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  1. Test Prep Right for Your Child
  2. Overnight Stays on Campus
  3. A Well-Managed Plan
  4. Part 6 – Travel & On-campus Visit Tips
  5. Making New Friends Your First Week on Campus
  6. Search Custom College Visits » Our Blog
  7. Prior Mailing Archive

Test Prep Right for Your Child

The Six Types of Test Preparation and How to Know Which is Right for Your Child

Nowadays, parents feel a tremendous amount of pressure when it comes to their children’s SAT and ACT scores. Some parents feel overwhelmed by the test prep options, while others feel overwhelmed by the financial commitment. The bottom line is that this process can be very stressful.

This article will present to you the six types of test preparation and how to know which is right for your child.


  1. Self-Study: There are numerous, high-quality resources available all over the web and at local bookstores and libraries to help students self-study. These include books, video tutorials, chat rooms, discussion boards, and more. The upside to this approach is that the cost should come in between $0 and $100, which is great. However, there is a major downside as well. Imagine if your child told you that they wanted to learn guitar in 12 weeks. Would you buy them one book and hope for the best? Probably not. Self-study is EXTREMELY difficult even for simple subjects, let alone complex ones like test prep. The Verdict: This option is great for low-income families that simply do not have more than $20-50 to spend on test prep or for students that have very little need for score improvement.


  1. Online Course: In the last five years, many companies have developed full, dynamic online courses for test prep. Some of these follow a self-study approach and some of them are “live”. The majority that you will see follow the former option. This provides a much higher level of prep than simple self-study or watching a YouTube video, as described above. These courses are custom-made to make them intriguing and easy-to-follow for students. However, even though they are better, they are still far from perfect. The Verdict: This option is great for low-income students that have a greater need for improvement or for students looking to go up 100 points or less.


  1. In-Person Group Course: This is the most “classic” option available to students, and it is really what got this industry off the ground to begin with. Many of us parents can remember taking a class from one of the big national companies while we were in high school. These have the wonderful distinction of being both relatively affordable, yet able to provide students an opportunity to learn with their peers. Being in the group setting encourages students to show up, do their homework and take the studying seriously. The downside is that there is virtually zero customization. The Verdict: This option is great for families looking for value. You can get a solid course for around $500-$700 and learn a lot of good information. But the lack of customization is limiting for score improvement. This is useful for relatively independent students who are looking for 150-180 points of improvement.


  1. Private Tutor: Some parents opt to hire a private tutor that is not affiliated with a company, for instance, a family friend or someone they find on Craigslist. This is probably my least favorite option. The major issue here is quality control. How do you know that what this person is teaching is actually good? Although this choice provides customization, it also provides too big of a chance for random people to sell themselves as experts. And although this is more affordable than hiring a tutor from a company, it is not worth it. Verdict: I would stay away from this option. If money is an issue, I prefer to see a student take a group class from a reputable company.


  1. Company Tutoring: Some parents find a tutor from a company that does not specialize in test prep. In other words, just like the company offer tutors for Algebra and Spanish, so too they offer tutors for SAT and ACT. Once again we have a major quality control issue. The good thing with this option is that it is usually cheaper than tutoring from a proper test prep company and it provides customization. Plus, there is a company who has interviewed this person and done a background check on them. Those are all positives. However, since the company does not train the tutors, you have no way to know that the methods they employ are actually good. Verdict: If you have to keep the cost of test prep around $1,000 or $1,400 and your child needs to see around 200 or so points of improvement, then this is a good option – that is, unless they are pretty independent, at which point I would recommend a group class.


  1. Test Prep Tutoring: Finally, we have private tutoring from a proper test prep company. This means that the company has its own customized methods and materials, and their tutors are trained in that methodology. This is the absolute highest level of preparation available. Students are not only able to get personalized preparation, but they can rest assured that the methods their tutor use are genuinely tried and true. When a company invests the time and money in to creating materials, and they train their tutors in the program, these programs tend to be very good. Obviously, there is a spectrum, and some programs are better than others, but it is still generally the case that the programs are solid. The bad news is that this type of tutoring is very expensive. At truly qualified companies, you are looking at programs running from $2,500-$5,000 or more. Verdict: If your child is looking for a significant improvement of 250+ points, and you have the means to pay for it, this is the best option.

