College Admissions chat with expert Steven Roy Goodman

Tuesday, October 12, 2000 — The crazy college search just got a little easier! International expert Steven Roy Goodman has been guiding students and families on the do’s, don’ts and how to’s of this stressful process for 14 years. And he’s happy to help you out, too. From school selection to application strategies, personal statement preparation, and interview training, Steve’s got all the answers!


CosmoGIRL: Welcome to our chat with college admissions expert Steven Roy Goodman. This chat is sponsored by CosmoGIRL!-a magazine for REAL girls with REAL issues. Log on at!

CosmoGIRL: Please give a warm welcome to Steven Roy Goodman!

Steven Roy Goodman: Hello everyone. Thank you for joining us. Before we begin, I’d like to say a special thank you to CosmoGIRL! readers and a special thank you to CosmoGIRL!’s wonderful editor, Atoosa Rubenstein. And I’m really glad that CosmoGIRL! has taken the time to bring us together so we can talk about college admissions, general college life, and whatever else you have on your minds. I’m particularly interested in chatting about whatever you would like. Perhaps we can start by discussing college-related issues that are at the forefront of your minds and/or what you can do to improve your chances of getting into your top choice schools.

diane-guest: What should I be looking for in a school?

Steven Roy Goodman: I think the first thing you should when you’re thinking about a school is begin by thinking about what you would like to do in your own life first. What is your objective? What would you like to do with your life? What would you like to accomplish? Now, I realize that not everybody knows exactly what they want to do when they get older. However, it is not a bad idea to try to first think about the things that you enjoy doing so that you’re not simply fishing among 3,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. There are a number of things you can look for in a university. You can look for schools that are fun. You can analyze schools in terms of location. You can analyze schools in terms of distance from home. You can look at schools in terms of prestige. You can analyze schools by examining individual academic departments at those institutions. But most importantly, I think you should begin to look at the student body at different colleges and universities to determine if you ‘fit’ generally into that community atmosphere.

Bredapup: What sort of things do top colleges look for the most?

Steven Roy Goodman: A passion for learning. That is the most important thing that you can demonstrate to a top college. The follow-up question, of course, for that would usually be how do I demonstrate that and the way to do that is by demonstrating that you do, in fact, like to learn. And you can demonstrate that you enjoy learning by showing good grades and getting involved in activities that demonstrate a commitment to learning. An example of that would be writing for the paper, yearbook involvement, getting involved in community groups in which you’re learning more and assisting your community at the same time, and taking part in voluntary activities that improve your understanding of the world, your vocabulary, and your general level of sophistication.

nelly-guest: What should I expect in the way of price?

Steven Roy Goodman: Universities are expensive. Let’s start with the most expensive ones. Private universities can cost in today’s dollars $30,000-$35,000 per year. A number of state-supported institutions cost less than half of that. But I wouldn’t necessarily focus on the sticker price of the university, because quite a few universities engage in tuition discounting. We call that ‘financial aid’. Some universities are committed to matching your financial needs in order to make it possible for you to ttend that institution. Other universities are very insensitive to students who may have financial needs. In essence, they simply only take students who can afford to pay.

harry-guest: So what are the top colleges out there?

Steven Roy Goodman: This is a very difficult question to answer because different people have different definitions for top colleges. Generally speaking, the top undergraduate institutions in the U.S. include the eight Ivy League schools, Stanford, The University of Chicago, Duke, Amherst College, Williams College, MIT, and CalTech. Now, of course, there are plenty of other schools that are in some years are more competitive to get into than these schools I mentioned. Those can include Swarthmore College, Carleton College and Haverford College. Moreover, there is a whole group of excellent women’s colleges that exist to provide a first-rate education to young women from throughout the U.S. and around the world. Be careful, though; prestige really isn’t the only game here. The real challenge, in my view, is to find the university that will challenge you academically and provide you with the learning environment that will help you excel.

hannah-guest: Are there really many disadvantages to going to a local college as opposed to a university?

Steven Roy Goodman: Yes and no. The advantage of going to a local school is that, in general, a local school tends to be more comfortable for students than schools that are farther away. It comes down to a matter of comfort. Schools that make you feel more comfortable, in general, make your neighbors feel more comfortable as well, which is why a very high percentage of students every year choose to go to universities that are in their home states. Please remember that I’m an educator, and I believe that it’s important for students to be challenged intellectually. I believe very strongly that students should use their educational experience as a way of broadening their world views as much as possible. Taking the time and the effort to first explore and then possibly attend out-of-state universities can be an enriching experience for students who are curious about learning more about the world. And while I’m on the subject, I’m a great fan of college students taking time out to study abroad.

Giggler-guest: I will be applying to some huge colleges and some small private ones. When I go to write my essay, should I give a different uptake to the large colleges than the smaller ones? And in what way?

