There is no doubt that the process can be stressful at times and can have emotional highs and lows. We find that it works best when everyone - students, parents and counselors - communicates honestly, has an open mind, exercises patience, and maintains a good sense of humor. At Paideia, teachers and staff encourage students to be inquisitive and curious about the world and that is reflected in the diversity of colleges our students attend.
These pages are designed to offer a wealth of information about the process. The College Counseling Handbook is another detailed source of information and is available in the college counseling office.
The links below offer suggestions for productive things a student can be doing in preparation for applying to college depending on their age. Although we do not recommend that students be entwined in the college process as a ninth grader, there are some things students can do early in high school to set a strong foundation for their high school years. The links for grades 11 and 12 offer month-by-month calendars to give a sense of the process in real time. Please contact the College Counseling Office if you have questions.
When students enter high school, questions about the college admission process undoubtedly arise. In recent years, the media have placed greater emphasis on the uncertainty and stresses of the college admission process than ever before. It is only natural that parents and students are thinking about college early in high school and have questions.
We feel that students are best prepared for the college process if they concentrate on learning and their high school education first. “An Appreciation of the Importance of the Present” is a component of Paideia’s framework of values, and we believe that is a key part of being a successful high school student and therefore a well-prepared college applicant. Further, it has been our experience that most students are not ready to think about colleges in an in-depth way any earlier than their junior year, and that to do so sometimes only adds stress and discomfort. However, we do have some helpful advice relevant to younger students and their parents to assist you in creating a positive and productive high school experience while making good choices and plans about college.
It's true, colleges do look at ninth and tenth grade curricula and grades. They may not matter as much as grades later in high school, but they do count. During the first two years of high school at Paideia, the courses for most students are fairly well prescribed. Teachers and advisors make placement recommendations based on a student's past performance and seek to place a student at a level that is appropriate. It makes no sense for a student to attempt courses for which s/he does not have the requisite background, nor does is make sense for a student to take "easy" courses with the intention of getting high grades. The best strategy is to cultivate the study habits that will help ensure success. That means seeing out help from advisors and teachers when it is needed.
One of Paideia's strengths is its faculty, so students who get to know their teachers will benefit greatly. Teachers can help a student figure out how you learn best and how to make the most of their academic potential. Teachers are our students’ greatest allies and mentors.
Investing in Paideia
Ninth and tenth graders should look for ways to form a solid foundation for a great Paideia experience. One good way to do that is to make the most of the wonderful opportunities available here. Colleges want to know about a student’s interests and involvement. Our best advice is for students to become involved just as soon as they enter the high school. They should explore something they love to do and go with it. They should stick with it (commitment to an activity over four years is good). They should lead when there is an opportunity (leadership is good). And they should create activities too (making possibilities for yourself if they don't already exist is good). Some students think that it is better to have done a lot of different activities. Colleges are interested in commitment kids show to their activities and would rather see deep, full involvement in a few than sporadic attendance at many.
If a student find things to do that he or she likes, that person will look forward to school each day and their ability to succeed or even excel in academics and extracurricular life will come more naturally.
One of the realities of the college process is that students, at some point, have to take a variety of standardized tests. We try not to let these tests dominate student's lives, so they are not emphasized a lot. On the other hand, tests have some importance and cannot be ignored.
In high school, the process starts out with the PSAT (the Preliminary SAT). Students will take this test in the fall of their sophomore year. Students will take the PSAT again in the fall of their junior year. Although this administration serves as another practice run, the results count for the National Merit Scholarship competition. Most kids will take the SAT Reasoning Test for the first time in the fall or winter of their junior year (November, December or January). Many take the SAT a second time later in the spring of junior year (March, May or June), and some take it another time in the fall of senior year (October).
The SAT Reasoning Test was recently revised and updated in March of 2016. The current version has two sections: evidence based reading & writing and math. There is an optional writing section too. One can find out more about the current SAT on the College Board website. A ninth or tenth grader probably does not need to do any formal standardized testing preparation, but online test preparation is available free through the Khan Academy. However, future test scores will be higher if students start to cultivate good academic habits early.
