Free Events

The College Essay Writing Workshop will provide a systematic and analytical approach to tackling the common application essay/personal statement questions. The common application is accepted by greater than 500 colleges and universities. The essay prompts have changed for students applying for admittance to college after the fall of 2014. The new essay prompts focus more on character and motivation then those of previous years. Ms. Assael will analyze the questions and offer guidelines to writing this very crucial section of a student’s college application.
Programs have limited seating – Early registration is recommended

College Essay Writing Workshop
Monday, June 2, 2014 – 7:30pm
Woodbury Jewish Center
Southwoods Road
Woodbury, NY 11797

How to Stand Out in a Competitive College Application Pool
Thurs, June 12, 2014 – 7pm
HarborFields Public Library
31 Broadway
Greenlawn, NY 11740
(631) 757-4200

College Essay Writing Workshop
Monday, Sept 15, 2014 – 7pm
Syosset Public Library
225 South Oyster Bay Road
Syosset, NY 11791
Not open for registration yet

College Essay Writing Workshop
Tuesday, October 21, 2014 – 6:30 pm
Elmont Memorial Library
700 Hempstead Turnpike
Elmont, NY 11003

Congratulations everyone!

What an amazing year! Everyone worked so hard and it really paid off. Every student with whom I had the pleasure of working got into their top choice school! It was an incredible year for all. You were a wonderful group of students and I thoroughly enjoyed working with you and your families. Best wishes for your college success!


Selective College Admissions: The Basics: Part 1, Numbers

GPA, rigor of courses, and standardized test scores are very important in the college admission process, but these academic indicators alone are not enough to gain acceptance into the most highly selective colleges and universities. Demonstrated academic competency is what a student needs to be considered for admission. These academic indicators are used to sort students into pools of applicants.


Look at it from the perspective an admission officer. For example, Columbia University received 33,531 applications for the class of 2017. Most of these were fairly self selecting, meaning that most of these applicants were pretty strong academically. They offered seats 2,311 of these applicants or roughly 6.89%. Where would you begin if faced with this task? Admission officers, for the most part, sort these students into academic pools and then look to see what distinguishes the individual students from a pool of academically similar applicants.


I help students find their passion and distinguish themselves in a highly competitive applicant pool. It’s a very individualized process but very effective.

The New Common Application Essay Prompts

The next generation of the common application, CA4 is due to arrive August 31st of 2013. Current high school juniors and other students applying for admission to college next fall will be using this new application. Currently 488 colleges accept the common application, each year this number increases by 20% to 25%. 663,000 unique applicants submitted 2.78 million applications during the 2011-12 application season. This represents an increase of 15% and 16% respectively over the previous year. On average, 4.19 applications were submitted per applicant. The new application has been designed to handle the increasing demand on this system going forward.

There are several anticipated changes to the application itself. Preliminary information states that additional information will be submitted in text form only without the option of uploads and a “slideroom” will replace a separate Arts Supplement. There will also be an Optional Grade Report Form and an email utility for communicating with colleges.

The big changes from the perspective of college-bound students are the new essay prompts and guidelines. I am happy that they are increasing the word limit to 650 words with a minimum word count of 250 words. While a 500 word essay is generally about right. Those last non-essential words that get cut from an essay may not change the point of the argument as much as their absence disrupts the flow from one idea to the next. Yes, they are strict about the word count.

I have mixed views about the new prompts which I have included below. In my opinion, some of the new prompts offer a welcome change from the previous questions which inquired about issues that were external to an applicant, such as the impact of an influential person, historical or fictional figure, or issue. These questions have been replaced by questions inquiring about specific and personal events and an applicant’s reaction to these events and circumstances. These new prompts may yield greater insight into the motivation and character of a prospective applicant. The diversity question remains but has been reworded and moved to the top of the order. The significant event or accomplishment question, which I always found to be most flexible has been reworded and now limited to events that mark the transition from childhood to adulthood. I am not so sure about this change. It may make me wish they kept the “Topic of Your Choice” option.

2013-14  Essay Prompts

• Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

• Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?

• Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

• Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

• Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

7 Things You Can Do While Waiting for College Admission Decisions

The application process was grueling, writing essays, taking and retaking tests, requesting letters, and recounting every activity you did for the past four years. Now you must wait. Weeks and months seem like a lifetime. The waiting can be agonizing. College admission decisions are one of the few things still done the old fashioned way, read and evaluated one at a time by human beings. That may change in time but for now you open your mail while holding your breath. So here are a few suggestions on how to make the most of your time.

