Finding a Good College Fit: Religion

Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Atheist and ‘Nones’ (the fastest growing segment of the US population according to Pew). These are the religious affiliations of my client base this past application season.  What I learned from my students this year is this: 

Asking the question, 'What makes a college a good fit’ vis a vis a student's religious background is really not that different from taking into account their artistic, academic or athletic interests. Just as I wouldn't advise a non-reader to apply to St John's College in New Mexico, an ardent follower of Christopher Hitchens probably should not have Ohio's Cedarville University on their college list. Fortunately, the parameters are easy enough to ascertain. 

George Fox University, Newburg, Oregon

George Fox University, Newburg, Oregon

Campus Culture: 

If you can't tour a college, a visit to a school's homepage will tell you most of what you need to know about the religious landscape. The Words ‘Christ Centered’ or ‘Faith-based' obviously indicate a high level of religiosity.   What does this mean in practice? At schools like George Fox, Pepperdine and Whitworth, attending chapel is required--and monitored. Alcohol is banned. Professors are vetted for faith and often lead prayers before exams. Students who have done their research won't be surprised that the application for admission to faith-based schools includes questions related to bible verses or about an applicant's own history with faith and belief. 

California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, CA

California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, CA

There are also church-affiliated colleges. On their websites, you will find words like ‘Collaboration, Tolerance and Intercultural Communication’ or 'Competence, Conscience and Compassion' demonstrating a religiously-informed education within an inclusive atmosphere. Chapman University, for example, with historic ties to the Disciples of Christ, encourages the spiritual health of its students through its All Faiths Chapel--which in just one month hosted Langar (Sikh), Ecumenical Good Friday, and Mindfulness events. The Campus Ministry at Georgetown, the oldest Jesuit college in the US, supports a wide variety of chaplaincies and affiliations from Muslim to Hindu to Humanist/None/Unaffiliated. Soka University, founded on the Buddhist principles of peace, human rights and the sanctity of life, is actually non-sectarian and does not have a place of worship on campus. 

Soka University, Aliso Viejo, CA

Soka University, Aliso Viejo, CA

Students need to understand the ethos and values of their potential colleges, whether written down in the website or not. Ask questions! Are dorms co-ed by building, floor or suite? What are the taboos on smoking, drinking, partying, revealing clothing, shopping on Sunday. Is evangelism required? Is there an honor code and what are the consequences for breaking it? Check out the events page and what merchandise is sold at the bookstore. Look up the faculty: Are they experts in their field?


Academic Fit:

The requirements for any major are roughly equivalent whether at a religious or secular school. The devil, of course, is in the details. Future accountants at Biola, for example, will struggle with the same calculus and finance courses as accounting majors at public universities across the country. But Biola also requires 30 hours of Bible and related courses which is, essentially, minoring in religion. At Cedarville, minoring in bible studies is actually mandatory for all students. Other religiously-affiliated colleges have looser requirements. At Notre Dame or USD, the 9 hours of required religion courses could be taken on The Bible but also could be HIV/AIDS and Christian Ethics or Rich, Poor and War or Religious Peacebuilding.

For students interested in expanding upon their faith, the large number of required religion courses at Christian colleges won't be an issue. For others, the 'creationist approach to scientific research' could present something of a dilemma. 

University of San Francisco

University of San Francisco

Religious background aside, analyzing any college's core requirements along with the depth and breadth and worldview of available courses is critical to finding a good academic fit. One thought experiment is this: if you are majoring in accounting, and you devote 30 units (almost 2 semesters) to religion, what accounting courses aren’t you taking that you might need for employment or grad school. The cost of college is high. Bible study groups can be found at a meetup, your neighbor’s house or your local church--for free. But, how easily accessible is Accounting for Non-Profits or International Financial Reporting or a Fraud Examination class? How you spend your class time over four years matters. A lot. 


One final thought. There was no discernible pattern to developing a college list for my religiously diverse clients. 

