June College Guy Rant for the Class of 2019!

Hey Class of 2019 (and parents of same)! 

I’m Gary Canter, AKA the College Guy and for some of you this is the first of what will be semi-regular newsletters (my College Guy Rants - get it?!!) you’ll receive wherein I share information, opinions, and perhaps a little wit about the much ballyhooed and equally misunderstood topic of choosing, applying to, and paying for college.

My Rants are free, and I encourage you to print them out (they’re long and hard to read on your cell phone kids!) and digest them at your leisure. If you take the time to read what I have to say I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll not find a more comprehensive and insightful overview of what’s important - and what’s not important - to attend to over the next two plus years you’re in high school with regard to the college process..

At all times I try to de-escalate the stress and the furor many students and parents feel about this process. By following my rants I hope you’ll come to adopt my perspective that it ‘aint no big thing’! There are literally hundreds of excellent colleges out there, and only a handful (no more than 80) are what would be termed “selective” in their admissions process.  So what’s the problem?!!

Certainly there are dates to be aware of, and things you should know ahead of time which will make the process easier and your efforts more efficient as you move through your junior year of high school. There are things you can do to increase your odds of getting in to the selective schools, and I’ll do my best to put you hip to these things in my newsletters.

When you’ve got questions, I’m an email or phone call away (see my signature below) and I never charge for schmoozing so don’t be bashful about reaching out.

I know, and you will learn, that there often aren’t easy, clear cut answers to the questions you’ll have. That said, I’ve been working as a guidance counselor and a private consultant for over twenty-five years and during that time I‘ve picked up some insight which may be of use to you.

Okay, enough by way of introduction. Today I want to touch on three things: 

1. A suggestion for a mellow summer “to do” list; 

2. Everything you need to know about standardized testing;

3. Some articles worth reading.



Here are a few suggestions I like to send before the grass gets too long and your summer job gets too wearisome. 

First off, you’re entering your junior year, so for crying out loud there’s no pressure, no rush to get things done vis a vis the college process.  Assuming you've signed on for an ambitious junior schedule (and you should have - there's little benefit to coasting and making things too easy) and you've got a relatively full plate of activities, your job is to (a) eat/sleep well and stay healthy; (b) do well in school; (c) have fun and stay outta trouble. Then, and only then, work on the following:


1. Volunteer Somewhere

Your time is valuable, so it follows that you've got something to offer someone or some agency by volunteering your time. Find a venue to do good work.

Keep it reasonable. I suggest a 3 - 4 hour shift each week...if you find you really like it you can always increase your time. If you've gotten yourself in to a not-so-cool situation you can thank your supervisor and gracefully bow out - for crying out loud you're just volunteering, right? (But then go find another).

And for you sharp-as-a-tack students, make your volunteer gig be at a place that reflects/highlights a career interest of yours or in an area you’re curious to learn more about. You'll then have something to respond when that college interviewer or short answer application question asks: "What do you think you want to study....and why???”


2. Create a resume of your activities, school affairs, sports and work.

Not a boring 'professional' one page job which just states the facts - you're not applying for a job at Unum or TD Bank here. Make it two or even three pages (if you're a busy boy or girl, tell what keeps you busy). Be creative: Photoshop in some eye candy and write 'annotations' (make ‘em descriptive and clever) of your more interesting sports, jobs, activities, hobbies. Don't be afraid to show the person reading your resume what you do, where you've been, and who you are.

Your resume will serve as an ongoing record of your activities and accomplishments, as such you’ll update it regularly, adding recent stuff to the top of every section and dropping off older things. When you’re a senior it will serve as an integral part of your college applications, as well as being an important tool when interviewing, communicating with college coaches and other key faculty members, as well as a bunch of other uses. For now it’ll impress managers at Hannaford and Wendy’s when you apply for a job, and can come in handy for organizing volunteer gigs and other projects you may be inspired to undertake.

Those of you who have met with me have templates for such a beast, and have heard me tell you all the groovy things you can do with said resume. Those of you who haven't met with me can give me a holler and I'll send you an example.

3. Research schools - it’s not too early! The internet will give you a wealth of information about schools. Create a "Top 10" List and when you add a school to it you must remove one from the list (so you never go over 10). Expect this list to be fluid and changing. Try to balance reach and safety schools.  Very strong students may want to make two “top 10” lists: one of reaches and ’50-50s’, and a second of safety schools.

Get leads from relatives, teachers, friends, friends' parents, coaches, bosses, anyone who knows you somewhat and is willing to respond to your query of "Do you know any good colleges I might check out".  (The more specific you can be in your question, the better the leads will be).

Use the search programs at collegeboard.org and Naviance (if your school uses it). If your school doesn’t use Naviance, collegeboard.org and sites like niche.com and cappex.com work fine.

Use studentsreview.com. Don't ask, just go there. Ignore the terrible layout and the “grades” they assign to colleges. Just type in a school and read the positive and negative comments about your schools.

Get familiar with collegeconfidential.com

Explore colleges' web pages. Make note of names and emails of admissions contacts for your region, coaches (if you're a jock) and faculty in your area(s) of interest. You’ll write them later on (not yet though!)

