Best Tips for a Successful Undergraduate Experience

Best Tips for a Successful Undergraduate Experience

Harvard Professor Richard Light has spent a lifetime studying what leads to the most “successful” undergraduate experience. Over 20 years of research enriched by the views of nearly 2500 students led to advice he shared…

According to Dr. Light, successful college students will

  1. Get to know one faculty member reasonably well each term or semester. Research shows this is the single best way to engage fully in the life of the campus.
  2. Explore at least one entirely new topic or course every semester. Replicating your high school class roster is not particularly productive or satisfying.
  3. Develop a strategy for making tradeoffs between “investing” in new classes or activities and “harvesting” the benefits of known skills. Successful students experiment with the new but also continue to build on what they know they’re already good at.
  4. Focus on time management. Students who make adjustments to and are aware of issues in time management are far more likely to succeed in college.
  5. Pick classes in the first or second year that will support choosing a major wisely. Knowing something in advance about departments and majors saves time and aggravation in the long run.
  6. Try to relate what goes on inside the classroom to life outside of class. Forming these kinds of connections gives more meaning and depth to academics.
  7. Engage in a wide variety of extracurricular activities. There exists a very strong correlation between campus involvement and overall student satisfaction with college.
  8. Seek out diverse views. Successful students will reach out to people whose views do not necessarily correspond to their own.

Questions? Let’s chat!

Bettina Weil, LMSW, IEC

Visiting your child in college

Visiting your child in college

We survived the all-encompassing moving into college, classes started, we set our phone call routine with our college student. We are somewhat adjusting to the empty room, the quiet house, and the colder mornings.

And then comes visiting weekend. Strange as it feels, we are coming to visit or child in his/her space for a weekend packed with activities, and then leave

As I have gone through this experience several times – with my own children as well as with the families I work with – I compiled a list of considerations for those of you who are new to “visiting weekend”:

1. What was left behind. Communicate with your student if there is anything that was left behind that will be useful to have. In my case, this is the time to bring what didn’t fit in the car, and the special requests: snow boots, sled, poster hanging in his room, extra blanket, an electric kettle to make tea and soup.

2. Snacks are always welcome! Bring a good selection of the goodies you know your student likes. If you can bake, make something that your student can keep in the room and share with friends. It will probably be consumed in a few hours (teenagers..) so I wouldn’t worry about refrigeration. I also include cereal, cookies, granola bars, chips, dry fruit, nuts, soups and beverages. It is always useful to have a large plastic container to keep all of these goodies, that can be tucked under the bed.

3. Dinner Reservations. If you are planning to go out for lunch or dinner with your student (and perhaps invite some friends?) ask your student where to go and make a reservation. You are not the only parent with those intentions.

4. Empathy for Others. This is an opportunity to teach your student empathy: mention that there are students whose family cannot come to family weekend, and might enjoy coming to lunch or dinner with your family. However, if your student is not comfortable with this idea, I would not insist.

5. Flexibility. The activities planned by the college may or may not be your student’s favorite way of spending time with you. Be open minded and flexible, and prepare yourself to change plans at the last minute.

6. Have a Plan B. Be ready to be “dumped” by your student if a “better plan” comes along. Remember that your student loves you and is happy to see you, but parties and friends have a priority in their lives at this time. If and when you realize that you are priority number 2 or 3, don’t give your teenager a hard time! (as long as they are nice about it). Instead, have a “plan B” in your sleeve: a good book, something fun to do in the area, or meet other parents who have been dumped too! Think that right now, the fact that you are not a priority is healthy.

7. Don’t Clean Up! At all costs, contain your urge to clean their room! Chances are that it will not be up to your standards, the bathroom in particular. However, keep in mind that you are a visitor. You can be humorous about your “different cleanliness standards”, but do not nag or take any action. Just smile and move on.

8. Ask for a tour of their Hangouts. To the extent that your student is comfortable with you interacting with his friends, ask your child to introduce them to you. Make every attempt to know more about their “new life”, it is important for your child to feel your approval! I usually ask for a tour of my sons’ favorite hang-outs. Of course, I have visited the school before, but this new tour will be an opportunity to understand better how they experience the school.

9. Compliment, compliment, compliment! Remember when your child gave his/her first steps, how you clapped and cheered? Your child is now trying his/her first steps into independence. Show that you are happy for them, that you like what you see (if you really do) and you trust them to make the right choices. If you like what you see, make sure you clap and cheer (figuratively speaking).