As you can see, there are a lot of great options for test prep for your child. The main takeaway here is that test prep is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. For some students, pricey private tutoring would be unnecessary and wasteful. Likewise, for some students, taking a class would be more or less a waste of time. It’s important that you get to know your child and what their needs are.

Steve Dorfman is the founder of Tier One Tutors, a test preparation and private tutoring company serving students across Southern California. Learn more at

The post Test Prep Right for Your Child appeared first on Custom College Visits.


Overnight Stays on Campus


Headed for an Overnight College Visit? College Visit Tip No. 22


When headed cross-country for an overnight campus visit please make sure your student has backup names and phone numbers with them. Flights might be delayed and the Admissions Office might be closed when they get there.  You might wish to read our post:

Overnight stays a students perspective.

The post Overnight Stays on Campus appeared first on Custom College Visits.


A Well-Managed Plan

A Well Managed Plan

A Thank you note from one of our clients. 

Our college process was two-fold. It began with getting a jump start on the standardized testing, and not waiting until spring of junior year to focus. I believe our outcome was successful because we had a well-managed plan helped along by an expert, Janice Caine, of Custom College Visits.

The primary focus of her business is to arrange college tours, really good ones, which is how we found her, but once we got into the process, I realized that she could help us with much more. Because the process is so stressful, I hired her to work with my son to research and refine his college list. They met and worked on it slowly over the course of a year. The list they started with was different than the final list, schools crossed off for various reasons and others added to keep it balanced between likely, 50/50 and reach options. She interviewed me first, and then my son and they went to work together finding schools that met his requirements. We left it totally up to them and she emailed me occasionally to let me see the working list and show me where he was in the process.

“College” becomes a nasty word as you get deeper in, and having an independent buffer was very helpful, sort of like not tutoring your own child. She created a timeline and kept my son generally on schedule so I didn’t have to be the task master. She gave him schedules of when the schools on his list were coming to our area so he could attend the local info sessions for a first impression. I loved attending those with him, it was a great mother/son bonding experience and we always went out to lunch or dinner before or after to chat about our impressions. She only called me in if he didn’t respond to something she felt was important. They created a list of must haves and looked for schools that fit.

She encouraged him to include some schools on his list that were not too “reachy” for non-binding early admission applications. Not all schools offer early action, but many do, and spreading out the application deadlines is really helpful. Those should be to places they’d seriously consider going even if it isn’t the top of their list. The idea is, if they get accepted someplace early, a little of the pressure is off for the January round of applications where you can focus on the harder schools to get into. Knowing you are going to college makes that second round a little easier and if your grades are good fall of senior year, those will be factored into the GPA when the January applications go out.

Janice’s true gift is planning the college tour! I am a good planner but she really knows her stuff. Because our school doesn’t have a mid-winter break, we only had spring break and opted to see 6 east coast schools in 6 days. It was a long week, but another GREAT bonding experience! In addition to the standard campus tour and information session all schools offer, Janice arranged for him to meet students involved in his interest areas. We had lunch with them, he attended classes with them, he met professors in his subject areas during office hours, and we got a real up close and personal view of these schools. One of the students even invited him to see his real freshman dorm (not the staged one they show you on the tour) and his fraternity house.

My son’s first target was regional. Based on his grades and test scores he and Janice found three schools that met the criteria of “likely, 50/50 and reach.” He loved all three and would have been happy at any of them. He applied early where he could and because one school clearly stood out for him, he opted to give a binding early decision bid a try to his first choice school. If that didn’t work in his favor, he was ready with several more good options for the January round. Fortunately for us, that early bid paid off and he didn’t have to continue the process, but I am certain that he was prepared for whatever came next and would have had great choices in the end.