Here is our advice to ninth- and tenth-graders as we say it directly:
- Pick up a book that isn't an assignment every once in awhile. Life is busy, but if you can squeeze in time to read, you'll be better for it. Reading other people's writing will make you a better writer. Plus, you'll have something interesting to talk about in those college interviews down the road. And most of all, you'll be a more interesting person, period.
- The SAT test you'll be taking later on in high school has a writing portion. The more you write, the more prepared you'll be for the test. Actually the more you write, the better prepared you are for high school, college, your career, your life! Take care when writing for your classes. Your teachers can help you hone your writing skills. Work with them! Write letters to family and friends. Start a journal. Find any excuse to get your ideas on paper.
Most kids think, “Ahh, the summer. Time to relax and watch lots of TV.” That's fine, and it is important to take time to relax and be a kid, but it would be good to do something productive, too. We advise students to: get a job; volunteer; attend an academic program somewhere; travel to a far away land. Students can enhance their interests by doing summer activities that include things they like to do – there is not a summer program that is “better” than another, except that the best options align with a student’s interests.
Is it OK to visit colleges before junior year? Yes it is. But pay very close attention to the interest of the student. If a student is not interested and parents drag them to a bunch of places they don't want to be, then it can get the college process off to a very poor start. On the other hand, if a student is interested and curious, it is fine to explore some campuses. We recommend being flexible and opportunistic. If you happen to be near a campus on a vacation or trip, you might consider taking a look. Campus tour and information session schedules can be found on colleges’ admissions websites.
Junior year is an important time in the college admission process. Although our formal college counseling program does not begin until January of the junior year, there are a number of things a student should be aware of and doing before that time. The following is a college admissions calendar for the junior year as we present it directly to our students. It provides a good overview of what students may expect and what they need to do over the year.
- Concentrate on doing well in your classes. Remember that junior and senior year grades are often weighed more heavily than freshman and sophomore year grades in the college admission process.
- Begin thinking about preferences in colleges such as location, size, liberal arts or technical emphasis, coed or single-sex, activities available, majors available, cost, etc.
- Do a general search using criteria you've set for yourself on college information websites:
- Begin preparing for the PSAT and SAT Reasoning Test. You may read preparation books on your own.
Or visit: www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/
Take the PSAT. Although the sophomore year PSAT was given for practice, the junior year scores may qualify you for National Merit Semifinalist status and make you eligible for possible National Merit scholarships.
Mark on your PSAT answer sheet that you wish to receive materials from colleges, and schools will send you information if your PSAT score suggests that you might qualify for admission.
The College Counseling Staff will meet with you and your parents in November to introduce the college counseling process. Although our individual meetings with students won't begin until January, this meeting is designed to give your family a head start on planning your college search.
Juniors who feel prepared to take the SAT Reasoning Test can take their first administration of the SAT in November (you can opt to take the SAT for the first time in January as well).
- The college counseling staff requires you to spend some time filling out a questionnaire before your initial meeting with your counselor. The junior student questionnaire will be available to work on during the holiday break. The questionnaire is a great way for you to begin articulating your interests, strengths and goals. We also ask parents to fill out a questionnaire for the College Counseling Staff.
- PSAT scores will be mailed to you the third week of the month. Estimate your SAT score from the handbook. Establish what areas you need to work on and organize a study routine to improve those areas.
- For students who feel prepared to take the ACT and want to take that test instead of or in addition to the SAT, December is a good time to take the ACT for the first time (you can opt to take the ACT for the first time in February as well).
- Enjoy having a break from school!
- Start the second semester working hard in your classes. Strong second-semester grades may be a key factor in an admission decision. Remember admission committees often weigh junior and senior year grades more heavily than grades you earned earlier in high school.
- You will get mail from colleges based on your PSAT scores. Read the materials thoroughly from the schools you find most interesting. They contain a great deal of information and will help you narrow down your choices.
- Plan college visits for later in the spring. Colleges offer information sessions and tours year round, but the spring is one of the most popular times to visit, so sessions and tours book up early. You will find more flexibility and access if you plan in advance - especially if you plan to visit colleges during spring break.
- January is a good time to make your summer plans. Many summer college programs, internships or study abroad programs have February or March deadlines.
- Complete the junior questionnaire. This is your ticket to your meeting with your college counselor.
