Advice for Seniors

Will Cardamone, Manlius Pebble Hill School

William Cardamone grew up in New York State, the youngest of ten children. His father was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals and his parents pinned their hopes for a lawyer from the family on their youngest son, the only one of the ten who seemed interested in the law. Cardamone obliged -- in his own time -- graduating from Hamilton College and spending three years in the West as a wilderness guide before attending Vermont Law School.

But then he took another detour, teaching social studies for four years to 11th and 12th graders at Woodstock High School in Vermont's capital. He returned to the law for a few years, practicing employment and education law at a firm in Utica, New York. Until he visited a former advisor at his alma mater of Hamilton and spent the next eight years in their admission office, rising to Associate Dean of Admission.

While his wife, also a "recovering attorney," says Cardamone, rose in the ranks of her family's business which she would eventually lead, he found his true calling, As he worked with independent high schools in the region, recruiting for Hamilton, he said, "That's the job I want." In 2006, he joined Manlius Pebble Hill School in DeWitt, New York, as Dean of Students, eventually becoming Director of College Counseling in 2010.

Seniors: Eat Pie and Finish your Applications!

Seniors, our advice this week is to eat some pie… and continue to finish up your applications. While this is a time for relaxing with family and friends, if you're still not done, carry on.

For help with the new Common Application, download our free guide to The Application Form here.

And if you're still writing and wordsmithing, here are some past blog posts on the subject of essays for advice and inspiration in the aftermath of your Thanksgiving repast and all that pie:

Advice for Students on the New Common App Essays Prompts

The "Why us?" Essay

More Advice for Writing the "Why Us?" Essay

A Memorable Essay? Might Be Family Breakfasts, Piano Lessons, or Raising Pigs...

Writing the Essay: Pushing the Right Brick for Diagon Alley

Seniors: A memorable essay? Might be family breakfasts, piano lessons, or raising pigs...

A couple of years ago, the New York Times published an article claiming students were cultivating summer experiences such as expensive internships or exotic travel experiences "with the goal of creating a standout personal statement." Quick, buy a ticket to Shanghai! NOT! Some form of this urban myth wanders through the hallways of high schools across the country during essay writing season.

This "strategy" couldn't be more wrong-headed. Or, as a former admission officer on Robin Mamlet's staff at Stanford put it -- more colorfully --in an email to us, "YUCK.  That should be YUCK in all caps, bold, italics, the works. With many, many exclamation marks."

Seniors: Treat the Application as Your First College Assignment

Seniors, this week we want to reiterate (SAT word!) something that we hope you will take to heart.

Take the college application itself seriously! Filling out the Common Application correctly or submitting a recommendation letter on time tells an admission officer a lot about you as a candidate. As well, the essay is your unique opportunity in the application to tell the college in your own words who you are -- think of it as standing in front of the admission committee and telling them who you are and what you want.

Treat the application as your first college assignment. It should represent your very best work. Give it plenty of time and your keenest attention. Do not underestimate what you are telling a college at every point in the process. They are paying attention.

Seniors: Helpful Hints for the Essay and Putting You on Paper

Seniors, last week we offered you a writing exercise to help get you started on your essays -- though we hope that you already have made some headway! Here's what you need to remember as you continue: the real topic is you. Whatever the essay is about on the surface, colleges care what the essay says about you. If you're still looking for the words that put you onto paper, here are some helpful hints:

Put a microscope to your life. Take a look at the little things around you. Go to your room and look at what’s on the walls, what’s under the bed, the things you’ve kept since second grade, or what about the thing you threw away that you really miss now. Where in the house do you spend the most time? Look for inspiration right under your nose. Ask yourself some of these questions:

• How do I spend my time?

• What do I like to do?

• What do I think about most of the time?

• What are the things that truly matter to me?

• What is my family like? Do we have any interesting rituals about dinners or board games or TV shows?

• What would I say about myself if I had to omit any mention of my extracurricular activities?

• When I think about who I am or what I care about, is there a particular day, moment, or event that was important in shaping that?