The Hindu was entirely unconcerned about applying to a Catholic university. The requirement to attend chapel and religion classes was a deal breaker for one Christian.  The atheist drew the line at colleges with a bell tower.  And, one of the many ‘Nones’ in my applicant pool was okay with a dry campus.  Exploring and analyzing the choices available to my clients was an absolute blast. But then, it always is...Good luck to the high school Class of 2017!










Why on Earth Would I Hire a College Counselor?

Why on Earth Would I Hire a College Counselor?

College applications are all about details, deadlines and debt. Sometimes it's useful to have another, independent, pair of eyes on what could be a $300,000 adventure. 

Super Selective, Highly Impacted Colleges: Why didn’t I get in?

Super Selective, Highly Impacted Colleges: Why didn’t I get in?

As college acceptance and rejection letters start rolling in this month and families begin to fret over statistics and strategies, it’s worth taking note of a few facts. 

Thinking Beyond the Desk: Artists & Artisans

Trinity University Studio

The government classification for artists includes: actors, architects, announcers, authors, clowns, comedians, designers, musicians and a whole host of other artistic endeavors.

What pathway do you take to be categorized as an artist on your IRS Schedule 1040? Some artists attend college or conservatory, others apprentice, and still others just "do it", whatever their passion is, until they get the proverbial 10,000 hours under their belt and artist.

Colleges to think about: Ringling College of Art & Design, Rhode Island School of Design, Savannah College of Art and Design, Otis College of Art & Design, Fashion Institute of Technology, California Institute of the Arts, Parsons School of Design, USC Roski or Iovine, Middle Tennessee State, Juilliard, UNC Chapel Hill, Yale, your local community college.

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Here's just a sampling of jobs where you'll stretch both your artistic and analytical side.

Fabric Arts

What can you possibly do with an interest in fabric? Here is a link to over 25 pages of possibilities from the Textile Society of America!  The wide variety of employment includes: Fashion designers, textile artists, woven art, seamstress, retail buyer, museum or gallery conservator. 


Where does one learn about textiles? Savannah College of Art & Design, University of Rhode Island, University of Georgia, University of California at Davis, RISD, Parsons, North Carolina State University, Fashion Institute of Technology



Music is the universal language; this pic doesn't require explanation! Check the BLS stats for a sobering 'outlook' on the industry.

The Diamond Building at Juilliard 

The Diamond Building at Juilliard 

Schools of note: Juilliard, Middle Tennessee State, USC Thornton School, Belmont, Oberlin, Berklee

Product Design:


Design labels, boxes, pamphlets, watches, cars, appliances, computers, perfume bottles...whatever consumable goods exist, there is a designer behind their manufacturing and presentation.

There are a multitude of schools and colleges to learn design skills. Some are trade schools while other programs are quasi-engineering degrees and still others are, really, industrial engineering programs.  Search out the schools here


Desk No Where in Sight

Not all jobs are confined to a cubicle! Everybody has different needs and dreams. Do you like to work outside? Do you want to be your own boss? Are you entrepreneurial? Here are a sampling of jobs that you might not have thought of:


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Tree trimmers come with varying degree of skill and education. Some have horticulture degrees, others have the ISA certification and/or years of experience with chainsaws, aerial lifts and wood chippers. Arborists may work for the utility company to lop the tops off of trees below power lines or the Forest Service or may manage their own landscape company. An arborist might have a PhD and know all about pathology and xylem and phloem and work for a university! (Future professors, see our page "Which Desk Will Be Yours in 10 years") 

Dog Trainer: 

Animal lovers work in a myriad of environments...depending on the level of passion and education. Do you want to be a dog walker, dog doctor, animal trainer, pet sitter. Do you want to work in a kennel, a stable, a clinic or a zoo? 

Animal lovers clearly have a passion for what they do. There is a lot of on-the-job training or learn-by-doing. To be a professional, eg. a Vet Tech or a Vet, a college education is necessary. Majors include: animal science, animal husbandry, equine science. There are a many 2-yr or certificate programs to be a Vet Tech. The 4-yr programs are found at colleges like Cal Poly Pomona or Purdue.

Winery Representative:

If you want to work in a winery, you can study to be a food scientist at colleges like: UC Davis, Oregon State, Texas A & M, Fresno State. Wineries are usually tourist-friendly so you could also study hospitality and tourism and work in the front office and/or interact with the customers.

