Summer Bummer Part II - from the College Guy

Hello seniors (everyone’s gotten their schedule by now, it’s really happening, no longer impending - get used to it!!!) and parents of same. 

Gary the College Guy writing to pull your coat, put you hip, and chew the fat a little more about mellow ways to prepare yourself for the college process you’ll soon be in the midst of.

Earlier this month I wrote to give you the “green flag” about starting to prep for the October 7th SAT using Kahn Academy. If you’ve been meaning to but haven’t quite gotten around to it let this be a figurative kick in the keister to get going. OR you can hold off and take the test on the November 4th test date, and wait to begin that eight week prep program the week of September 11th. (If you were planning to take SAT Subject tests in November swap them around and take them on October 7th - not as much studying (IMHO) required for those, and they’re not nearly as important as the overblown and over-relied upon SAT scores.)

I also mentioned the why’s and wherefore’s of the ACT and Subject tests in that email, so if you need a refresher let me know and I’ll resend that last newsletter to you. Or better yet you can call or email me with question. Don’t be bashful - no salesmen will visit your homes…there’s no cost for a schmooze!

What follows is a “Part Two” of things to do and be aware of during these final halcyon days of summer…Keep in mind the College Guy’s multiple credos re the college process as you entertain these ideas:

#1. The entire college search, selection, application and financial aid process “AIN’T NO BIG THING” despite what you may have been led to believe. Anyone can do it and it isn’t that complicated. The only two mistake you can make are if you (a) procrastinate and/or (b) let your mom - or dad- do it for you. That’s lame.

#2. Talk to lots of people, ask a lot of questions, read lot’s of advice sources (like this one!!!!) but DON’T believe everything you hear/read about the process. Many people just flat out have it wrong (unlike this one  :).

#3. Forewarned is forearmed!

Here we go!


Get working on essays - your goal should be to have two essays done this summer. Even one gets you a passing grade. 

Yeah, I know I’m a pain in the butt and a task-master, but you’ll thank me in mid-December when you’ve got your writing “in the bank” and all your friends are kvetching about how difficult writing essays is. Remember I want you to have one or two extra essays to submit - one with your application and one to send with the February “follow up package”. 

Start with one of the common application essay prompts:

…and then write a second essay - choose from these categories: 

an experience essay (tell a good story with a moral/conclusion)

an activity essay (something you do regularly and with passion)

a career - related essay (what you want to study, and why; or write the “clueless” version where you describe multiple interests and gosh darnit, you can’t make up your mind yet. Who says you have to??!!)

Remember, keep your essay to no more than 650 words, and make it “curiously strong”, like an Altoids. A great essay or two can make the difference between getting in and getting bupkis. 

If you’ve got a draft of an essay and would like some feedback on it, send it my way and I’ll let you know what I think.



Now is the time to review carefully what classes you’re taking this fall. Your guidance counselor should be back at work this week. Send an email to him/her now expressing your interests and expectations, and set up a meeting before school starts. This is the time to step up and be assertive - you’re a SENIOR, and it’s your right to get the classes you want. 

Don’t forget that colleges are impressed first and foremost by the ACADEMIC RIGOR in your schedule, so the notion of “senior slide” just doesn't cut it if you're serious about applying to selective schools.

Rule of thumb: don’t kill yourself with a schedule from hell, but if you’re planning on applying to some selective colleges things like honors and AP courses, fourth and fifth years of a language, that extra science class and yes, that AP Calculus or honors pre-calculus class you wonder if you can duck out on really can make a difference. And if you can’t get what you want, consider taking a class at your local college or community college. These classes are seen by colleges as the equivalent of AP courses, as you’re truly proving your ability to do college level work when you take (and pass) them.

If you want/need a quick consultation about whether to choose AP Environmental Science versus AP Stats (both potentially great choices!) give me a try! Phone lines are open 24/7 (though you may have to leave a message)!



Keep researching new schools, and cultivating your "Top 10" list. The time to decide on your final list of where you’ll apply isn’t till November (mid October for an Early Decision school). NOW is the time to build that list, so keep sifting through information and learning about what schools out there could be right for you.



Do one! No more hemming and hawing. It’ll be part of your application, part of any/all schoalrship apps, and there are several other uses for it (asking for letters of rec, ‘pen pal’ letters, interviewing, setting up unpaid internships, etc) which I’ll be happy to tell you about if you need to be reminded. And ixnay on the sterile and boring Naviance resume or the ones they teach you in “life skills” class. I want to see a two or three page, annotated activity profile which is interesting to read. You’re an interesting person aren’t you? Make your resume reflect that. (Those ascetic, one page jobs they teach you in class are for PROFESSIONALS seeking work. Guess what - you’re not that!!!!!!!)

If you want to see an example of such a resume speak up and all will be revealed.


Remember these? Start thinking about what you’ll include with each application as your “Show and Tell Piece”. Something which gives a slice of who you are or something you do which is reproducible, inexpensive, and relatively easy for you to pull together. Examples could be a photo collage,  some great creative writing or poetry; a web page; an audio tape or CD; a video. Or something from the mysterious and creative recesses of your mind which only you could think of. Don’t be bashful here - be creative and playful! What can you come up with?!



Lastly, to those of you who won’t be out straight with a fall sport and a back-breaking schedule, it’s not too late to think about extracurriculars for the fall - like seeking out an unpaid internship in a career-related area which intrigues you. Colleges like to see that you ‘walk the walk’ in addition to just talking the talk about what you think you want to study. And if you’re undecided, then all the more reason to give yourself the chance to check out a career-specific interest.

It's not that hard to do if you have a resume. All you need is 3 hours/week to offer yourself as a volunteer. Call me if you want some prodding or some leads…



This is the second year that there’s a new timetable for submitting your free application for federal student aid. Those of you with students who graduated in or before 2016 remember that the FAFSA used to be submitted as soon as possible AFTER January 1st of your son/daughter’s senior year. Now the FAFSA becomes available on OCTOBER 1!!! And the income you’ll report will be your 2016 income, NOT your projected 2017 income. 

It’s different. It’s a tad complicated (but not really). It’s definitely MAKING THINGS EASIER AND BETTER for you, so worry not and keep your eyes and ears open for your high schools’ financial aid information night. And of course (c’mon now, repeat after me:) if you want to talk this stuff over in detail give me a phone call at the number below.

As brother James Taylor says on his 11th studio album by the same name: “That’s Why I’m Here”… (you can keep your Ween and Guster - I go old school!)

That's all for now folks. Stay tuned for more rants. Please feel free to pass this on to friends and neighbors. I’m currently accepting students from the class of 2018 and 2019 who want to meet and work with me this coming year - so don’t be bashful about contacting me to find out what people actually pay me for!

From your erudite educator, your peripatetic pundit, your edifying essayist, your playful pedagogue,

Gary the College Guy

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

P.S. If you'd rather not get these occasional missives, kindly let me know...and you won't.