ESM's mission is to help students across the world gain admission to the right school for them, from Princeton to Purdue to Pepperdine.
Our mentors are passionate about helping students find the schools at which they'll be happiest—whether they are known as "elite schools" or not. Rankings matter, but waking up every morning happy and ready to learn matters more.
Experts that help find the right college for you
Available online and in person
Application strategy that gets results
Personal narrative development to help you stand out
Extensive admissions interview prep
Access to our team's combined 50+ years of college admissions experience
Select a grade to see a basic plan for that year.
ESM is here to help at any point along the way.
Consider this fact: you begin your high school career ranked #1 in your class! Your freshman year is the beginning of your journey toward developing, pursuing, and ultimately achieving your goals. Like any goal-setting process, it’s important to begin with a plan. Evaluate your class schedule: is it rigorous without being completely overwhelming? Are you on track to take the classes you’d like to complete throughout your four years — if, for example, your goal is to take AP Calculus as a senior, are you currently enrolled in Geometry? It’s important to begin building a road map of your academic potential.
Your freshman year is also the time to think about your interests: what will you be involved in outside of your academics? Freshman year is the time for exploration: try new clubs and student organizations, decide which sports you’re going to pursue, and consider if you’d like to run for student council or write for the school newspaper. There are so many ways to get involved, both on campus and in your wider community, and what’s important is that you’re using your time to cultivate your interests.
Start to think about your summers: how would you like to use this time? Is there a local volunteer opportunity you’re passionate about? Do you want to take Spanish 2 over the summer so you can take AP Spanish as a senior? Setting goals for your summers can help you lower your stress-levels during the academic year.
By the end of sophomore year, your academic course load projection should be pretty clear, and you should know which activities are the ones you’re sticking with. That means that you need to continue your extracurricular exploration from freshman year and be ready to pursue leadership opportunities as a junior and senior.
The exploration shouldn’t stop there; sophomore year is also a good time to start visiting colleges and universities. Sound too early? It’s not! This is how you’ll start to build a first-hand understanding of what you’re looking for. Do you need a fast-paced, urban environment, or more of an isolated campus? How big of a college community feels right to you? Are you thinking you’d like to try a completely new corner of the world, or would you like to be in an environment closer to home? The best way to answer these questions, and ultimately provide crucial data in curating your individualized college list, is to experience varied campuses early on.
You’ll also need to take the official PSAT and begin to consider the tests that lay ahead: the SAT, ACT, and SAT Subject Tests. Sophomore year is the best time to begin preparing for these exams—it’s important to develop a study-plan that extends all the way to your final test opportunities during your senior year. As a sophomore, you’ll have a fairly good idea of which SAT Subject Tests you’ll be a candidate for; in many cases, this will overlap with your eventual AP course load.
Finally, this is a great time to start building relationships with the adults who will help support your application process: your favorite teachers (who may write your letters of recommendation), your college counselors (both in school and private, if you have one) and athletic coaches (if you’re hoping to get recruited for your sport). It’s never too early to get people in your corner!
We know the myth: junior year is the most stressful year of your life. And, we’ll admit, it’s a busy time, but with all the planning and goal setting you’ve done, you’re more than ready to tackle this year and all it entails!
If you haven’t done so already, you’ll need to start sitting for official SAT, ACT, and SAT Subject Tests. It’s a great way to acclimate yourself to the testing environment and identify your testing strengths and weaknesses early on in the process. If you start testing now, you’ll only have more experience and more opportunities to improve before your final test dates. Ideally, you’re able to finish this testing process entirely by the end of junior year.
Even though you’ll be in the midst of a challenging workload and extra-curricular commitments—by now you could even have AP’s and varsity sports—you’ll need to work with your counselor to finalize your college list. As your list starts to become clearer and more concise, you’ll need to visit and tour campuses to make sure you’re certain about applying. If you’re a potential collegiate athlete, now’s the time, too, to set up meeting with coaches and players of your various future opportunities.
Inevitably, as your research about the colleges on your list intensifies, some schools will emerge as your top choices. Junior year is the time to start considering various application strategies: where do you want to apply Early Decision? Early Action? And as you start to think about these applications, you’ll also need to consider a crucial component: your academic letters of recommendation. Usually, junior year teachers are the best choice for these letters of rec, so begin to consider whom you’d like to ask come fall.
OK. Here it is. The moment we’ve all been planning for: your senior year!
Though this perhaps isn’t what you want to hear, your senior year actually begins in the summer. This is when you’ll need to begin your college essays (yes, there’s more than one!), register for the Common and Coalition Applications, and begin filling out your activities worksheet. If necessary, summer can also include test-prep, as you’ll be coming up on your last chance to take your various ACT and SAT tests.
During your senior year, you’ll need to take a strong course load—one that shows your commitment to an upward trajectory in terms of difficulty and performance. Avoid that creeping senioritis! Make sure you’re challenging yourself and that you’re prepared to work hard: your 7th semester (fall, senior year) grades are critical to the admissions process!
Sound stressful? It can be. But the best way to obviate the stress is to be prepared. This means completing your essays early, making sure you have your letters of recommendation requested at the beginning of the semester, and submitting your applications well ahead of all deadlines. That applies to all aspects of the application process, including the documentation you need from your high school, like transcripts, school reports, and letters of recommendation.
The sudden lull post application submission can feel a little unsettling, but now it’s time for you to take a deep breath and relax. You did it. It’s still important, of course, that you keep up your grades and commitments, but take some time to have fun and be creative, too. You can start to think about how you want to spend your upcoming summer: look into part-time jobs or internship opportunities that are suited to your interests. The summer before college should be both fun and productive!
Nearly 4.5 million students applied to U.S. colleges in 2017—the most in history.
111,000 to UCLA. 33,000 to Princeton. Harvard's acceptance rate was 4.5%. USC's was 11%. With such competition, you need a robust plan. We're here to guide you along the way.
Our first-class counselors offer expert guidance through the bewildering maze of acceptance rates, "yield rates" and early versus regular admissions. But what sets us apart is our emphasis on the relationship—not the numbers. We'd love for you to go to Harvard, but only if that's where you'll be happy and shine. In other words, our mentors will get to know you—the real you— and we will find the right college for that person.
College admissions is no walk in the park.