Updated: Mar 13
College Counseling Advice for Seniors
Senior year is definitely well under way! You're settled into your roles as leaders in your high school classrooms and activities, and I hope you're feeling good about your college application plans and the application groundwork you've completed by now.
Students applying to the University of California and Cal State systems should have those applications underway! The last day to submit is November 30. (Younger students and parents, take note that the application is now available to students to begin working on in August.)
Check out the podcast I linked in the newsletter to an interview with Cuca Acosta at UCSB, and also take note that the UC system provides an online guide to filling out the app.
If a student you know is down to the wire and looking for some guidance on those UC Personal Insight Question essays, pass on College Essay Guy's overview of how to address them.
I say this as many times as possible, all year long: it's a great idea, and very achievable, to have college application work completed by mid-December, at the latest. I support the students I work with in this goal, and strongly encourage others to do the same. Having supported hundreds of students over the last 20 years, I can promise that having the chance to rest, connect with family and friends, enjoy holidays you celebrate without distraction, and just recharge over the winter break from school will greatly improve the quality of this whole year for you.
Additionally, if your application process, like most students', involves a round of application deadlines between mid-October (thanks, Southern public universities...) and mid-December, and a round in January- February, you're best served keeping up the momentum while your head is in application mode. And let's face it-- even (especially if) if you have a lot of enthusiasm for a binding Early Decision application, in the event that you receive disappointing news in the form of a deferral or denial of admission, you'll want to get that work done in your current mindset. Take it from someone who has been through many rounds of this cycle, it's not easy to have to rebound from a letdown into a new set of applications that you had put off.
I hope everyone reading this has only good news, of course... and the reality is that the college application process is, among other things, an exercise in putting yourself out there with no control over the outcome.
Embrace that mindset and, as always, focus on what you can control! (This very thoughtful illustration of what you can and can't control in the college process comes from a counselor friend of mine!)
Related to all of the above, what about Early Decision 2? If you have made a plan that involves an ED2 contingency, that's definitely something to have prepared and ready to go before the deadline approaches. Remember that you cannot submit that application while waiting for a round 1 ED application to get a response.
By the way, if an Early Decision admission offer comes through-- first, congratulations, your college search is over! Next, be sure to contact every college to which you may have submitted application materials (early action, public universities, anything else you started) and withdraw your application. Every case is different; you may be able to withdraw on a portal. If you're unclear on the best way to notify of a withdrawal, put a statement in writing in an email and send it to the admission office of the college.
Please resist any temptation to just let other applications ride to see what the outcome might be. You, your parents, and your school counselor all signed a contract saying that you would withdraw applications and attend the ED choice if admitted. Not doing so can impact other students, can impact your school's reputation, your counselor's relationship with admission offices, and can even cost you the ED offer (I've seen it happen!) Hopefully, that's enough said on that topic.
This last advice for seniors is repeated from last time, because it's important:
In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday-- show your gratitude. Please don’t forget to write a thank you to those adults who have offered to write letters of recommendation to you. After you write that note, don’t forget to spend time this month looking up and looking around. This is your last year at home and in your school, with that set of friends. Be present. Get outside and take a walk (or hike or snowshoe or ski or whatever you do outside that gives you time to think) to keep your perspective-- be sure to remember what you're grateful for at this moment in time. (Try to do a lot of this on your winter break.) While you’re out there with your thoughts, ponder this question: Why am I applying to college? If you’re still not sure, or if your answer is shaped by others’ expectations, that’s worth conversation, consideration, and serious reflection. Take control of your choices and future!
College Counseling Advice for Juniors
11th grade is different, isn't it? I hope that you're settling into the swing of things, and also enjoying a higher level of engagement in your activities, and deepening challenge in your classes.
It’s a good time to begin some initial college research. That brings up the eternal question: How to research colleges?
Here are a few places to get started. All the links below are primarily focused on US colleges and universities. I can help students I'm working with, who are looking internationally, with the right resources for their search.
In this newsletter I shared a link to Loper. I have had a couple of conversations with the developers of this app, and I think it's a solid place to start identifying preferences and finding some options you might not have heard of!
Another resource to help you think through your priorities is Corsava. As with Loper, I am able to connect to my client-students here and see their results (I'll send a Corsava link to my students.) It's the kind of thing you want to do without overthinking it... and it will categorize your needs, wants, musts and don't cares, which you can then use as search criteria.
Of course, don't forget any platforms your school uses, like Naviance, MaiaLearning, Cialfo or SCOIR. They're good places to keep track of your research, as well as to share thoughts with your school counselor. (I provide my students with the new MaiaLearning independent counselor edition for the same purpose; plus, it has some good information in its college profiles.)
With the huge note to ignore the rankings that they have started doing, I think Niche is a good place to get an overview of a particular college that another source suggested for you. It aggregates information from other sources, so is a good launching point.
CampusReel has 15,000 videos on the student experience at many universities. Once you're interested in a college, it's a good place to get some student insight. CampusReel is integrated into some other platforms, like MaiaLearning. The College Tour TV show is a great-- and growing-- resource to help you orient yourself to the college landscape. I have always said that once you visit 3 colleges, you begin to have a sense of which aspects most colleges have in common, and which things distinguish cultures, curricula, and experiences. This show does a good job of highlighting those distinctions, and the producers have an admirable goal of documenting every college in the US! I appreciate that they have highlighted a lot of places that aren't well known, along with some that are. I also really appreciate the fact that student voices drive these videos. I had a conversation recently with the folks behind this effort, and it's truly a labor of love meant to help students find their way to great matches.
Once you've honed in on some potential fits, the next step is to dive deep into the colleges' own websites. I'll have more to say about getting specific in that research in the future. For now, look at what grabs your attention, and be sure to look for opportunities for online information sessions and virtual tours. Since travel was limited in 2020, colleges have done a terrific job of making the kind of information you get in a campus visit available from home. Take advantage and learn.
Standardized testing It's about time to start to think about a plan for testing. For most students, the best time to take a first shot at a standardized test is in the spring (February ACT, March SAT).
Test-optional policies are real, and if you end up feeling that testing doesn't represent you well, you don't have to submit it (with a tiny number of exceptions.) Some colleges are even totally test-free now. Still, as flawed as the tests are, they might help you. It's a good idea to try a diagnostic to see if you have a natural preference for one or the other test.
There are lots of ways to prepare for testing on your own, with one of the books of real tests you can find at any bookstore, or through online lessons like Khan Academy's. If you decide that targeted, professional help is a good idea, be sure that the tutor or business you work with is focused on efficiency of prep. You shouldn't spend more than a couple of months doing test prep-- there are better things you can do with your time.
Personally, I feel fortunate to be good friends with the very smart folks who run Compass Prep, and I can highly recommend their programs and tutors to any student, anywhere in the world. They are ethical, accountable, transparent, data-driven, deeply informed, and extremely effective. (I endorse them constantly, but they aren't paying me...! I've seen a lot and they are simply as good as it gets.)
College Counseling Advice for 9th and 10th graders
In my last counselor calendar, I shared that someone reached out to tell me their student had been assigned to read this post of mine from 2014 by their teacher! I’m humbled, and fortunately, my advice is still appropriate and on target. The essentials are there: follow your interests and curiosity where they lead you, and figure out the best ways to "do school well."
Hopefully 9th grade students are getting the hang of high school by now! Seek connection-- talk to your teachers, try new activities, and look for ways to get involved.
The word is the same for 10th graders. Coming up in a few months, you may have the chance to make some decisions about courses for next year, that also could shape senior year. It's a good idea to talk to someone about that-- consult your school counselor or advisor, if you have that resource!