Steven Roy Goodman: This is the time of the year when thousands of students are working on their college essays. In fact, all that I do during the fall is assist clients with their college application essays. So my advice to you is based on having seen many, many students before you struggle with putting together their application materials. In general, I believe it is a good idea to try to focus each application in such a way that you’re speaking directly to the university about its specific academic program. Different universities have different needs, are at different stages of their own development, and look for different types of students. I know that it is much easier to simply write one essay and try to use it for lots of schools, but that is not the way to maximize your chances of getting into a top college. The way to maximize your chances of getting into a top college is to clearly explain to each and every school why you believe you are a good fit for that school. And, of course, your arguments are going to be different for large schools and small schools.

Fidget-guest: I have above average grades, and ranked in the top ten percentile of my class, but my SAT scores are really low. I have taken it three times trying to improve, only to receive the same. Will this hurt my chances at getting into the college?

Steven Roy Goodman: The most important factor in college admissions is your high school transcript. There are a number of students who are weak testers even though they excel in the classroom.If you find that you are much stronger in school than you are on standardized tests, then you should put together a short statement explaining to the college how you have succeeded in high school and, in particular, how you have succeeded in various courses in high school. Of course, it’s better to have a perfect SAT or ACT score than for you to have a lower score, but there are a number of universities that will overlook a low SAT score if you have very high grades. Let me warn you, however, that the opposite is not true. Students who have high SAT scores with low grades have a very difficult time getting into top colleges every year.

Marie-guest: When you know your heart is set on a college that is hard to get into, is it best to apply for the winter/spring quarter/semester for a better shot of getting in?

Steven Roy Goodman: In general, the best chance of getting into a school is through that school’s early decision program. Early decision programs carry with them a binding commitment on the part of the student. In other words, if you apply to a school under the school’s early decision plan and if you are admitted, then you have to go to that school. Now why does that give you the best chance of getting in? Early decision gives you the best chance of getting in because most students do not want to give up their freedom to apply to a wide range of schools later. Therefore, you’re competing against a smaller number of students, thereby increasing your chances of getting in.

JiggyWithIt-guest: I am from a very, very, very low income family and barely an average student, but I REALLY want to go to college. I know I could get some grants, because of my grades I doubt any scholarships. From what I understand the grants aren’t enough to help with real life expenses. Suggestions, PLEASE!

Steven Roy Goodman: The first thing that I would do is look at what you think you can offer a college. What do you bring to the table? What skills or what specific attributes do you have that would enhance a particular college community? In general, you’ll be more likely to receive more aid from a university if you can offer the university something that the university places in high demand. The universities themselves, however, are not the only source of financial aid. I would also explore local community groups, local business organizations, and state scholarship competitions.

soulnourisher: I am a junior in Oregon. My interests lie in the performing arts. I would like to sing opera. I want to major in music and minor in law. Which colleges can I get into with a 3.0 GPA?

Steven Roy Goodman: That is a very specific question. I cannot answer that question specifically right now, but I’ll tell you what I would need to know in order to answer that question, and perhaps you’ll be able to do this research on your own. First, what does your 3.0 really mean? Is that near the top, the middle, or toward the bottom of your class? Second, how academic is your high school in general? Third, how accomplished are you in voice? Do you have any county or state recognition of your singing ability? Once you’ve determined all of this, that will give you a very good handle on your general academic level and your general pre-opera level, in terms of college admissions. Overlaying a pre-law program on top of all this is actually the easy part, because a great number of schools in the U.S. offer either pre-law programs or undergraduate majors that lend themselves quite nicely to the law school curriculum. I would also like to add, however, that it is not necessary to be a pre-law student in order to eventually become a law student. Successful applicants to law school have majored in everything from political science to economics to music to engineering. So really there are two distinct processes here. The first process is the undergraduate college admissions process, in which from what I can tell from your question, you are looking for a place where you can continue to perform. The second process here is the law school admissions process. You would be eligible to apply to law school immediately after finishing your undergraduate degree or, if you chose to do so, five years after having a singing career in New York. And this raises an even larger question, which is that I think it’s important to not necessarily pick a college because of the pressures that other people put on you. Of course, you don’t want to be naive, and of course you don’t want to ignore the market forces around you. Nonetheless, I believe that you should pick colleges with your heart and really do the best you can to explore universities that will enable you to explore yourself to the best of your ability.

nahnah-guest: The college I want to go to is close to home, My parents want me to live at home I want to live on campus, Help me find some advantages to living on campus…please? *grin*

Steven Roy Goodman: It depends on the quality of food that you would get on campus as opposed to the quality of food you are currently getting at home. *grin* Seriously though, there is a value to living in the dorms. The value to residential experiences is based on the non-classroom time that you’ll spend interacting with your peers, and I know that a lot of people think that that is simply an excuse to have lots of parties, but there really is a benefit to being forced to negotiate your place on a campus socially with other students who are also trying to do the same. The truth is, however, that not every student can afford the luxury of living in the dorms. If you find yourself to be in that position, then perhaps what you should do is try to spend as much time as possible participating in campus activities after classes end.

desere-guest: When is a good time to start applying to colleges?

