On episode 186, Alexis Avila speaks to college consultant and founder of Top Choice College Consulting Eric Stutman. Eric uses his research and project management skills to help his Top Choice College Consulting clients find the best fit and stay on schedule. Eric earned a BS degree from the University of Virginia School of Engineering and an MS degree from Boston University’s College of Engineering.

On today’s episode, Eric gives us his tips on how to reduce the stress of the college admissions process.

For another related converation check out my interview w NY Times Best Selling Author Frank Bruni, An antidote to college admission mania


Woman: Welcome to The Prepped and Polished Podcast. The podcast that empowers you to take control of your education, featuring weekly interviews with influencers in the world of education, as well as, tutoring tips, lessons and updates. And now, here’s your host, Alexis Avila.

Alexis: And welcome back to The Prepped and Polished Podcast.This is episode 186 and this is Alexis Avila, your host. Be sure to join our community. You can find us on SoundCloud, and Facebook, and YouTube, just type prepped and polished and you’ll find us. Go to preppedandpolish.com for more information on tutoring and test preparation. We provide that in person and online. Have a question or reaction during or after the podcasts, submit your question to radio at preppedandpolished.com. Today on episode 186, I’m speaking to College Consultant and founder of Top Choice College Consulting, Eric Stutman.

Eric also appeared on episode 154, where he talked about tips for the college search process. Eric uses his research and project management skills to help his Top Choice College Consulting clients find the best fit and stay on schedule. Eric earned his Bachelor’s Degree from University of Virginia School of Engineering and a masters from BU’s College of Engineering. On today’s episode, Eric gives us his tips on how to reduce the stress of the college admissions process. Let’s get right to it. Eric, Thanks again for coming on The Prepped and Polished Podcast. How are you today?

Eric: Good. Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.

Alexis: Great. So remind us a little bit about your background, and how you eventually became a highly regarded college admissions consultant.

Eric: Well, Alexis, I owned a previous business where I did coaching. And when I sold that business, I was enjoying college searching and research with my own children, and friends and family, so much that I decided to become an independent educational consultant.

Alexis: And what types of services does Top Choice College Consulting provide? And can you work with students via Skype?

Eric: Yeah, good question. I tell people that we are the tutors of the admission process for every part of it, except testing, for which they should go see Alexis. So we meet with families, I meet with families to help explain the whole process. I do research to find good fits for schools and answer any questions along the way. And then I’m helping out with essays with applications, and any financial aid questions or assistance.

Alexis: Awesome. Now, college admissions process is stressful, and even books are written about it. In fact, I spoke to Frank Bruni, about his book, “Wherever you go there you are” an antidote to the college admissions mania. So as a parent of teens yourself, and a college consultant, do you see the college admissions processes a stressful one?

Eric: Yeah, it absolutely is stressful for the students, as well as, the parents and the extended family.

Alexis: Wow. And what are some tips then that both parents and students can employ when getting ready for the college admissions process? So for example, you mentioned defining your role. What does that mean?

Eric: Yeah, let me back up a second, reducing the stress of the admissions process is one of my main thrust. And so it’s turned into a presentation that I’ve given at public and private events, and I’ll give you the the quick version of it. And it boils down to, you know, a couple of goals and then like seven tips that can help families reduce the stress, okay?

Alexis: Perfect. Yes, all righty.

Eric: So, I remind everyone that the first goal is to help your student attended college where he or she is going to be happy and thrive. Really, that’s why, you know, folks hire me. And that’s why they’re looking for a great college for their student. So, the second goal is, of course, achieve that goal number one, with as little stress as possible to the students, parents, and family. And I’ve got seven tips that can help people work towards that.

Alexis: Great, love to hear them.

Eric: All right. Tip number one is to define roles. So what I mean here is, it’s important for students and their parents to get together and decide at the beginning, “Hey, what is it that I’m gonna be doing in this process as a parent?” And what is it that you’re going to be doing in this process as a student? So sometimes, parents wanna drive the whole process. And sometimes we have to remind them that they’re not going to college, their students are. You ever met any families like that?

Alexis: No, not at all. It’s a problem.

Eric: So that mean there’s some…parents have to be, you know, very involved, helping to understand the budget and any financial restrictions, they can even help plan the visits, and the logistics of going on those tours. And I even suggest that the students left their parents who are very intelligent people, review their applications and help them decide like, “Which schools might I apply?” Early action to or early decision, and those are all great ways that they can help. As well as, hiring folks like you and me needed to help put together the best, you know, application possible.

