Last Updated: Apr 3, 2013
Todd Johnson is the founder and president of College Admissions Partners. He has 12 years of experience as a college counselor. Todd attended Northwestern University and St. Olaf College as an undergraduate and earned his J.D. from Washington University in St. Louis. He is a member of IECA, HECA, NACAC, and MNACAC.
Todd is the author of B.S./M.D. Programs - The Complete Guide: Getting into Medical School from High School. He is also an instructor at the University of California -- Irvine Extension for the certificate to become an Independent Educational Consultant.
Insights and advice
What are some of the common challenges your students (and their parents) are currently facing in the college admissions process?
Families need help finding the right college, help understanding the steps to be the strongest possible candidate, and help with the application process, including interview preparation.
What are some of the steps you take to help them successfully overcome those challenges?
I start by working with students to help them be the most competitive candidate for college. This includes issues related to the right classes to take, ways to achieve the best standardized test scores, and issues related to extracurricular activities. Next, I help them identify what to look for to find the best colleges for their needs while making sure that they have colleges on their list that have a range of acceptances. Once students have a list of colleges, I help them with the application process, including brainstorming ideas for essays and helping to edit those essays.
What are your top goals for the students you work with?
My primary goal is to help my students get accepted to the best colleges for their needs.
Have you seen any noticeable changes in college applicants in the recent economic climate?
If financial aid is a concern for a student, I make sure that they are applying to colleges that have a strong history of providing adequate money to pay for college. These are often the more competitive colleges, so students are applying to a broader range of colleges to make sure that the aid will be sufficient.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to college counselors who are new to the profession?
Your entire focus should be on helping the student get into the best college for that student's needs.
What are some common misconceptions that students have going into the college admission process?
There are many misconceptions related to the college admission process. One of the most common is that if you have good grades and test scores, you can get into any college. Selective colleges now days are much more selective than in years past. They are looking not only for smart students but also interesting students.
Another common misconception is that the best way to get into a selective college is by belonging to many clubs. At one time that may have worked, but now selective colleges are looking for students who have a passion or a focus to their involvement. Being seriously involved with one or two clubs or organizations is generally much better than belonging to many clubs but not having a commitment to any of them.
Do you ever encounter situations in which students and their parents have different goals in mind? If so, what is your advice for helping them work together?
If students and their parents are not on the same page with the admissions process, they need to talk to each other to explain their viewpoints. I always urge students to listen to what their parents have to say, but at the same time, I tell parents that the final decision should be the students'. After all, it is the student who is going to college.
What can/should a college counselor do to help students prepare for the SAT or ACT?
Counselors need to make sure that their students understand the difference between the SAT and ACT and take some practice tests to see which test is the better one for that student. Good counselors should also help students understand how to self-study for these tests and evaluate whether test prep or tutoring might be beneficial.
What is your strategy for helping students find financial aid?
Most of the money comes from the colleges themselves. However, how each college handles financial aid differs dramatically from school to school. Cheaper colleges are not always cheap for a particular family. The biggest issue for getting good financial aid is to make sure that the colleges the student is applying to provide strong financial aid for that type of student. Ultimately, the best strategy is choosing the right colleges to apply to.
Describe what are, in your opinion, a few of the cornerstones of a successful college admission essay.
Colleges look at admission essays to see how well you write and to get a little insight into who you are. Make sure you don't have any typos and that you are using proper grammar. You want to make sure that the essay communicates something about you. The successful essay is also more a story than a recitation of facts. Make it interesting and you will have a stronger essay than many other applicants.
What is your process for helping students narrow down the list of schools to which they will apply?
After I know my students' background of grades, classes, test scores, and activities, I talk to them about what they are looking for in a college. When I have students who don't know what they want, I give them suggestions for how to find out this information by visiting colleges. When students are able to tell me what they want from the college experience, I can provide them with a list of colleges that meet their particular needs.
What are, in your opinion, some of the best ways that students can make themselves stand out beyond their applications?
Be yourself and be in contact with the admission officer for your school.
What would you consider your biggest accomplishment or your proudest moment as a college counselor?
My proudest moments occur each spring when my students get admitted to the best colleges for their needs and then decide which of these colleges to attend.
Favorite book: Anything by Sinclair Lewis or Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
Favorite movie: Blazing Saddles
Favorite band or musician: Sergei Rachmaninoff
Favorite quote: Badges? We don't need no stinking badges.
Favorite place you've traveled to: St. Maarten