Baseball Scout:

Not all scouts work for the MLB. Scouts recruit at showcase tournaments and high schools and for all levels of play (D-1, D-2, D-3, etc).

Scouts at the Perfect Game Tournament, AZ

Scouts at the Perfect Game Tournament, AZ

Most scouts have played their sport in college or in the professional leagues. They clearly love the game. 


Interested in owning an oyster farm? Agriculture provides less than 2% of all jobs in the US and is slated to decrease about 0.5% over the next ten years. 

Oyster Farmer in Virginia

Oyster Farmer in Virginia

That said, a new generation is entering the farming sector as a way to live a high-quality, sustainable life. Artisan cheeses? Range-fed beef? Biodynamic greens? Nationally, a slight uptick of people under the age of 35 are heading back to the farm to produce just these sorts of products. 

More than 30% of farmers have attended college. So, where do you go to learn the tricks of the aggie trade? How about University of California at Davis, Fresno State, North Carolina State, Texas A & M, Oregon State, just to name a few.

Fire Science:

Firefighting is a science! You can study 'fire' at schools as varied as George Washington University and Palomar College. Most degrees are 2-year, others are 4-yr. In many Counties, to be a firefighter first requires being an EMT and/or paramedic. As in most fields, the more education undertaken, the better the pay and position. 

As firefighters are hired by the government and are, generally, unionized, job growth is directly correlated to number of positions funded and the pay scale is arbitrated . Demographics are an important consideration.  Did your County just hire hundreds of firefighters? Then, your job prospects may be influenced by the retirement plans of the firefighter classes ahead of you.

Firefighters are known for their comfortable rec rooms...

Firestation Recliners

...but there is serious training involved. Remember, firefighters run into burning buildings as everyone else inside flees! 


Not ready for college?

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What if you just aren't ready to commit to four years of academics...what do you do?

What about a Gap Year?

Middlebury College and UNC, Chapel Hill both conducted studies on the benefits of a gap year and found that students who took a year off to work or travel or volunteer were not only more likely to graduate but also graduated in less time than students who went directly into college from high school. They have official Gap Year programs. Bottom line:  it's OK to take a Gap Year!  There are benefits of taking a year, or even just a few months off, to explore social, academic, creative, or even simply recreational activities.  Well, maybe 'recreational activities' aren't exactly smiled upon by admissions officers but, taking time before college to figure out what you want in life, not just want you want to DO in life, is a good thing.

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How, exactly, do you do a Gap Year? The recommended/traditional way is to go through the normal college admissions process and timeline. Once admitted, the student then can ask to defer enrollment. Each college has its own 'enrollment management procedure'. Some provide for one semester deferrals, others for an entire year. The student will generally submit a deposit to hold the spot. A side note: as more students are taking Gap Years and participating in Study Abroad programs, colleges increasingly are offering Spring enrollments to their Freshman applicants. Again, this is part of the college's 'enrollment management process'. All of those dorm rooms and classroom seats need to be filled!

What about attending a 2-year college or certificate program?

There are many reasons students choose to forgo the 4-year college adventure and, instead,  attend a community college. In fact, the vast majority of college-bound students enroll in community college. In 2015, President Obama initiated a program to offer free tuition for two years at community colleges. Unfortunately, so far, only Oregon and Minnesota have begun implementing this tuition-free approach.

A recent article in the NY Times said this: " many as 25 million of all new job openings in the next decade will be for middle-skills jobs." Community colleges offer numerous pathways for entry into 'middle-skills' jobs (which are jobs requiring either some college preparation, a postsecondary certificate, or an Associate degree). 

What is your pathway?

Fully 1/3 of all future jobs will require a bachelor's degree. Another 1/3 will require some sort of post-secondary education (from community colleges or 3rd-party certificating process) and training. There is a lot of information online...just do it!

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Contact the A+ team for more information!

Which Desk Will Be Yours?

