Educational Consulting Services

Elizabeth Simms,  at College Sense, offers personalized  educational consulting services to students in the Santa Cruz and Watsonville areas. She guides and advises students and their families throughout the college admission process.

Hourly Consulting Services

Hourly services are available  for 9th – 12th graders, transfer students and adults seeking a bachelor’s degree.

The College Planning Process for High School Students

The college admission process does not need to be stressful.  An organized  plan that builds upon itself and is based around student strengths and needs can reduce anxiety and actually become a growing experience.  Below I’ve outlined the process I use — along with a touch of my philosophy. I hope it will give you an idea of how I approach the college planning process:

Selecting high school courses

Students are encouraged to meet (or exceed) college admission requirements, while at the same time taking into consideration their interests. While rigor is an important part of the equation, so is the student’s ability to succeed in the class, and have a life.  Ultimately I want to encourage students to find both traditional and/or non-traditional learning opportunities that engage them in the learning process.

Locating and selecting extra-curricular activities and summer programs

A lot of learning happens outside the classroom.  If students are interested, I will assist them in thinking through and locating opportunities to more fully develop and explore their interests and skills. We can explore jobs, internships, community extension classes, travel, volunteering

Maintaining records of activities, interests and honors.

Many colleges request that students document the activities and interests they have pursued. To this end, students are provided with a template and instructions on how to document their activities, interests and honors and provided with guidance on how they can best describe their accomplishments. (This information also comes in very handy when students are preparing to write their college essays.)

Selecting standardized tests and test preparation options

Depending on where the student is applying, a variety of tests may be required or recommended for admission including the SAT, ACT, SAT Subject, and AP tests.   We discuss the timing, and pros and cons of the various testing and test prep options, and arrive at a plan that will fit the student’s needs.

If testing does not seem to be in the student’s best interest, we can also look at test optional colleges.

Exploring careers and majors

My primary goal in this area is to help students develop self-knowledge, and provide them with a framework that they can use when they evaluate their major and career options.  Using various exercises and assessments I help them explore their personalities, interests, aptitudes, career values, and motivated skills, and expose them to various resources they can use for further career exploration. Students are also encouraged to use informational interviews to explore careers and majors.

Understanding the basics of the financial aid/merit scholarship process

Understanding the way financial aid and merit aid is distributed can open up new opportunities for students and make college more affordable. I cover the basics of financial/merit aid including the types of aid available, and how colleges distribute aid, so students (and their families) can make well informed decisions when they are developing a college list.

We discuss the different forms colleges want families to complete and the time line for completing them

Identifying the student’s college  preferences and needs 

In forming a college list it is important to consider each student’s academic, social, emotional and financial, needs and preferences.  Through discussions, surveys and various exercises we work to clarify the student’s college criteria.

Understanding the selection criteria of specific colleges or universities

Each college uses different criteria for evaluating students. Understanding the colleges’ approaches to admitting students can help students complete their applications and develop a well-balanced college list.

Researching and selecting appropriate schools to apply to

Using the information I’ve learned about the student and family, as well as my knowledge of colleges that comes from visits, speaking with college admission representatives and my research,  I develop a preliminary list of colleges that the student may want to explore.  Students are also encouraged to add colleges that they find interesting.   I also show the family and student how to use the online management tool and other resources to research colleges.

Learning to evaluate colleges

We will discuss the sorts of things that have an impact on the quality of the student experience and preparation for life after graduation, and how to evaluate them.

Preparing for college visits

College visits are an important part of college research.  Students are provided guidelines for making the most of their time on campus.

Connecting with colleges

Showing genuine interest in private colleges, and getting to know the admission representatives, can improve a student’s chances of being admitted. Students aren’t always sure how to go about making the connection, so we discuss the various ways of to develop relationships with colleges. This may include preparing for interviews.

Evaluating Early Decision, Early Action and Regular Decision options

We cover what each of the admission options means, and the impact they can have on the student’s chance of admission, the cost of college and the student’s overall satisfaction.

Organizing applications, identifying admissions requirements and tracking progress

Each application will have its own deadlines, requirements and essays.  Using an online tool we will formulate an admission plan complete with tasks and deadlines, and track the student’s progress.

Developing and reviewing essay topics

Throughout the time we are working together the student will spend time reflecting on their life experiences, accomplishments, challenges, lessons and aspirations. They will build a vocabulary to describe themselves, and a list of things they want the college to know about them.  The end goal is to have an application that provides a full portrait of the student. The essay portion of the application is used by students to tell part of their story.

Students can expect to write 3-4 drafts of their essays. Given two days’ notice, I review the drafts  and provide guidance by questioning and teaching. However, I do not and cannot write for the student.

Colleges may have different essay prompts and word limits which can be a lot of work for students. When possible I try to help students think through how they can tweak an essay to respond to a variety of prompts, while at the same time maintaining the integrity of the application

Reviewing applications for errors and omissions

Students are responsible for the content of their applications, however; I will look over a student’s applications to check for omissions and errors, if a student requests it.

Evaluating college award offers and making the final decisions

  •  For many families the financial aid/merit package and the total cost of the college education weigh heavily in the decision on which college to attend. In this instance we sit down together and do our best to evaluate the estimated out-of-pocket cost of attendance for each college.

A lot of time goes into preparing for college. I want it to be a happy and meaningful experience. My hope is that students walk away with a better sense of who they are, what they need to thrive, and how to go about taking advantage of all the opportunities available to them. I have a carefully designed “lesson plan”, but I adjust it based on when I begin working with the student, the student’s schedule and work style, and specific student (family) needs and priorities.

Transfer Student

Transfer students cover many of the same areas as high school applicants, but the focus is different because they have already experienced college. As a result of being older and more experienced they frequently can accomplish a great deal of the process independently. so I suggest that they pay on an hourly basis rather than purchase a comprehensive package.

There are four  things students  should know about transferring to a new college:
1. The application process and timeline for transfer students is  different than the process for freshmen applicants.
2. You must check with the colleges to which you are transferring to find out which courses they will accept.
3. Programs and support systems for transfer students vary greatly college to college.
4. If you are transferring as a junior, many colleges would like to see that you have thoroughly explored your major and  done things ( work, internship, volunteer, clubs) that relate to the major in some way.


College Sense is committed to helping students in the Santa Cruz,and Watsonville areas, gain access to college admissions information. Please contact Elizabeth Simms if you are in need of a College Sense Service Scholarship.