  • If you have been deferred or waitlisted from your top choice school, send a letter stating that they remain your top choice and expect to attend should you be admitted. If this is not the case, say something that reflects your continued desire to go there but with less commitment.
  • If a school is willing to accept additional letters of recommendations (ask before sending) and you can get a glowing letter that adds another dimension to your application with new information, send it.
  • If you have some positive news to report such as an award or honor, a position of leadership, an internship, an athletic or an artistic achievement, update the admissions office as soon as possible.
  • Do something. Start a club, enter a contest, volunteer for a cause, then tell the admissions office about it. The clock is ticking but you would be surprised what you can accomplish in a weekend.
  • Apply for scholarships. Speak with your guidance counselor, read through your high school’s postings for scholarships. Investigate scholarship search engines like Fastweb and Collegeboard. Check local businesses, credit unions, banks and any affiliations you or your family may have. Generally, your chances of attaining a scholarship are better with smaller, local or group specific scholarships.
  • Keep your grades up.
  • Clean up your social media. Hopefully you did this before but in case you haven’t, it bears repeating. Colleges and employers do check social media. Changing your name does not insure your privacy. Use social media to your advantage. Post photos of you receiving awards, volunteering or playing an instrument.

The Best Advice for the Summer Before Your Senior Year in High School

For rising high school seniors the summer before your senior year is crunch time for preparing your college applications. It is also your last opportunity to improve your standing in the college applicant pool. The recommendations below will keep you on track, organized and give you a competitive edge.

Request your letters of recommendation early. Thoughtful recommendations take time to write. Give your recommenders sufficient time to work or the resulting letters may lack some of your finer qualities.  Select teachers and other recommenders that know you and will likely write about you in a positive light. If you are applying to a program that requires certain skills, such as engineering, athletics or performing arts it is advisable to get a recommendation from someone who can write of your expertise in that area. If possible, when requesting a letter of recommendation, include a note that reminds your recommenders of all the wonderful things you accomplished and your noteworthy contributions. Teachers are generally not paid to write recommendations and do this as a courtesy to their students, always thank them for their time and effort.

Take or retake standardized tests. Early fall of your senior year is your last chance to boost those standardized test grades. The ACT offers testing in September and October, while the SAT has dates in October and November. As you research colleges it is also important to note which schools require SAT subject tests and if specific subjects are required. Fall is your last opportunity to fulfill this requirement.

Many colleges allow for score choice on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, SAT. This means that you can take the test several times but colleges will only consider your best scores from each section or your highest score on a single test date, depending on their chosen method. The Collegeboard which administers the SAT provides a list of school specific test score reporting policies. However this list is subject to change and only states what testing documentation each college requires, not how that information will be utilized. If a college states that it requires all tests scores, I recommend checking the website or contacting the admissions office for clarification on how those scores will be used for admission purposes.

Compile and write your resume. Many high school guidance counselors suggest that you prepare an activity list prior to filling out college applications. This is a useful tool as you must enter this information onto your college applications. However an activity list is of little use if you are applying for a job, internship or highly selective program. A formal resume enables you to highlight areas of expertise and elaborate on specific accomplishments. This document can be submitted to colleges along with your transcript.

Boost your resume. The summer before your senior year in high school provides one of the last opportunities to distinguish yourself from your peers before applying to college. Use your time wisely. Get a job or internship, conduct research, volunteer, start a business or write a book. Do something. You can work on your tan next summer.

Create a college list. Attend college information sessions, college fairs, visit colleges and peruse the internet.  Investigate which colleges cater to your academic goals, learning style and personal interests. Many high school guidance offices maintain lists or software that detail college acceptances of previous graduates and their academic record (GPA and standardized test scores.) While this contains an extremely limited view of the information admission officers used to make their decisions, it is worth noting where students of academic records similar to yours were accepted.

Visit Colleges, especially colleges offering early decision and early action options. If a student has done their homework and is able to commit to a college should they be offered admission, it is advisable to apply ED or EA. The odds of attaining admittance to a competitive college via the early decision or the early action application rounds are significantly better than during the regular decision application round. However, this is not a decision to enter into without careful forethought. Early decision is a binding agreement. You can apply to only one college Early Decision or Restrictive Early Action. You can apply to other colleges with certain restrictions. Should you get accepted to a college in the Early Decision round, you are obligated to withdraw your applications to all other colleges to which you have applied. Financial need is the only exemption from this commitment.