Alexis: Quick question. So if we hire somebody like, so…admissions consultant like you, does that mean the parents are shut out of their role? Or is there a role for them, too?

Eric: Yeah, absolutely, they’re not shut out. I’m really just helping to explain the whole process, to take out as I mentioned, all the stress and to make sure that they’re making good decisions all along the way. I almost never meet with students without their parents there.

Alexis: Oh, great.

Eric: So students on the other hand, right, they have to have skin in the game, they have to figure out like, what’s the most important to them in terms of what the college must have, or where it must be located? Those most important must haves, you know, they should be leading the research, they should be registering, prepping and taking the SAT as you well know. They have to think about what majors they want, and possibly, you know, what careers. And then the essays and the applications are up to them. I’m just here to make sure that that they know what colleges want and that they do, you know, their best work.

Alexis: Makes sense.

Eric: So two, here comes tip number two is listen to each other. Again, this is between parents and their students. But sometimes, the parents have to really actively listen to what it is their student is saying. You know, sometimes they’re quiet, and sometimes they’re loud. But you don’t want to get too far down the road, and you realize you didn’t really listen to what your student was saying that they really, really want out of their college experience.

Alexis. Right. Makes sense.

Eric: Now, in the other direction, I see plenty of students who don’t listen to great ideas that their parents have, just because they are their parents. And that’s not fair either. So, if we make a deal at the beginning to listen to each other, then it reduces some conflicts.

Alexis: Makes perfect sense. Love it.

Eric: Thank you. Here comes tip number three, is to get educated and that’ll help minimize the unknowns. So what should they become educated on? The whole application process, finding a good college fit, that financial aid process, specific programs at schools of interest. Sometimes, I see students getting ready to apply to schools and they realize that the, you know, pretty late hour, “Hey, this school doesn’t have the specific type of major that I want.” And that’s too late. So they can do lots of research on the web, read books, make sure that they’re flowing with now the odds that most high schools provide their students.

Alexis: Awesome.

Eric: Yeah. So let’s see number four, then again, involves you and sometimes me, is to seek outside help, right? An outsider that, you know, parents and students can trust, and will listen to. So, besides, independent consultants like myself, and SAT, and ACT, tutors, like your team. Students should turn to their guidance counselor, family, friends, and, you know, family, friends, students who’ve been through the process, as well as, guide books. But the more you know, the less stressed out about it you are.

Alexis: Love it. Makes perfect sense.

Eric: Thank You. My fifth tip is to think about college readiness, which I find some families don’t. This is like how, you know, mature in some ways is a student? And how ready are they for college? For example, I’ll ask people, “Does your student…Do you get up on your own? Can you do laundry? How are your study habits when mom and dad aren’t with you? How are your organizational skills?” And an important one is, “Do you know how to advocate for yourself?” You know, anything that goes wrong in college, it’s really up to the student to seek help, and to advocate for what they need.

Alexis: Now, how do you bring that up as a discussion with your child, without the child getting defensive?

Eric: Well, I’m not trying to accuse them of anything. But I want them to understand that they’re literally living away, living on their own, if you will, away from their parents who very often support them in more ways than they realize. And another thing I find out is like, you know, “What’s your experience sleeping away from home, maybe it was during the summer or visiting family?” But for a student who’s never been away from home for more than a night and suddenly says, “I don’t wanna go to college anywhere in New England.” We have to determine, “Are they really ready for that?” Because we don’t want them to get there and then decide that it’s not right for them.

Alexis: Okay, makes sense, great.

Eric: My sixth tip is to plan ahead. And this has to do with the timeline. You know, I suggest that they start college visits in the beginning, the fall of junior year, they can be local visits, just to get a sense of large and small colleges. But it’s important to do visit while students are there at college, so you can see them. So your time ends up being kind of limited, you know, it’s a couple months in the fall, and a couple of months in the spring. I suggest that they have an SAT or ACT plan also by November of junior year, just so that they don’t start taking those tests, you know, let’s say late spring, early summer. And now we’re up against the wall, If they didn’t like their results, they have very little time to take it, and that makes stress. Are you okay with that suggestion?

Alexis: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Anytime before the summer going into junior year is a good time to seek that plan out.

Eric: Right. Great. So even earlier than I suggest?

