Fall Advice for Juniors

Posted by: Website Administrator on 8/29/2012

If you’re heading into junior year, take a look at this to-do list:

Finalize your fall course schedule. Colleges play close attention to your academic performance throughout high school, and junior year is no exception. Make sure that you are challenging yourself in multiple areas by taking advanced or honors classes and pursuing subjects beyond the minimum requirements at your school. If you want to make any changes to your schedule, or try to move into a more advanced class, make sure to get in touch with your counselor right away.

Make an appointment with your college counselor. Discuss your college goals and academic interests, and give him/her a copy of your activities resume. You can also ask if your counselor has any college questionnaires or surveys to fill out. These are not only helpful for your counselor to get to know you better, but also to help you reflect on your talents, strengths, and interests. The college process is very much about getting to know yourself better, and filling out a survey from your counselor is a great way to begin that self-reflection.

Create a standardized testing plan. Most colleges will require that you submit an SAT or ACT score, and possibly SAT Subject Test scores. In order to avoid scrambling next year, create your testing plan now. You will want to take one or two “official” SAT or ACT tests this year, and possibly some SAT Subject Tests.

PSAT. You will most likely be scheduled for a PSAT at your high school in the fall of your junior year. The junior year PSAT is how you can qualify for the National Merit Scholarship, and a way to gauge your performance on the SAT.

SAT. Many students take their first “official” SAT in January or March of junior year, which leaves the entire fall to study and prepare. However, if you felt great about your PSAT, there is no harm in trying the SAT in the fall of your junior year, as well.

ACT. Many students, especially on the East Coast, may not be as familiar with the ACT. The ACT has more sections than the SAT (English, Math, Science, Reading, and an optional Writing section), but is almost an hour shorter. Colleges will accept the SAT or the ACT, and in some cases will accept the ACT in lieu of the SAT and Subject Tests. Many students prefer one or the other, so take a diagnostic of each.    

Subject Tests. There are a range of SAT Subject Tests in Math, Science, Foreign Languages, History, and Literature, and advanced coursework is often the best preparation. For example, if you are taking AP US History this year, you should consider taking the SAT Subject Test in US History around the same time as the AP exam. Remember – you can take up to 3 Subject Tests in one sitting, so try and find 2 or 3 tests you can take at once. 

Attend a local college fair. Maybe your high school hosts its own college fair. If so – great! If your school doesn’t have its own college fair, there are often local organizations that host college fairs, or there might be a National College Fair coming to a city near you this fall. Once at a fair, branch out; take the opportunity to learn about new schools, and also to delve deeper into schools already on your radar.

Fall Advice for Sophomores

Posted by: Website Administrator on 8/22/2012

You’ve made it through your first year of high school! As you begin thinking ahead to college, here’s a helpful guide for the fall of your sophomore year.

Make sure your fall schedule is finalized. Are you taking all of the required courses? Are you in the honors (or even AP) level classes you wanted? Does your sophomore year schedule show that you’re challenging yourself? If you think you’re missing an important class, or want to see if you can get into one more honors course, make an appointment with your counselor or adviser as soon as you can.

Find out when (and if) your school will be administering the PSAT or PLAN. The more standardized testing practice you get early in high school, the more comfortable you will feel taking these tests as a junior or senior. Your PSAT and PLAN results can help identify areas of weakness in your testing, as well. Your PSAT score report, for instance, includes not only your overall score, but also the individual breakdown of specific skills and how well you tested in each. If you consistently missed questions about Organization and Ideas, for instance, you’ll be able to go to the College Board to learn more about that skill, and to drill questions in that area.

Update your resume. Write down all of your activities from freshman year, and what you did over the summer, including any jobs or significant family responsibilities. Next to each activity write a one line description, and another line highlighting any titles, positions, or specific achievements. Type this up and keep it somewhere you’ll remember. Consider which activities you have enjoyed so far or could result in a leadership position, and which you can leave behind. And if your involvement has sparked a new interest, research ways to explore it further.

Maintain your academic performance. No matter what your freshman year grades were, you can have an amazing sophomore year. Of course, colleges like to see strong grades in challenging courses throughout high school. But even if you got off to a rocky start, bringing your grades up this year will show that you are committed to improving, and your transcript will have an upward grade trend, which colleges will acknowledge. What you want to avoid, no matter how strong your freshman year was, is a dip in your grades sophomore year. Start out strong sophomore year, and keep the momentum going!

Don’t start thinking about specific colleges just yet. It’s still too early in high school to know what could be a good fit for you. If you really want to start learning about colleges this year, read up on the differences between liberal arts colleges, research universities, and public and private colleges. That way, when you do start researching colleges in earnest, you will already have a sense of the significant differences between them. 

Categories: College Counseling

Fall Advice for Freshmen

Posted by: Website Administrator on 8/15/2012

If you’re a rising freshman in high school, there are some things you can do now to be confident and ready to apply to college come senior year.

Familiarize yourself with the course offerings at your high school. High schools can offer a variety of course options, including IB or AP, honors or advanced, and College Prep or Pre-AP.  Some schools have a tracking system where students may have difficulty switching from regular to honors courses. Or your school may not have honors or elective courses at all. Ask about the options at your high school now so that you can make informed curriculum choices.

Find out what sort of standardized testing is offered at your school. Some high schools schedule the PSAT or the PLAN for their freshmen and sophomore students. Ask if your school offers the PSAT or PLAN for freshmen or sophomores, and if so, when you would be taking them.

Start thinking about extracurricular activities. What have you done after school and during the summers until now, and do you want to continue any of these activities? Find out if they are offered at your high school. If you’re unsure of what you want to do, use freshman year to explore. This is your opportunity to start over, or try something new. Be sure to start with a broad range of activities – you never know what might develop into a true passion, or become an opportunity for leadership later on. Getting involved in activities early in high school will not only help you manage your time better, but also give you plenty of time to narrow down to a few sustained commitments by the time you apply to college.

Keep your grades up from the beginning. It may be tempting to give yourself a break and take it easy freshman year, but most colleges will look at all of your high school grades, and you don’t want to start high school with bad habits (or bad grades). If you start out motivated and high performing, you will set a trend for the rest of your high school career.

And finally…don’t think about specific colleges just yet! You’ve probably heard of some “good” schools from your parents or your friends, or maybe your older brother or sister, but there’s no way to know right now which is the school for you. What appeals to you as a senior in high school may be very different than what appeals to you right now, so try not to get fixated on where you want to go just yet. Remember – just because you’ve heard of a school doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for you, and just because you haven’t heard of a school doesn’t mean it isn’t a good fit! 

Categories: College Counseling

Reasons to Visit Colleges Before You Apply

Posted by: Website Administrator on 8/8/2012

If you’re applying to college this fall or next fall, you may still have some college visits planned for the coming months.  Visiting colleges before you apply, and certainly before you’re admitted, is important for several reasons.

First, you won’t really know how you feel about a place until you’ve been there.  College is an actual place where you will live and study for four years, so you should probably check it out to make sure you like it before submitting an application.  A college might look great on the website and in guidebooks, and you may have heard great things from your friends, but you might feel differently when you get there.

Visiting colleges can also help you in the admissions process.  Some colleges consider “demonstrated interest” as a factor in making admissions decisions.  Visiting a college, so long as there is a record of that visit in the Admissions Office, is one form of demonstrated interest.  And while some admissions offices will be more impressed if you come to visit from far away than if you live down the street, the college down the street from where you live might question why you haven’t visited.  In any event, your best bet is to pay schools a visit if you can.

Finally, college visits will help you refine your college search.  If you started your college search convinced you wanted to go to a big school – go visit a big school!  You may love the feel, or you might realize that by a big school you meant you just wanted to go somewhere bigger than your high school.  After a few visits, you’ll get a sense of what it means to be a rural or urban school, a liberal arts college or research institution, and feel more confident about your personal criteria for choosing colleges.

Changes to the Common Application

Posted by: Website Administrator on 8/1/2012

This fall, a small, but significant change has been made to the Secondary School Report section of the Common Application. Historically, the form has included a comparison chart for college counselors to rate a student relative to other students in their class, and then provide a written evaluation or recommendation. This application cycle, counselors will still be expected to complete the comparison chart, but they will be able to opt out of the written evaluation.

If you are concerned about how this might affect you, here are a couple of things you should know.

1) Some counselors work with hundreds of students, and simply do not know their students well enough, or have the time to write hundreds of detailed and thoughtful letters. If your counselor has a caseload of 500 students and elects to not write a letter for you, admissions offices will not penalize you for that. They understand that your counselor has too many students to work with and too little time, and will leave it at that.

2) On the other hand, if you go to a small school, admissions offices will expect a written evaluation from the counselor for every student. In that situation, it might appear strange if your counselor declines to write a letter for you. If you go to a small school, but don’t know your college counselor very well, there is still time to make a good impression! 

3) You can ensure that your counselor will write you a detailed letter, but only if you take the time to build a relationship with him or her. If you are worried that your counselor may not know you very well, it’s not too late. Make an appointment with your counselor; ask if s/he would review your college list with you, or help you edit your essays. Even just spending some time in the counseling office, researching colleges or working on your applications, will provide an opportunity for your counselor to learn who you are, and see your commitment to the college process.   

Of course, you can’t control what your college counselor actually ends up writing about you, but you can do some things to better the chances for a positive evaluation.