Steven Roy Goodman: Top colleges usually require applications to be filed 8-10 months before the beginning of the school year. In fact, most applications are done by high school seniors in the fall of their seni or year.

sonora-guest: What are ‘accelerated courses’?

Steven Roy Goodman: There are two definitions, and different people use these definitions in different ways. Sometimes people simply use that term to define advanced placement courses, which are part of the AP program, and which can give you college credit if you score high enough on the AP exam. Other people refer to accelerated courses as programs that are open to high school students who have not yet matriculated at a college or university.

simmy-guest: What’s a good student-to-faculty ratio?

Steven Roy Goodman: One-to-one. *smile* Unfortunately, this one-to-one ideal is not always possible. It’s simply too expensive for universities to have one professor for every student. In general, however, the smaller faculty to student ratios provide better academic and intellectual opportunities for students, and this is precisely the argument that small colleges make when they compete against large research universities. Small colleges correctly claim that their faculty members are devoted to teaching undergraduate students and to ensuring that their students absorb the material. They correctly point out further that the main focus of a research university is research. The truth is that I am a great fan of small schools and a great fan of schools that give lots of individualized attention to students. Let me also put a plug in here for women’s colleges, many of which are small as well. Not only do many women’s colleges offer small classes with excellent faculty, but they also offer students the opportunity to grow in perhaps a more nurturing community where the social pressures are considerably different from those at a co-ed school.

suc-guest: Can you get information on things like graduation statistics, job placement rates, etc.?

Steven Roy Goodman: The admissions office generally provides this information. All you have to do is ask. However, some admissions offices are more forthcoming than others. The way to make sure that the information provided by the admissions office is accurate is to cross reference that information with the placement office at that university. Imagine that you’re already at University X. University X likely has a placement office that assists undergraduate students with their pre-career development. If you are serious about researching this, then perhaps what you might want to do is to request that information, not only from the admissions office, but from the career center as well.

curious-guest: What do you recommend for most colleges, ACT or SAT?

Steven Roy Goodman: That depends on where the universities are to which you are applying are located. In general, the SAT is a more widely-accepted exam, but if you can afford the time and money, it’s not a bad idea to do both.

Bredapup: What about going to another nation to study? Or the U.S. really top in education?

Steven Roy Goodman: I’m a great fan, as I said before, of study abroad programs. I’m also a great fan of looking at universities abroad for good degree programs. There are many types of institutions you can explore. You can explore universities in other countries, for instance. In the last five years, I’ve had students go to the University of Capetown in South Africa, Oxford University in England, the American University of Cairo, and many, many others. I have also helped students with their applications to U.S.-based institutions that are located abroad. For instance, St. Louis University runs a program in Madrid. Richmond College is a U.S.-based institution that is located in the U.K. And Franklin College in Switzerland is an institution that attracts quite a number of American students. Canadian schools are increasingly popular with high school students in the U.S., because institutions in Canada are not only state supported (therefore having lower tuition rates in general), but the value of the U.S. dollar relative to the Canadian dollar makes Canadian schools a very good buy. So, if you are serious about thinking about getting a degree in another country, I would encourage you to look both at institutions abroad that are accredited academic centers in other countries and U.S. universities located abroad. In order to decide if this is the route for you, you might want to think about taking some time off in that country to decide whether or not that particular country would make sense for you.

CosmoGIRL: Thanks Steven! This has been interesting, informative and extremely helpful. However, our time is almost over! Time flies when you are having fun and helping others! Do you have any parting thoughts for us?

Steven Roy Goodman: I want to thank you again for having me on , but I’d like to remind everybody that there are tremendous educational opportunities in the U.S. and overseas. In fact, there are wonderful educational opportunities if you do research and really prepare yourself for the educational challenges and opportunities ahead. I spend a good part of my time helping students with their applications to the very places that they have identified already. It’s very rare that students come to me and want to go to places that other students haven’t also heard about. You can beat some of your competition by simply looking at institutions that are not overwhelmingly popular in your hometown. This doesn’t mean that you need to go to another continent in order to get into a top college, but it certainly helps. It certainly helps if you investigate universities that need and want more students like you. How do you figure this out? You figure this out by first looking at yourself and determining what it is that you would offer to a college or university, and then look at the colleges and universities that would potentially offer you the educational environment that you believe will help you grow to the best of your ability. Good luck with the college search and with the upcoming college admissions process.

CosmoGIRL: Thank you, Steven Roy Goodman! This chat is sponsored by CosmoGIRL! -a magazine for REAL girls with REAL issues. Guys, beauty, fashion, money, parents, school, Your body—you name it and we’re talking about it. Think of us as a girls-only club that meets every month, with fun fixes available 24-7 at:

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