Interview with Nancy Siegel

30 Sep

Nancy Siegel, head guidance counselor at Millburn High School, the #1 ranked high school in New Jersey, gave an interview on local TV earlier this month about preparing for, and applying to colleges.  You can watch the entire 30-minute interview here (sorry, don’t know how to embed video in blog yet).  If you don’t have 30 minutes to spare, I have summarized the main points below.  Nancy has over 40 years experience of counseling high school students; while some of her advice may be familiar, it’s worth being reminded.

Factors to consider when choosing colleges:


The school should offer the types of academic programs in which your child is interested.  Since this advice seems self-evident, I think there must be parents and students out there that forget this.


Don’t visit on a Saturday morning and wonder where all the students are – most of them will be asleep.  Be aware that the tour guide may unfairly skew a student’s impression of a school (e.g., if the tour guide is a science major and your child hates science).  To get a better feel, visit the student center, the bookstore, look at the bulletin boards, see what’s happening on campus, watch the students coming and going, and if possible, talk to some students.  Nevertheless, she advises, if your child says “they’re not feeling this place, don’t argue.”

Style of Learning

It is important to find a school that will fit your child’s style of learning.  Is he or she an active learner and enjoys interacting with the professors, or does he or she prefer to sit back and absorb a lecture?  The answer will affect the size of the school selected because larger universities are likelier to have lectures with hundreds of students versus a smaller school.


Does the school provide the types of activities in which your child will want to participate?  Does your child want to go to a school with lots of “rah-rah” school spirit?  A child who loves urban life will have a harder time adjusting to a rural environment and vice versa.

Regarding the application process, she has these words of advice:


Don’t spend the interview talking about grades or extracurricular activities or test scores, all of which information can be found in the application.  Instead, the interview should be used to provide “a third dimension,” a reason for the school to select the student over the twenty other applicants with similar academic profiles.  So, “be interesting, be entertaining, be yourself, talk about what’s important to you, what matters to you.  Talk to them about something you can be passionate about…”

Extracurricular Activities

Colleges can fill their classes five to six times over with academically qualified students.  While there’s no need to be involved in 30 activities, “a student needs to be involved in something” to show that he or she is a “vital, caring, involved human being who cares about something.”  She does acknowledge that if a student is a talented top athlete or a musician that fills a particular college’s need for that sport or instrument, then that student will enjoy an advantage.  But one cannot count on those; therefore it is best to “be yourself and find something you’re passionate about.”  Colleges are looking for students that are going to make a positive impact on their student body.

Financial Aid

  • There are merit aid opportunities available although they are likely to be available to students “at a school that is a little below their academic reach school.”
  • Avoid companies asking for money upfront to help you obtain financial aid.
  • Some schools are not need-blind and will look at whether a student is applying for financial aid when making admission decisions.

Her advice to freshmen parents is, “Let your kid be a kid.  Don’t put pressure on them.  Let them grow in their own time…Let them see where they belong.  Too many parents get more anxious than the kids.”  In the end, “there’s absolutely a college opportunity for all students.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: