking strategy; self-study plan for maximum readiness

March 17:

  • full English section administration and review

March 24:

  • No meeting; Auraria campus is closed for Spring Break

March 31:

  • full Math section administration and review

April 6:

  • full Reading and Science section administration and review

April 13:

  • full ACT test administration (3 hours)

April 20:

  • review of full test outcomes; overview of ACT essay writing section

Dr. Ransdell is a former academic services Dean and Assistant Provost at schools like The University of Denver and Denison University (OH), and a continuing faculty member at Metropolitan State College of Denver. She established her education consulting practice in 2007, and has since then helped many Colorado families with all aspects of college planning.

Like Lisa Ransdell on FaceBook or Twitter to receive Pinnacle Education News You Can Use, regular updates on trends in college admissions in Colorado and nationwide:

  •  To register, (or for further information) email
  • or call 303-635-6620

Retention and Graduation Rates: What Do They Reveal?

Increasingly savvy parents and the occasional savvy student may have caught on to the wisdom of digging beneath the sea of happy faces, success stories and attractive photos featured in admissions brochures and college websites in search of valid measures that can meaningfully be used to compare one school to the next. Two sets of interesting statistics are freshman retention rates and four-or six-year graduation rates, which every school is mandated to report. Along with other outcome measures, these numbers are included in the methodology used by U.S. News and World Report to determine their evaluation of a school.

First of all, why do these numbers loom so large in a school’s ranking, and why are they reported as they are? It is easy to understand the importance of graduation rates. With less than half of all college-bound students in the U.S. ever graduating, this outcome should tell us something about the degree of support provided by a given college to its students to help them make progress and complete a course of study. However, given the wide gulf between types of colleges and the degree of selectivity they employ, it also tells us something about the challenges and risks faced by less-advantaged students at some schools. Therefore these numbers should be considered in light of the selectivity of the school in question. Personally, I have been disappointed with the shift away from reporting four-year rates to six-year rates, and can only assume that this represents acquiescence to a new, more dismal national norm.

What does it mean that the greatest focus in retention (re-enrolling from one year to the next) stresses freshman retention? This is because at most colleges the greatest loss of students occurs within the first year of enrollment. Many of the students who are lost in their first year of study never re-enroll, or repeat the pattern of enrolling and dropping out at more than one college. Therefore, freshman retention is critical, both for institutions, and for students themselves.

So, how do we meaningfully compare a college like the University of Denver, with an 87% freshman student retention, with Colorado State University, with its 83% rate, or the University of Colorado with its 84% freshman retention? And does it suggest that Metropolitan State College of Denver, often called Colorado’s College of Opportunity, is a colossal failure with its 67% retention rate and 21% graduation rate? (BTW, just for the sake of comparison, at most Ivy League colleges like Harvard, freshman retention sits right around 99%.) The numbers matter, but they must be interpreted in the context of the school’s mission and selectivity.  Metro State enrolls large numbers of first generation, low income, minority and adult students, and this exerts an effect.  It is also true that some Metro students are pursuing certificates or plan on transferring elsewhere, so this unfairly skews both sets of numbers. In my view the best use of retention and grad numbers is to help families ask hard questions of a school about how they are supporting their students.

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 27 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.

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.


Recently Visited: Dartmouth College

In early June I spent a very enjoyable day at Dartmouth, smallest of the Ivies with an undergraduate enrollment of 4196. Hanover, NH, where Dartmouth is located is green, leafy, small and seemingly quiet (at least when I was there, which was during summer term, and possibly uncharacteristic).

Besides the power and cachet of its Ivy League membership, Dartmouth has many progressive and attractive features.  Foremost among academic innovations is the D-Plan, which gives students incredible latitude to plan the sequencing of much of their enrollment. Built around Dartmouth’s four ten-week terms, the plan requires students to be present on campus for 12 of 16 terms, including during fall, winter, and spring terms of freshman year; summer term of sophomore year; and fall, winter, and spring terms of senior year. Apart from this, provided that requirements have been met, students are free to participate extensively in study abroad, pursue internships, and engage in other pursuits that enhance their educational experience. The Dartmouth website showcases multiple ways that students have taken advantage of the D-Plan: I also really appreciated learning about the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric (so cool to address writing AND speaking in an academic enhancement center), and the Big Green (vegetable oil-powered) Bus, a student-run sustainability initiative. According to the website, the BGB is currently spreading the word in Las Vegas, of all places.