Enjoy visiting weekend with your student!

Bettina Weil

Founder, Weil College Advising, LLC

What actually predicts college success?

What actually predicts college success?

by Patrick Cooney

There’s quite a bit that determines whether or not a student is successful in college. They need to have good study habits, be able to write well, be able to manage their own time, be a self-advocate. But it turns out that there’s one, very uncomplicated measure of college readiness that repeatedly trumps everything else in the research: a student’s high school grades.

In nearly all the research that’s been done on student success in college, the most predictive indicator, time and again, is a student’s high school GPA. While for many this is now common knowledge, no matter how many times we share this finding it continues to shock people, and some simply don’t believe it. Grades are too subjective, they’ll say. And some high schools are far easier than others. How can a measure composed of inconsistent inputs (classroom grades) provided by a range of people with inconsistent training (teachers) produce a measure so predictive of future success?

The answer is that a student’s GPA is likely so predictive precisely because of the many varied inputs and the lack of standardization that go into the creation of that GPA. It captures a student’s mastery of academic content to be sure, but also ends up capturing their ability to pay attention in class, take notes, participate, complete assignments on time, seek feedback, seek help, advocate for themselves, manage their time, and create study systems. In other words, it provides a composite measure of many of the skills required for college success.

The research

The most convincing research on GPA comes from the book Crossing the Finish Line, the authoritative study on college completion in America. The book utilized a massive national dataset that enabled the authors to follow students from high school through to college graduation, and run a bunch of tests to figure out what high school characteristics predicted college success.

And they found that a student’s high school GPA was one of the strongest predictors of their eventual college graduation – far more predictive than a student’s SAT/ACT score. In the words of the authors:

High school grades are a far better predictor of both four-year and six-year graduation rates than are SAT/ACT test scores…(our) analysis reinforces the point that high school grades measure a student’s ability to ‘get it done’ in a more powerful way than do SAT scores – a conclusion that holds, regardless of the high school attended.

This last point bears repeating. The predictive validity of a student’s GPA held regardless of the high school that the student attended. So whether a student attends a “good” high school or a “bad” high school, the GPA they graduate with says an awful lot about whether or not they will end up with a college degree.

The research found that a student who got an 18 on their ACT – below the ‘college ready’ benchmark of 21 – but graduated from high school with a 3.5 GPA, was nearly 20 percentage points more likely to graduate from college than a student who scored a 24 on the ACT, but graduated with a GPA below 2.5.

Echoing the findings from Crossing the Finish Line, the CCSR authors write:

Grades are so important because they capture many of the noncognitive aspects of students’ work habits that test scores miss, such as executive functioning, academic perseverance, and growth mindset.

Focusing on the student habits, mindsets, and skills needed to attain a good GPA – and be successful in college – would lead to a much richer discussion of what we mean by a good education.

Comments? Questions?

Let’s chat!

Bettina Weil, LMSW,IEC



Article published in the College Board

Do your seniors know that slacking off during the spring semester or after being accepted to college may jeopardize their future plans? Every year, colleges rescind offers of admission, put students on academic probation, or alter financial aid packages as a result of “senioritis.” How can you help prevent this common syndrome?

Colleges may reserve the right to deny admission to an accepted applicant should the student’s senior-year grades drop. (Many college acceptance letters now explicitly state this.) Admission officers can ask a student to explain a drop in grades and can revoke an offer of admission if not satisfied with the response.

And because the colleges do not receive final grades until June or July, students may not learn of a revoked admission until July or August, after they’ve given up spots at other colleges and have few options left.

What colleges expect

Colleges see both a midyear grade report and a final (year-end) transcript and they expect students to maintain previous levels of academic success.

Colleges expect seniors to complete courses they enrolled in, including high-level courses. Many college applications ask applicants to list senior-year courses, with information about course levels and credit hours. College admission officers are interested in academic commitment and course completion.

According to an article in The New York Times*:

  • The University of Colorado Boulder rescinded admission for 45 of its accepted students, 10 of whom had already attended freshman orientation, selected classes or met roommates.
  • The University of Michigan sent out three different letters to its incoming freshmen with poor final grades: 62 issuing gentle warnings, 180 requesting an explanation and nine revoking admission.
  • Twenty-three would-be freshmen found themselves without a college when the University of Washington revoked their acceptances during the summer because of poor final grades.