Not sure what you want to be when you grow up? No worries...few do! In fact, the average adult switches careers every 5-7 years. Check out these pics of desks and read the accompanying text to explore what your workaday world might look like if you head down the various career pathways. Stay tuned b/c more "desks" are coming...

Medicine: Doctors

What's the first thing you notice in this photo? Are there really 7 degrees framed on the wall? If you are interested in studying to be a doctor,  you will need a ton of education, heavy on the science and math. Plan on a minimum of 8 years: 4 years of undergraduate & 4 years of medical school just to get the MD. To actually practice medicine requires another 2-5 years of residency and fellowship, depending on the type of medicine you want to practice. Scholarships to medical school are rare and usually reserved for the absolute best and brightest of an already-super-smart student population. So, be prepared to pay for this education. The good news: earning capacity of a medical degree is high. You should be able to repay those loans! 


For more details:

Colleges to consider: Haverford, Lafayette, Hendrix, Case Western, Washington U

Medicine: Allied Health Professions



There are a wide variety of jobs available in the healthcare industry. And, healthcare, as a sector, is growing at a fast pace. Allied health jobs include: medical assistant, radiation technologist, dental hygienist, recreational therapist, physician assistant, pharmacist, nurse, home health aide, audiologist. Some healthcare jobs require six months of education, others a bachelor's, a master's or a doctoral degree. The more education, the higher the pay generally.

Dental hygienists have one of the better ROIs that I've seen. 


Physician Assistants examine, diagnose and treat patients. This field is growing at a very fast pace. Most students have a bachelor's degree with about 3 years of healthcare experience before they even enter the 3-year Physician Assistant program.


We all remember our favorite teachers. The job outlook for high school teachers is 'just a bit above average' and for college professors, 'above average'. 

bls teachers.png

To be a high school teacher requires an undergraduate degree plus a credential (for public school systems). That said, the more education you have, the more pay you will receive over your employment contract (teachers have strong unions). A college professor will have at least a Master's and usually a PhD.

Did you know that many professors need to read and teach and publish  and  do research, too?

Did you know that many professors need to read and teach and publish and do research, too?

Top Ten Reasons Why Employers like College Athletes

  1. Time management skills

  2. Teamwork

  3. Competitive

  4. Experience under pressure

  5. Work ethic

  6. On-time

  7. Discipline

  8. Mental toughness

  9. Perseverance

  10. Coachable

A+ College Consultants help athletes navigate the ‘student-athlete’ path. It’s a rocky, arduous path up the knowledge-mountain indeed-- scalable if you know what you’re up against and plan accordingly, worthwhile if you have incredible passion for your sport. 

We can help whether you are D-1, D-2, D-3, NAIA, NJCC, or even if you just want to play intramural. Let's chat about it! 

How To Be a Good Student in College

Students are heading off to college this month with their brand new laptops and cell phones. Frankly, I hope they are not planning on using either one in class to take notes.  All a student really needs in their lecture halls is: a notepad and pen. And by 'notepad', I do not mean the app! If you or your student doesn't read any further than this sentence: The physical act of writing notes actually deepens the comprehension of lecture material. If you want to learn more about how to be a good student in college, read on

Yay! I made it through high school!

Yay! I made it through high school!

What sort of techniques can students use to really learn lecture material? You obviously can't just sit back and listen to what the professor says. Without a photographic memory, remembering anything two weeks later is problematic. Some students like to transcribe lecture material. 'Transcribing' means writing down a professor's lecture word for word. While transcribing may be useful for capturing every word and idea, it is difficult to do. Most students don't write quickly enough, or legibly enough, for this to be a useful technique. Clearly, students bring their laptops into the lecture halls because keystrokes are quicker than pen strokes. There is a lot of video taping of lectures as well. If you are in a classroom with 500 students, sitting in the back row, there are a zillion distractions. Taping the lecture seems like a good idea. Plus, if you tape it, then you and the entire back row can watch that cute cat video playing on the laptop two rows down.