Campus buildings are lovely and impressive, especially the libraries. In the main library I sneaked away from the tour group in order to see the “Hogwarts Room” on an upper floor once I learned that it wasn’t a part of the tour. It would make an inspiring study site. I also slipped into the Rauner Special Collections Library, also not on the tour, and was impressed by its precious holdings, including the papers of Daniel Webster, an 1801 grad, and oversized first edition of Audubon’s Birds of America.

Dartmouth isn’t cheap, with a tuition charge for the class of ’14 of $40, 437, and is ultra selective as are all Ivies. Just 11.7% of applicants were accepted in the last season. In addition to its undergraduate programs in the arts & sciences and engineering, Dartmouth has noteworthy graduate programs: the Thayer School of Engineering, the Dartmouth Medical School, and the Tuck School of Business. The photo is of my Denison friend Seth, then just a week away from graduating with his MBA from Tuck, and his dog Harry.


Early Fall College Planning

What should high school students and their families be doing in the late summer/early fall to be ahead of the college planning game? Here is what I would suggest:

Seniors: Do as much as you can before senior year starts. You will be distracted, you will be busy, and besides applying to colleges your main job will be keeping your grades up. Start your college essays; you can have them well underway if not finished before your classmates — one less stress during crunch time come November-December, which is prime application-time. Check the essay prompts for the Common Application, which are pretty typical.  Even if you are asked to write a different kind of essay by a particular school, cutting and pasting sections is often possible.

Also, do some initial scholarship research to see what you might qualify for (also a time-saver later), and visit any schools you have a clear interest in that you haven’t visited. Many colleges regard an official visit as an indication of sincere interest, so don’t miss out on communicating this.

Juniors: Do some serious prep for the ACT/SAT (see my blog of Feb 21, ‘11) and take each exam.  If your results aren’t stellar determine which was your strongest test, do more prep and re-take it.  Schools will only consider your highest scores, so there is no downside to repeating these tests.

Make this a standout academic year, as junior year grades are what you will be showcasing in the majority of your applications come fall of senior year. Maintain one or two of your past extracurriculars, as these will be scrutinized as well.

Begin building a college list and touring colleges in earnest to identify what kinds of schools match you, and to establish your interest.  Participate in some of the college fairs that happen locally in the fall. This is a great chance to learn more about all kinds of colleges, collect information, and meet admissions reps.

By all means, consider working with an independent educational consultant!:)

I made additional recommendations for high school sophomores and freshmen in my past blog of Sept 28, ‘09; check it out!


Common Misconceptions of a College Education

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 27 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.

I liked many of the points made in a recent commencement speech at Michigan State University by Roger Ferguson, President and CEO of TIAA-CREF, the retirement-investment firm used by a majority of the nation’s college professors and staff members. Ferguson, who is an attorney and former Federal Reserve Board Chairman, highlighted three common misconceptions of a college education for the benefit of those graduating.

First, he challenged the idea that the main purpose of attending college is to get a job and maximize earnings as much as possible. By way of illustrating what can happen when people and companies place the pursuit of money above all else, Ferguson cited the ongoing financial crisis and the long-term fallout that can occur when greed prevails in human enterprise.

Second, Ferguson took issue with the notion of “climbing a career ladder”, observing that many of those who are most successful in the U.S. at present are willing to operate as if on a career climbing wall, where one must shift horizontally, perhaps briefly descent before ascending once again, and carefully read the terrain and strategize in order to keep moving and progressing.

Finally, Ferguson debunked the idea that graduation marks the end of education. He made a strong case for the importance of lifelong learning, and observed that this learning doesn’t necessarily take place in a classroom environment.

I thought this was a solid graduation speech with some great nuggets for graduates and their families. Not all commencement speeches hit the mark, but this one seemed short (a good thing I think!), and truly sweet. Congratulations high school and college graduates of 2011, including some wonderful past clients.  May the world be your oyster!


Recently Visited: Seven PA Colleges

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 27 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.

I’m just back from a trip to the Philadelphia area where I toured seven great colleges: Bryn Mawr, Franklin and Marshall, Haverford, Penn, Princeton, Swarthmore, and Villanova. Each is a standout and has much to offer students. One very special aspect of the trip was that a former client who is just wrapping up her first year provided my Villanova tour personally.  Soon Lara will be back in Colorado to visit with family and friends, and then she heads off to Spain for an internship-study abroad program arranged through the college. Not a bad way to spend the summer!

I will likely write a blog about each tour in order to share special features of each institution, several of which were established in the early 1800s by the Quakers. For now here is a peek at one of Princeton’s fierce tigers

A Princeton Tiger



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.