I find myself staring down the process one more time. My younger son is finishing his sophomore year in high school and we are ready to initiate his college search. Just like other families with more than one child, he is completely different than his brother, and I’m certain we will learn lots of new things from his process. Fortunately, we will have Janice by our side!

San Mateo

Lisa L. – Parent of High School Students

The post A Well-Managed Plan appeared first on Custom College Visits.


Part 6 – Travel & On-campus Visit Tips

Part 6 – Tips to help you and your teen prepare in advance for travel and on-campus visits

The first thing I tell students (and parents) before they leave for their visits: wear comfortable shoes! You will be doing a lot of walking, and you want to be able to focus on your surroundings and what the guide is saying—not on your feet!

Preparation for College Visits

Be Prepared for Changes in the Weather!


Also, check the weather forecast for the period that you will be away, particularly if you are traveling any distance. While the weather can change at any given moment, it will be an indicator of how to prepare. You may want to pack a couple of travel umbrellas in your suitcase, as tours run during rain or shine. Some colleges do have umbrellas on hand should it rain, but not always—and it will depend on the size of the group. If you have enough time and you’d rather have a souvenir from the college, you can stop at the bookstore and pick one up there.


Pack so you are prepared to dress in layers; the weather might start out chilly and warm up significantly as the day progresses. If you are traveling during the winter, headed to a cold climate, and will be driving from place-to-place, keep in mind that you might hit a snowstorm. Be prepared by packing a small flashlight and a blanket—just in case!

Advance Preparation

Your teen will have the best experience possible by preparing in advance of her college visits. Share with her that she should write down any questions that she might have—questions that cannot be answered by reviewing what’s online or in the college’s printed material(s).  She will then be able to ask these questions during the group information session and/or during her walk around campus with the tour guide.

Questions for information session might include:

  • Does the college guarantee on-campus housing for four years?
  • If not, does the college help students find off-campus housing?
  • Does a student have to declare a specific major when applying to the university?
  • If so, how difficult and what is the process for changing that major?

If your teen is meeting with a faculty member, she should review the information about the major she is interested in and the department in general. Again, her questions should be of the sort that cannot be answered in the information she has on hand. She has a limited amount of one-on-one time with the faculty member and should use this time to get the important questions answered.

Questions for faculty might include:

  • What makes the program at this college unique?
  • Is it possible for majors in this department to study abroad?
  • At what point can undergraduates do department research?


If you have arranged for an interview, make time to practice questions and answers at home, with you as the interviewer. Assure your teen that she should be herself. She should answer questions honestly, and let her know that it’s ok to show her (tasteful) sense of humor. She should be friendly and stay positive, be assertive and mention what she has done in and out of high school. She should also be a good listener as well. Make sure she arrives on time, and if you have to cancel for any reason, call ahead of time to let the admissions office know. Your teen can also prepare a few questions that she’d like to ask the interviewer. This is a good time for her to learn more about the college.

Please contact me if you’d like a copy of the ‘Tips for College Interviews’ that I give to my students. If you follow the above guidelines as well as those in the rest of this series, your trip should not only run smoothly, but your teen will get a true sense of the culture of the community of each college that she visits.

Need Assistance planning a College Visit Road Trip? Please contact us.

Have you read Parts 1 – 5 of our series?

Part 1 – The Benefits of a College Visit

Part 2 – Setting Goals for College Visits 

Part 3 – Determining Your Travel Route

Part 4 – Planning On-Campus Visit Arrangements

Part 5 – Taking Care of Logistics

Janice Caine

The post Part 6 – Travel & On-campus Visit Tips appeared first on Custom College Visits.


Making New Friends Your First Week on Campus

17 Tips for Creating a Great First Impression and Making New Friends                                                   Your First Week on Campus

For many of you, the time for your teen to head off to college for the first time is right around the corner. And while we, as parents, may show more outwardly our nervousness, many of our kids—whether they tell us or not—are nervous as well. It’s only natural for them to be raising such questions as: Will I like my roommate? How will I find my way around campus? Will it be hard to me to make friends? Patti Wood, an expert in nonverbal communication and a human behavior expert, shares with us some tips that might make the transition easier for your son or daughter. I urge you to read her article (reprinted with permission) below and share the information with your teen.   