• If I, like Tom Sawyer, had a chance to eavesdrop at my own funeral, what would people say about me?

Seniors: An Exercise to Help with Your Essays

Seniors, how go your essays? If you’re struggling a little, we have an exercise we’ve found to be particularly effective for students whether they’re just starting or working on that fourth or fifth supplement! It’s one of our favorite writing prompts and one we often use when working with students in essay workshops: making a list.


Just sit down at the computer, set a timer for 5 minutes and start writing a list beginning with the prompt:

    I'm really good at…


And to give you a better idea of how this works, we’re sharing our own lists with you.

Here is Robin Mamlet's:

    I'm really good at:

    Envisioning possibility

    Words with Friends

    Being a mom

    Making Panini

    Growing tomatoes


    Drawing out others

    Snuggling with my kids on the couch

            Learning new things


Seniors: Advice for your Interviews!

Seniors, at this time of year, you will likely be doing interviews at the schools on your list -- either in the admission office or with alumni. Here's our best advice:

Take the time to reflect before you show up for the interview. For example, think about  what's important to you, what you're reading, which of your activities means the most to you, what class you most enjoy, what event going on in the world right now has caught your attention and why?

Have a well thought-out answer for a question you are very likely to hear: "Why do you want to attend College X?" Your answer doesn't have to be long or involved but it should honestly reflect your feelings and in-depth knowledge about the school.

Dress appropriately. Admission officers say by far the most frequent interview faux pas are wardrobe malfunctions.  Here's a guideline: dress like you're lunching with your grandparents.

Be on time. In fact, be a little early.

Be polite — to everyone: the receptionist, the other students and parents in the waiting room, the interviewer and your parents.

Remember: this is an opportunity to create a lasting first impression. One of the best ways to do that is to start out the interview strong. Make eye contact with and greet the interviewer, offer them a firm handshake, and state your full name clearly before you take your seat for the interview.  

Seniors: Do you know where your deadlines are?

It's not too soon to begin to keep track of deadlines for your applications, essays, financial aid, letters of recommendation, interviews and any other special requirements such as arts portfolios. Deadlines are important in the college application process. You do not want to miss out on financial aid, housing or even a seat at one of your top colleges by failing to submit information on time. Use whatever method feels easiest for you -- that might be an Excel spreadsheet, an electronic to-do list, a day planner, desk calendar or designated notebook. You can find our Application Deadline Organizer and Financial Aid Deadline Organizer available for download here in both Word and Excel. Whatever method you decide on, update it faithfully and consult it frequently to keep yourself on track for a successful admission process.   

Seniors: Questions you Should Be Asking if You're Thinking of Applying Early

If you are thinking of applying under an early action or early decision plan, we have some questions for you to consider as you decide what might be right for you. The more yes answers you can give, the more applying early might be your best approach.

If you’re considering early decision, start here and work your way through all the questions below:

• Of all the colleges on your list, is this the school where you would unquestionably enroll?

• Is your first-choice school an environment that fits you well, but also a place where you can change and grow?

• Have you felt the school where you are going to apply early decision is your first choice for more than a few days or weeks?

• Do you and your parents agree that if you are given a reasonable financial aid package, you will attend the school even if other colleges were to offer you stronger financial aid packages or a merit scholarship?

If you’re considering early action or restrictive early action, start here:

• Do your junior-year grades and classes support an early application, relative to the philosophyn and practice of the college to which you’re applying?

• Have you completed all standardized testing by October of your senior year?

The Balancing Act of Senior Year: A Checklist For Keeping on Track

John Carpenter is the author of  Going Geek: What Every Smart Kid (and Every Smart Parent) Should Know About College Admissions and a monthly guest blogger for us here at College Admission. Today, John looks at the balancing, juggling, ring of fire, joyous act that is senior year. Read on to learn how students can enjoy the beginning of senior year and, with a checklist in hand, seize the day.


Classes are going full steam ahead, you’re getting used to your new schedule, you’re discovering ideas and people you hadn’t noticed before--yep, you’re a senior.  You’re in your last year of high school.  Very cool.