Small class, Furman University

Small class, Furman University

Why I am not in favor of laptops in a lecture hall: They are noisy! They are distracting! More seriously, using a laptop encourages 'transcribing'. Yes, you can get it all down but focusing on 'getting it all down' means you are focusing on typing not learning. When you know you can't write quickly with a pen, you will then be more selective in what gets written down. You will focus on the nuance or which point or idea the professor is emphasizing. With a pen and paper, you can use 'non-linear' thinking and note-taking: writing in the margins, shorthand, symbols, stars, arrows, circles. The day's notes become more of a map or guide to the lecture. Such notes may not be readily comprehensible to a classmate but they do show a deeper level of comprehension and engagement with the material. An A+ tip: Check out this video on how to take "Cornell Notes".

Some classes are fairly large like this one at Univ of Oregon

Some classes are fairly large like this one at Univ of Oregon

Why I am not in favor of laptops in a lecture hall: They are noisy! They are distracting! More seriously, using a laptop encourages ‘transcribing’. Yes, you can get it all down but focusing on ‘getting it all down’ means you are focusing on typing not learning. When you know you can’t write quickly with a pen, you will then be more selective in what gets written down. You will focus on the nuance or which point or idea the professor is emphasizing. With a pen and paper, you can use ‘non-linear’ thinking and note-taking: writing in the margins, shorthand, symbols, stars, arrows, circles. The day’s notes become more of a map or guide to the lecture. Such notes may not be readily comprehensible to a classmate but they do show a deeper level of comprehension and engagement with the material. An A+ tip: Check out this video on how to take “Cornell Notes“.

Learn how to take good notes!

Learn how to take good notes!

Whether you take notes or succumb to recording the day's lecture, there are a few additional steps you need to take to really learn the material. First, you need to review the day's lecture the day of the lecture. Neuroscientists have conclusively shown that reviewing the material and then summarizing the material on the very same day works to embed that material in your brain. If your notes are more 'map-like' and non-linear, and you can transform the day's lecture into prose then you, clearly, demonstrate a deeper level of understanding of the material. Second, quizzing yourself every day or every few days for just 15-20 minutes on the material is way better than cramming the night before. (You already knew that cramming was a terrible learning technique, right?) The final step involves 'speaking' the material. You listen to the material in class. You write the material down by taking notes. The next step is to verbalize the material. There is nothing like talking about the lectures to let you know if you get the material. Visit your professor during office hours and discuss the material. Join a study group. Ask questions of the professor or your classmates about the subject. Try teaching the material to classmates.

The night before any exam, take and walk, relax and sleep well. Do all of the above, repeatedly, for four years and you will be one smart college graduate!

A+ Tips for Being a Great College Student:

1. Don't just sit back and listen to lectures: Engage!
2. Don't transcribe lectures: Take good notes!
3. Don't take laptops to lectures.
4. Or, if you do, don't watch cat videos during lectures!
5. Review your notes on the same day of the lecture.
6. Summarize your notes daily!
7. Review your notes 15-20 minutes every few days at the very least.
8. Don't cram for the exam.
9. Join a study group.
10.Visit your professor during office hours: Engage!

Why Does UC Cost So @#%% Much? Or…Does It?

Back in the day, when I enrolled in the UCs, tuition was cheap! It even seemed cheap at the time. I paid my own way b/c I worked part-time during the school year and during the summer. I could pay my own way working part-time. As we all know, those days are long gone. Not considering room & board, just to pay a UC $14,000 tuition tab now, a student, working a minimum wage job, would have to work over 1500 hours annually. The national standard for full-time jobs? 2,087 hours a year.

UC Tuition in 1976 v 2015

How did this come to pass? Tuition used to be free at the UC! In the 1970s, when the State began requiring students to pay tuition (they didn't call it 'tuition'; they called it 'educational fees'), the UCs charged about $630/year. Does inflation alone account for the roughly $14,000 tab in 2017? Nope. 

Click here to see a chart of the fee increases at the UCs over time.

If students only had to account for inflation, the 1976 tuition of $630/year would be just $2665 in 2015.  As the UC marketing team and education pundits will tell you, students enrolled in the 1970s and even those enrolled in the 1990s benefited tremendously from State of California support of the UCs. We alums were heavily subsidized.  Click here to see a graph that shows who paid for the cost of a UC education over the past 20 years or so. Bottom line: the student is now paying what the State (read: taxpayers) used to pay.