By Patti Wood MA, CSP

Be open: You have the rare opportunity for a fresh start at your impression. Smile as you walk across campus, walk down your dorm or class hallway or enter any room. Take the initiative to make eye contact, say hello and introduce yourself. Keep your body language open.

Keep your body language “up”: Up body language means walking, standing, and sitting with your upper body relaxed upward. Instead of hunching over, keep your shoulders back, your head up (not bent over your electronic device), and open your hands and move them upward when you gesture.

Gesture: Moving your hands occasionally while you speak actually helps you think and speak more clearly. The location of your hands also affects other nonverbal behavior. When you are conversing with someone standing up, if you place your hands and arms at your sides your energy goes down, your voice lowers and can become more monotone, and you show fewer facial expressions. If you’re nervous, bring your hands to the level of your waist, and you will become calm and centered. If you gesture occasionally with your hands at the level of your upper chest or above, your voice automatically goes up, increases in volume, and has more variations; you actually become animated.

Start new habits: If you always texted your friends in high school to see what they were doing, now you can initiate face-to-face interactions. Knock on a dorm room door or catch people at the student union and invite them to do something with you. You be the one who says, “Hey you want to go get a coffee after class, hang together to study tonight, or meet at the cafeteria to eat?” If you used to study in your room with the door closed try studying in the college library or outside. Don’t bring your TV with you to college or spend hours watching Hulu or Netflix when you get to campus. People make lifelong friends in their first week of college. Put yourself out there to meet as many people as possible as soon as you step on campus.

Know a rebuff is seldom about you: If not every single person says hi back or takes you up on your offers for plans remember college is stressful. Most freshmen feel a bit insecure at times and, if they seem distant, don’t take it personally. Most body language rebuffs such as lack of eye contact and scowls are motivated by what is going on inside the person and not really about you.

Be helpful and considerate: Having roommates and being in a new living situation can be stressful at first, even if you click as friends. Before settling into your new space, offer to help your roommates carry in their belongings or bring snacks to share. Ask them about their interests. Introduce yourself to their families. Invite them to dinner with your family if they’ve arrived by themselves. Laying the groundwork for a positive relationship with your roommates can go a long way to help things go smoothly.

Help people form a positive impression of you in class: Your professor and your fellow students will respond to you and perhaps judge you by how you act in your classes. If you’re late all the time or if you don’t go to class, they notice. They also notice if you come prepared for class, slink to the back to sit, pay attention, ask thoughtful questions, doze off, or spend the class texting. In high school slack behavior might have been cool; in college it will get you ostracized. Each class has a different set of “rules of engagement,” so be aware of the size, structure, and instructor’s preferences for behavior. It is easier to set a positive impression at the beginning of the semester than try to erase a bad one.

Learn your classmates’ names and use the formal title to address your professor: For example, “Dr. MacEnulty” or “Professor Camel.” People respond to their names, so learn them! It’s a skill that will serve you well in most settings. Be aware of your last, or exiting, impression: Last impressions are critical. Excuse yourself if you briefly leave a conversation and or say goodbye if you are leaving a group of any kind. It might seem easier to just walk away or leave, but it actually feels better for everyone if you smile and say something to create a close. Sometimes it pays to stick around and/or make yourself visible. Stay after class occasionally and attend your instructor’s office hours to ask questions and initiate discussions around the class topic.

Mix it up when choosing who to talk to: Whether you’re at college in your home country or an international student beginning school in a brand new one, make friends with people from other countries, cultures, and backgrounds.International students who came from another country to attend college will especially appreciate your friendliness and that you include them in activities. Ask others about their home countries and try out their favorite foods. Volunteer, go to activities, and be a joiner: If there is a movie night on campus, a student union game night, or dorm room function, go! The first week of my freshman year I joined the fencing club, went to a freshman dance though I had been the girl no one ever asked to dance, went to the dorm watermelon eating contest, and volunteered to referee the impromptu volley ball game on the campus green. I met great new friends with each activity.