Alexis: Yeah, in case you have, like, extra, like reading needs, or math skills, that you have to kind of brush up on the summer. But definitely like, what you’re saying, you know, just kind of like late summer, early fall, definitely have that lined up, the SAT test right now.

Eric: All right. Thank you. I also suggest, you know, that the summer is the time to start working on the college essays and applications. Because come September, the students are seniors, they’re taking challenging courses, they’re in lots of, you know, activities and teams. And, you know, we wanna have plenty of time to do a good job, so get started in the summer.

Alexis: Awesome.

Eric: And finally, I tell them, there’s no reason not to…usually people can submit early action applications, that’s typically before November 1st. And their parents homework with the students help, is to submit financial aid at the same time, so that any acceptance letters can come back with financial aid information.

Alexis: That’s a great tip.

Eric: And then, before I say number seven, I wanna remind us back what that goal was, to help our students tend to college where they’re going to be happy and thrive. And Tip Number seven is, well, we gotta seek a great fit school. And I tell folks, I think about that in three different ways, “What is an academic fit for your student?” Okay, the competition level, the grade point averages of these students, where they’ll feel comfortable. They’re getting some help in this area, from their guidance counselor who gives them a list of colleges, which might be an academic fit. The next bucket is a social fit, and this is where I’m digging in.

How important is diversity to you? What do you think about Greek life? What do you think about location, school spirit, you know, party life? As many politics, you know, as many areas as I can understand the student and match them up with schools that are gonna meet their social needs. And lastly, we got the financial fit. So there’s calculators out there that help families understand very early at any time, whether they might qualify for financial aid, and what the net cost of any college might be, you know, an estimate for that family. No reason to wait until we have acceptance letters to determine if a college you know, has to be ruled out because it just doesn’t fit the budget.

Alexis Okay, those are awesome. got it.

Eric: Yeah. So that’s my top seven.

Alexis: So there are…

Eric: And here’s a lot there. But basically, you know, if we’re knowledgeable, if we do things on time or early, and really think about the college fit, then everything else should go very well. And if their stress is not very high, then the family is actually enjoying the process. Who would have thought.

Alexis: Are you speaking from experience?

Eric: I am speaking from experience, but also from all my families who, you know, they want to enjoy it. It’s an exciting time and it should be a fun time. And it need not be more stressful than it has to be.

Alexis: Awesome. So what’s the best way to get in touch with you?

Eric: Well, I have my website, topchoicecollegeconsulting.com.

Alexis: Okay.

Eric: And there’s my email and phone number handy. And some testimonials, and a little more information about me and my background. And, you know, I encourage people to ask me any questions they have. If they wanna see some slides I’ve written on this topic, just get in touch with me. If they want me to give this talk at a private or public function, I’m happy to do that as well.

Alexis: Perfect. And just one more thing, some teens…any teens listening to us today, getting ready to, you know, go to college, any last minute advice?

Eric: You mean like seniors or just picking?

Alexis: Seniors. I mean, just crossing that bridge from teenagehood to young adulthood is stressful. So…

Eric: Yeah. I probably, you know, tell them to make smart decisions, and to think about what I was asking in the whole college readiness bucket. First time away from home, you know, think about how you’re gonna handle a little adversity, you know. There may be a test that you do poorly on, how you’re gonna handle it? There may be someone you don’t get along with, how you’re gonna handle it? And you know, when you’re sick, and you’re used to your mom and dad being right there, how you gonna handle that? And if you’re prepared, then you’re gonna have a fabulous experience.

Alexis: Perfect. Eric, Thanks so much for coming back on The Prepped and Polished Podcast, and really appreciate your expertise.

Eric: Anytime, Alexis. Thanks for inviting me back.

Alexis: And this wraps up our show today. This is episode number 186 with Eric Stutman, of Top Choice College Consulting. Episode 187 is coming soon, it will be our next tutoring tips episode. And remember, for another related conversation, check out my interview with Frank Bruni, that was Episode 66 on avoiding college admission mania. To access all of our episodes, including today’s episode 186 and all of them, go to preppedandpolished.comforward/podcast or you can go to soundcloud.comforward/preppedandpolished. Thank you for joining us on The Prepped and Polished Podcast. Now go out there and take control of your education.

Woman: You’ve been listening to The Prepped and Polished Podcast. For more information, check out preppedandpolished.com. Also, you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for listening. Class dismissed.




What was your biggest takeaway from this podcast about Reducing the Stress of the College Admissions Process? Do you have any questions for Eric Stutman and Alexis Avila?

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