Yes, students at the UCs are paying more. Is it more than their fair share compared to other colleges? Yale, for example, getting little direct government funding (yes, their tax benefits are subsidies, too), has always been expensive compared to the UCs.  In 1976, Yale charged $4400 tuition (8 times the UC price at the time). Yale tuition in 2016 ($49,480) also exceeds what standard inflationary pressures would suggest it should be. Tuition at Yale is now about 3 times that of the UCs. Food for thought: non-resident tuition at UC is only about $10,000 less compared to Yale. Put another way, attending UC is essentially just as expensive as Yale is for international and out-of-state students! Hence... the very public fight over UC administrators admitting more non-residents to shore up the budget.

Where does all the UC tuition money go anyway?

Click here for a pie chart showing UC expenses by category. 

Clearly, employee salary and benefits comprise the bulk of the expenses. But, before anyone shouts about those exorbitant Professor Salaries, check out the very transparent and publicly posted salaries on this website: Wages of the Employees of UC.  On this website, you can search for "Professor" at each of the 9 UCs and see just how many professors are paid more than $70,000 (spoiler alert, few are: 5/93 at UCD). If you search for "Coach", the salary range is definitely provocative and rather extreme: $1,000 - $2.3 Million at UCLA, for example. (Go Bruins?)

If you've read this far (Thanks!) and are looking for an answer to the sorry state-of-affairs of college tuition vis a vis your family's budget, I have a few tips:

  1. Apply where you land above the 75th percentile and you'll probably get some merit aid.
  2. Enroll in AP classes in high school to shave off time spent in college.
  3. Attend a Community College for the first two years to save big money.  

If at all possible, just say 'No!' to debt which will only increase the total amount paid. No matter which college you attend, study hard and make the most of it each and every day! A bachelor's degree still shows a positive ROI.


I don't want my kid to volunteer...she should be studying!

A few years ago, I was chatting with a family about their student's 'brag sheet' or 'resumé'. When I asked whether the student had participated in any volunteer activities, the mother shot back, "You know, I don't understand why everyone thinks volunteering is so important....we never got any help from anyone. Everything I have I worked hard for, on my own, with no help from anyone, no real help, even from my ex. Why can't everyone just pull themselves up by their own bootstraps?"

A hard question from a tough, world-weary Mom. It turns out the student did, in fact, volunteer at the public high school as a TA, in one of the many CTE ( classes offered. The time this teenager spent at school helping other students understand course content was beneficial in many ways.  The teacher got a helping hand in an impacted classroom. By volunteering, the student had a chance to delve deeper into the topic and to explore what working in that career would be like. The volunteer also received a great letter of recommendation from her teacher for the college application. A win-win, IMHO.

Over half of teens in the US volunteer contributing more than 1 billion hours of community service annually. Almost 2/3 of those teen volunteers are 'regulars' meaning they volunteer at least 12 weeks per year. They volunteer primarily through religious, school or youth organizations.

There are so many reasons for students to volunteer:

Here are a few reasons from a "Top Ten" list published by UCSD:

  • Make a difference
  • Encourages civic responsibility
  • Teaches the importance of giving back
  • Learn a lot
  • Strengthens the community
  • Foster empathy
  • Test out a career--gain professional experience

Or this from Psychology Today:

  • Once a volunteer, always a volunteer
  • Volunteers lead healthier and longer lives!
  • Volunteering is transformative for youth

Or this:

  • Empathy
  • Curiosity
  • Sociability
  • Resilience
  • Self-Awareness
  • Integrity
  • Resourcefulness
  • Creativity

And definitely this:

  • Nobody is an Island
  • Life is easier when you are part of a family, neighborhood or network of friends
  • You start building a good neighborhood when you yourself decide to be a good neighbor

Did you know:

Whether a student volunteers because their friends are doing so or because it will look good on a college application, the benefits of volunteering are real. IMHO, regardless of why they do it, all signs point to encouraging them to do it.