Make sure to get on every college of interest's mailing list by finding and filling out the "Request Information" link on their home or admissions page. Look hard - you’ll find it! This is important - it shows ‘demonstrated interest’, which more and more is the ‘coin of the realm’ when it comes to admissions and getting money!


4. Read!!!!

It'll raise your verbal scores on the SAT and/or ACT you'll take next spring.

It'll keep you in practice for the amount of reading that awaits you when you finally get to college.

It's one of the best things you can do - period.

Read whatever you want: Stephen King, Rolling Stone Magazine, the "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" Series. The only prerequisite for what you read is that the author must have a better vocabulary than you (there should be some words you have to look up. The more the better!)

Ergo, People Magazine doesn't make it.




The first thing to understand is that colleges are businesses, and their primary goal is to make money. 

Standardized tests like the SAT and the ACT are also businesses, as are the test prep courses and the tutors who are trying to get you to hire them.

You know those subtle (and not so subtle) messages you’ve been getting about taking the SAT and the ACT and SAY Subject Tests early and often? And spending big bucks for test prep? IGNORE THEM!!!! They’re advertisements, and in most cases you don’t need em!

Pay attention, cause here’s your testing schedule for the next two years:

Junior Year

October - take the PSAT for a second time

April (for Maine public school students) - take the SAT for the first time (on the mandatory in-school testing date)

May (for everyone else) take the SAT for the first time

June (some of you) take up to three SAT subject tests (if you’re a strong student who takes honors level classes - ask me if you’re unsure)

June (optional) take the ACT (good for math and science wonks - ask me if you’re uncertain)


Senior Year

October - (most of you) take SAT for a second time

October - (some of you) take ACT for a second time

November - (some of you) take or retake up to three SAT subject tests

December** - (some of you, if necessary) retake the SAT or subject tests or the ACT for a third time

**third time testing is rare and usually unnecessary.

Now I know what some of you are thinking:

“WHAT ABOUT EARLY DECISION?!! THOSE DATES ARE TOO LATE!" (That’s true for December testing, not for November).

“WHAT’S THE HARM IN GETTING AN EARLY START AND TAKING THE TESTS SOONER!!” (Call me and I’ll tell you. It’s the test prep companies who want you to think otherwise. Hmmmm?)


Look, as you can see above there’s plenty of time between the first test date (in April or May) and the opportunity for a third test (in December of senior year) for you to take each test up the yin yang. QUALITY, rather than QUANTITY, of testing time is what’s important here. The key is to prep smart, and to do that you need to see a second year of PSAT scores (which you won’t have till late December of your junior year). Once you have that you’re going to get intimate with Khan Academy’s FREE SAT PREP program.

I’m going to tell you all about Khan Academy - when to start it, and how to use it, in preparation of your first SAT test (April or May). But not now, not here. This email is already long enough, don’t you think?

Relax grasshopper, and no back talk. The next time you hear a “test prep” person encouraging you to drop another $1,400 on something you most likely don’t need, show him this email and say: “I’m grooving with the College Guy”!

That’ll quiet him/her down!

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes paying for test prep makes sense, and there are courses and tutors out there who are good (you can call me for a list). However, the time to do test prep is prior to your senior year, after you’ve had a chance to use Khan Academy and prep on your own (for free!) and seen what results that yields. So don’t do it yet. Resist the urge! Don’t buy in to the hype! Don’t drink the Kool-aid!!!!

Do I make myself clear?




Two seminal articles about the runaway train which is the current state of college admissions:




Here’s an absolutely fascinating article in “Inside Higher Ed”, a post-secondary academic trade journal, which addresses the notion that admissions isn’t necessarily fair. Duh! Read the second comment after Scott Jashik’s article - by “Bob at State U”. He tells it like it is, perhaps a bit harshly but I totally agree with him.



Before you parents worry about robbing a bank (or your pension funds) to pay for college, read this about the true cost of college. It’s not as bad as you think:



Got Gap Year? I know it’s early in the process, but before you plan to drop a bundle on CIEE or the Island School, read this:



Here’s a great article from a recent New York Times which confirms what I’ve said many times in these rants: college admissions is a game based on business principals, and it’s to your advantage to understand this.



Okay, that’s enough to keep you busy for a while. If you’ve read this far you probably agree with me that this is worthwhile stuff. Forward this on to your friends (as well as parents of highschool students) and refer them to my web page (www.collegeplacementservices.org) where they can read recent “College Guy Rants” to have an idea of what I’m about. Anyone can sign up to receive future Rants at my web page. 


Now go work on that tan! Sun will come out tomorrow!

From your academic aficionado, your selection sachem, your erudite educator, your scintillating scribe,


Gary AKA the College Guy

P.S. If you’d rather not receive these ongoing messages, please let me know, and you won’t!

P.P.S. I’m currently accepting class of 2018 and 2019 students for my caseload. If you want to know what folks actually pay me for, give me a jingle and I’ll tell all!


Gary L. Canter
College Placement Services
210 St. John Street
Portland, Maine 04102
(207) 772-9711 

College Placement Services provides high school students and their families
assistance with all aspects of the college search, selection, application
and financial aid process.