Go early rather than late: Research shows that arriving early actually reduces your nervousness in new situations. It’s easier to get acclimated. You can stand or sit near the door when you arrive and greet people as they come in. More anxiety reducing tips are in the book.

Ask to help: At parties you can ask for an anxiety-distracting task like taking coats from new arrivals or offering them drinks or food. Nervousness comes out of your body in many ways. One way is through your hands. When your hands are confidently occupied with useful tasks, that confidence message goes to your brain and affects your entire body. It also gives you an easy, repeatable script, questions such as “Would you like me to take your coat?” or “What can I get you to drink?” These types of questions open up the conversation.

Look for an “open” person: Search for people who are already speaking in a small cluster or someone who is standing or sitting with their feet apart a few inches, rather than crossed, pressed together, or in a “cowboy” defensive stance (for guys that is fourteen inches apart). Research shows that someone who is gesturing with open palms and smiling and occasionally moving their heads is more open to approach. If you are super shy, look for someone who looks happy and confident and do what they are doing.

Trust your radar: Steer clear of people who are negative or give off bad vibes. Look for people who have the top two first impression factors from SNAP. That usually means people who are warm, likeable, and make you feel comfortable. Go first and initiate conversation: I know, I know, you’re thinking, “Patti, you are insane. I hate to talk to people and you want me to initiate? I’d rather stick a fork in my eye.” Put down the fork. Research shows that when you initiate and move forward, you appear more confident and other people immediately feel more at ease. In addition, when they feel at ease, the comfort transfers back to you. A quick tip for when you feel anxious: take one small step forward; motion tricks your limbic brain into feeling more confident.

Introduce yourself: You can breakthrough any awkward silence that occurs when strangers meet by simply sharing your name as in, “Hello my name is Patti Wood.” Giving your name to someone is a form of self-disclosure that shows you’re willing to be open and be vulnerable. It gives the impression that you are nice. Purse snatchers don’t typically say, “Hey, my name is Max Brewer and I’ll be taking your wallet today.” Breaking through the silence by sharing your name may be a pretty basic suggestion, but it works. We are sometimes afraid to break the silence because we fear we will be met with silence or rejection. If you don’t get an immediate response after sharing your name with someone, ask, “And your name is..?”

Introduce people to each other: This gives you something practical to do. Making introductions is appreciated by others, and it takes the pressure off you. As you stand and move to bring people together, you are creating a visual connection between yourself and other people in the room that makes you look powerful and popular. They see you move toward people and act as a connection, and they think, “Boy, she [or he] knows everyone.”

Ask a question, then simply relax and listen: So much anxiety comes from not knowing what to do or how to do it well. One of the smartest things you can do to meet people is to make a positive statement like “Great T-shirt” or asking a gentle question such as “Did you see the concert on the student green last night?” or, “What did you think about class today?” This completely takes the talking pressure off you. You don’t have to be super funny or super hip to be a good listener. It’s amazing how cool people will think you are because everybody loves someone who really listens to them. More conversation starting questions are in my book.

Nod your head: I love teaching men this simple body language cue. Men generally only nod their heads when they agree, while women nod to show they are listening. So guys, if you’re interested, nod as you listen. Women love it and nodding your head actually releases “feel good” chemicals into your blood stream. About the Author Patti Wood is an internationally recognized nonverbal communication and human behavior expert. She has conducted years of research in the field of human behavior. The media seek her insights on celebrities, politicians and people in the news. Please check out her website for great information and tips on nonverbal communication.

Patti Wood is the Author of SNAP: Making the Most of First Impressions Body Language and CharismaSnap. Snap is available at Independent Bookstores Patti Wood Author of Snap

and Amazon

The post Making New Friends Your First Week on Campus appeared first on Custom College Visits.


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