Tips for keeping seniors on track

One way to prevent senioritis is to ensure that students remain excited, active, and focused throughout their senior year.

Challenge your seniors to:

  • Enjoy their senior experience — responsibly. Encourage them to celebrate the last year of school. They may enjoy cheering at football games, going to the prom, attending graduation festivities, and participating in clubs, sports, and volunteer work.
  • Commit to an internship or career-focused job. This can help them make informed decisions about their education and career goals. Or they can try out college early by taking a class at a local college in a subject that interests them or in which they excel.
  • Keep a calendar of their activities and deadlines. This includes tests, college applications, senior-year events and extracurriculars. Caution them not to overextend themselves.

Challenging your students in these ways will not only inoculate them against senioritis, but will leave them in a stronger position to transition from high school and face the rigors of college.

*Laura Pappano, “Slackers, Beware,” The New York Times, April 22, 2007.

Questions from Parents

Questions from Parents

How many colleges do you think my teen should apply to?

Here’s my formula: Three reach colleges (colleges that might be a reach but still attainable, about 30% chance of admission for your student); four “target” colleges (colleges that are a good match for the student, around 50% chance of admission for your student); and three safety colleges (colleges that the student will be at the top of the applicant pool, or around 70% chance of admission). Sometimes I add ONE “wild card” where there is a 20% chance of admissions for that student.

My student is not motivated in school and has his head in the sand when it comes to college applications. What can I do?

Motivation comes from within. Nagging and punishments don’t work. Some students are late bloomers and that’s ok, not everyone reaches life milestones at the same time! My advice: have an open conversation with your child and keep open mind, listen to your child and his/her reasons to shy away from college right now (hint: there might be other underlying issues). Talking to college students can be a big motivator and reduce anxiety. And sometimes we work with students with the understanding that they will apply to college and then take a gap year.

Post your questions here!

Bettina Weil

Weil College Advising

Identifying Learning Disabilities

Identifying Learning Disabilities

source: Learning Disabilities Association of America

Learning disabilities are due to genetic and/or neurobiological factors that alter brain functioning in a manner that affects one or more cognitive processes related to learning. These processing problems can interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing, and/or math.  They can also interfere with higher-level skills such as organization, time planning, abstract reasoning, long or short-term memory, and attention.  It is important to realize that learning disabilities can affect an individual’s life beyond academics and can impact relationships with family, friends, and in the workplace.

Since difficulties with reading, writing, and/or math are recognizable problems during the school years, the signs and symptoms of learning disabilities are most often diagnosed during that time.  However, some individuals do not receive an evaluation until they are in post-secondary education or adults in the workforce.  Other individuals with learning disabilities may never receive an evaluation and go through life, never knowing why they have difficulties with academics and why they may be having problems in their jobs or in relationships with family and friends.

Learning disabilities should not be confused with learning problems which are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor handicaps; of intellectual disability; emotional disturbance; or environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantages.

Generally speaking, people with learning disabilities are of average or above-average intelligence. There often appears to be a gap between the individual’s potential and actual achievement. This is why learning disabilities are referred to as “hidden disabilities”: the person looks perfectly “normal” and seems to be a very bright and intelligent person, yet may be unable to demonstrate the skill level expected from someone of a similar age.

A learning disability cannot be cured or fixed; it is a lifelong challenge. However, with appropriate support and intervention, people with learning disabilities can achieve success in school, at work, in relationships, and in the community.

In Federal law, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the term is “specific learning disability,” one of 13 categories of disability under that law.

“Learning Disabilities” is an “umbrella” term describing a number of other, more specific learning disabilities, such as dyslexia and dysgraphia. Find the signs and symptoms of each, plus strategies to help below.

Types of Learning Disabilities


A specific learning disability that affects a person’s ability to understand numbers and learn math facts.


A specific learning disability that affects a person’s handwriting ability and fine motor skills.


A specific learning disability that affects reading and related language-based processing skills.

Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities

Has trouble interpreting nonverbal cues like facial expressions or body language and may have poor coordination.

Oral / Written Language Disorder and Specific Reading Comprehension Deficit

Learning disabilities that affect an individual’s understanding of what they read or of spoken language. The ability to express one’s self with oral language may also be impacted.
Would you like to know how we work with students with learning differences in their transition to college? Let’s chat!
The Weil College Advising Team