Request information. Many colleges track interest and consider it a factor when reviewing an applicant. When you attend information sessions, visit colleges or research websites, let the colleges know. Preregister for events and check in when you get there, call the admissions office, and get on the admission office’s mailing list. Let them know you are interested in that college. Colleges prefer to offer admission to students that are likely to attend.

Write your essays. Get a copy of the common application available online at The common application is currently accepted at 456 colleges. Read through the personal essay options, pick one and start writing. While on the commonapp website, click on the Download Forms tab. Scroll down to the bottom of Complete First-Year Application Packets and click on College-specific Supplements. Look up individual colleges on your list and take note of the required supplements.

For colleges that do not use the common application or if the supplement information is lacking, obtain application essay prompts directly from those colleges.

Make a timetable and build a strategy. Look at each of the colleges you wish to apply to and make a note of the important deadlines for each college. This should include early decision, early decision 2, early action, priority and regular decision deadlines. You will also need to check deadlines for testing and special skill supplements such as those for artists. Athletes may have additional guidelines to follow.  Create a calendar; excel sheet or whatever works for you. Check carefully to determine whether the material must be “received by” or “postmarked by” an error like this can cost you dearly.

Best wishes for your college success –


College Savings Tips for Parents, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and Other Interested Parties

Its never too early to think about funding the education for your child, grandchild, future child, niece, nephew or self. Here are two simple tools that can benefit the giver as well as the recipient.

A 529 college savings account can be opened with as little as $25 in New York State. Some states allow for a minimum initial contribution of only $10. The benefits of this plan are manifold. The funds can be used for tuition, room-and-board, books and many other expenses related to attending a college, technical, vocational, or graduate school. Earnings are federally tax deferred and qualified withdrawals are federally tax-free.

Additionally, many states offer tax benefits to those contributing to a 529 account. For example, New York State taxpayers can deduct a contribution of up to $5,000 ($10,000 for married couples) from their state income taxes annually. Therefore, if you are inclined to give regular cash gifts in the hopes of helping fund a student’s higher education, it makes sense to open a 529 account with the intended recipient as the beneficiary and make the gift directly to the 529 account.

As the 529 account is held in the owner’s name not the beneficiary’s name it will not be counted as a student’s assets when calculating financial aid. While there are many factors that go into a comprehensive aid package, in general, it is expected that a far greater percentage of the student’s assets and income will be used to cover the cost of their education than their parent’s assets and income. If the 529 plan is owned by someone other than a parent or guardian it may be excluded from financial aid equation, although withdrawals may be considered as income to the student. The CollegeBoard website as well as a number of  individual schools have a Net Price Calculator on their websites. These are used to estimate your Estimated Family Contribution, EFC.

Should the intended recipient decide not to attend any higher educational program, the beneficiary can be changed or the funds can be withdrawn with penalties.

Next step, open a upromise account. Upromise has partnered with thousands of online merchants, restaurants, gas stations and pharmacies. These partners rebate a percentage of the paid price for purchases made with registered credit cards or when directed to a vendor through the upromise portal. I have found this to be most lucrative when purchasing online as many of the upromise partners only offer rebates for their online stores and not their brick and mortar counterparts. The percentage of rebate changes periodically with special bonus offers at varying times. At the writing of this blog many of my favorite merchants like, and are offering 5% back. This is money you are spending anyway, why not put it to some good use?

Upromise has something called “turbosaver” toolbar, which alerts you when you search a partnered site. You must make sure that you are logged in to upromise and enter the partnered website through the upromise portal to get the rebate. Accrued rebates are swept into either a linked 529 account or SallieMae savings account. The SallieMae account currently offers a bonus of an additional 10% of earnings. These funds can then be used to pay down student loans so even if you have graduated you can benefit from this program.

As beneficiaries for 529 accounts can be changed at any time and the accrual from upromise is a percentage of money spent anyway, it even makes sense to consider opening these accounts for those with no immediate need but pondering a family in the future. If those plans don’t pan out, it hasn’t cost you anything and you can give it as a scholarship to a deserving student.