“What are your top tips for essay writing?” 

“How do I get the best teacher recommendations?”

“How can I get through the college admissions process sanely?”

My longtime friend and new business partner Claudia Mallchok and I answered these questions and more during our recent Coffee with Kim: College Prep 101 Q&A.

Grab a coffee and join us for the replay or keep reading for the answers.

Should I send test scores to a test optional school?

If colleges have decided to go test optional, they mean it. They do not make this decision lightly. 

So take a strategic approach: 

Where do you fall in the range of test scores? If your scores are not in the middle 50% range of what that school is accepting, you wouldn’t submit. 

But if you’re on the high end of that range, submitting your test scores is still a good idea. That might mean that you submit scores at one school but not another, depending on each school’s range of acceptance.

What about test blind applications?

In some cases schools have literally decided to be test blind, meaning they are absolutely not looking at anyone’s test scores. There are some nuances to this so you would need to dig into all the details at each school but that’s the gist.

College admissions is such an individualized process. Working with us means you’re getting the individualized attention you need to craft the best application possible.

Just know that schools recognize that standardized tests are not the best indicator for success. And so while it’s something that they look at, it’s not the number one thing they look at.

What are your top tips for essay writing?

One of Claudia’s most favorite essays she ever read was about a student’s love of pajamas and how she just felt comforted and safe when she put them on. The admission reps where she ultimately attended loved it because it was different and fun.

And they remembered it. 

And so that’s the thing about the college essay, don’t get too stressed out about it. 

The first thing to do is just brainstorm with the idea that nothing is too absurd to put on the table. 

As long as the essay focuses entirely on the student, it can start with why you like to paint your nails 10 different colors and how that speaks to your spontaneity or maybe that you always use the exact same OPI color because you like order and discipline.

Think about the everyday things that make you uniquely you. If you can figure that out, you’ve got the start of a great essay. 

Admission reps love topics that are a little off the beaten path. So think about it from this angle: what are they going to learn about you in your essay that they won’t get from other parts of your application?

Another tip: don’t worry so much about which essay prompt to choose. Since they’re pretty broad, your essay may end up fitting multiple prompts. 

So write first. 

It’ll become clear which prompt you’re answering as you go.

What is a supplemental essay?

You can only upload one essay with the Common App. 

So individual schools will ask supplemental questions for information they want that is unique to their school. 

For example, a faith based institution might ask for an essay on your faith, how you came to it, why it’s important to you, etc. 

A common supplemental question is: Why us? Why is our school the best place for you?

So as you do your college research and campus visits, be thinking about why each school appeals to you and why you want to apply. 

Find out about our very flexible plan for writing essays this summer.

How do we make a good impression on a college campus visit?

It’s exciting to see lots of campuses reopening for visits this summer. 

If you’re a parent of a rising junior or senior, you might worry that your child is being judged for the way they show up and engage—and they might be. 

But it’s important to remember that these tour guides and admissions folks have seen the full gamut of college hopefuls and so if your teenager doesn’t ask the perfect question in a college information session, you can relax. It doesn’t mean they won’t get in. 

It’s also important as parents that we remember to not take over the entire visit either. Especially if it’s early in the process for you, just let your child see what it’s like to be on campus and get a feel for what they like and don’t like.

If you feel like you don’t know where to start with campus visits, we can help you plan a list of questions and share ideas with you about what you’re looking and listening for to discern the differences between campuses.

If a campus is not a good fit, is it okay to ditch the tour before it ends?

If you’ve given it a fair shot and know without a doubt that this place is not a fit for you, then… sure, excuse yourself. 

Claudia did once when touring with her daughter, Nikki…

“We just gave each other a look, and she was like, ‘Can we go get lunch somewhere?…’ So I think you can, as long as you’re respectful and maybe let the tour guide know you’re heading out and thank them for their time.”

How do I get through this process sanely?

Parents get so fraught with anxiety about this process and it manifests in a lot of different ways.

Claudia makes this plea to parents, particularly parents of seniors:

Please don’t talk about college 24/7.

Your student can talk about it as much as they want, but as the parent, don’t talk about it all the time. 

If you pick a time during the week, say Sundays at five o’clock, you can have an hour for a formal or informal check in. And that’s the time to ask questions like: What are you thinking about this school? How is your essay coming? Have you done any more test prep? etc. 

You can cover a lot of information in 1 hour a week and still avoid bombarding your student and adding to the tension.

Why should I hire a college counselor?

The college process can feel like a labyrinth filled with myths and misinformation. 

Your life doesn’t have to revolve around all the details and precise steps involved. 

You can save your energy and time for what you love, and leave the minutiae to us.

Claudia and I have worked with students in independent schools and on college campuses for years.

We’ve sent 1000s of kids to college who are now highly successful adults.

And we have an extensive network of experts in the industry to help our clients find the best fit. 

Plus, we love it!

I mean we will literally pull off the Interstate on a road trip to just drive through a college campus. 

It’s just part of who we are.

If you’re still trying to determine if you need a counselor in your life, use our free 20 minute discovery session to see what’s right for you.

How do I get the best teacher recommendations?

Even if you don’t feel as connected to your junior teachers this year, you can still take an active role in your recommenders process.

Email the teacher and let them know how you think you excelled in their class. You can even let them know in bullet point format what are the top 3 things you want the letter to get across about you. 

Recommenders actually really appreciate that.

Are more recommendations better?

“The thicker the file, the thicker the kid” is an old saying in college admissions circles so be careful with this one. There’s a tipping point at which you raise a red flag by sending letters colleges have either not approved or asked for. 

Be respectful of what the college is asking for. You don’t need to push it beyond that.

What should rising seniors focus on right now?

  • Finalizing your college list to get clear on where you plan to apply this fall
  • Working on your primary essay.
  • Making sure your resume is up to date so you can include it in your applications
  • Getting your teacher recommendations taken care of
  • Completing standardized testing

If you get most of that done before school starts, you’ll be free to focus on knocking out the actual application and getting everything submitted on deadline.

Did your question get asked during this Q&A? If you have anything on your mind that we didn’t touch on, leave a question or comment below.