- Schedule your first individual meeting with your counselor to discuss what you are looking for in a college (size, location, academic program, etc.) and your high school record (PSAT scores, activities, and personal and academic strengths and weaknesses). From this discussion, you and your college counselor will develop a list of colleges (usually between 15 and 20) that meet your interests and are appropriate for your profile.
- Between now and the end of the school year, parents may schedule a meeting with the counseling staff as well. We encourage all parents to take an active role in your college search and application process.
- Plan college visits. The spring sessions and tours book up early. You will find more flexibility and access if you plan in advance - especially if you plan to visit colleges during spring break.
- Register for the March/April SAT. We strongly urge all juniors to take the SAT or ACT at least one time before the end of junior year.
- We strongly urge all juniors who have not already taken the SAT or ACT to take the SAT in March or the ACT in early April.
- Plan college visits for spring break.
- Continue to focus on your studies. Doing well in school during second semester junior year can make a big difference.
- The College Counseling Staff is available for junior parents and students for meetings to answer your questions and plan the months ahead.
- Continue to gather information and evaluate colleges you are considering.
- Attend any spring college fairs and evening programs held at area hotels and high schools that catch your eye.
- Register for the May and/or June SAT Reasoning or Subject Tests. Not all colleges recommend or require Subject Tests (in fact most colleges do not). However, you should determine if the colleges you are considering require them and register for them for the May or June test date (you can take up to 3 Subject Tests on one test date).
- You may take SAT Subject Tests, or take the SAT Reasoning Test for a second time. Determine which subject tests are recommended by the colleges you are considering. Contact the college counseling staff if you have any questions.
- Take AP exams if you are in AP courses.
- You may take the SAT Reasoning Test a second time, particularly if you are not satisfied with your score or you are considering applying under an early decision plan; or take the SAT Subject Tests if you did not do so in May and the colleges on your list recommend or require Subject Tests.
- If you feel your SAT Reasoning Test score could improve with some studying and/or tutoring, the summer is a good time to work on SAT skills.
- The ACT is also administered in June.
Summer between Your Junior and Senior Years
- Visit college campuses in which you are interested, recognizing that you may need to return to some campuses when they are in session to get a complete view of the schools.
- Most college websites will have a schedule of tours and information about making an appointment.
- Research the schools on your list you developed with your college counselor. Try to narrow your list to fewer than 10 schools that meet your criteria and accept students with your profile.
- Request application materials from the colleges on your list. You may do this online or by calling the Office of Admission.
- Plan to attend summer programs: camp, sports, travel, volunteer or enrichment programs. Colleges often ask you to write about your summer experiences in an essay or describe them in an interview.
- If you are not satisfied with your standardized test results, use the summer months to hone your testing skills in a regimented fashion. You could use a tutor or use test prep materials on your own.
- Begin brainstorming about possible college essay topics and get some words down on paper.
Please refer to the college counseling handbook for more detailed information about the college search process.
The fall of your senior year is when the real work begins in the college admission process. This is the time to finalize a student’s college list and prepare applications. This is also the time when students work closely with their college counselor on these tasks. The more open the lines of communication are, the better the process. The following is a college admissions calendar for the senior year as we present it to students. It provides information about what to do and what is available to students and families as they go through the year.
August and September
- Meet with your college counselor to let us know where you are in the process. Come prepared with a list of colleges you have researched and are seriously considering for application.
- Begin to narrow your college list. We recommend you have two to four schools that look likely, have a reach or two (based on objective data), and have a sure bet or two. That rule of thumb has been around for decades because it's based on experience and realism.
- Register for the October and/or November SAT Reasoning or Subject Tests. Consider the ACT as well. You may register at www.collegeboard.com or www.act.org.
- Attend the Westminster College Fair in September (watch out for the date).
- Make arrangements to visit the colleges to which you have decided to apply. Arrange for an interview with the admissions office if it is required or recommended. Fall break could be an excellent time to visit schools while they are in session.
- Work on your college essays! Familiarize yourself with what you will need to complete each of your applications.
- Ask your teachers for recommendations. Choose teachers who know you well and can offer anecdotes about your classroom contributions. Ask your college counselor if you have questions about who to ask for a recommendation.
- Representatives from 90+ colleges will visit Paideia in the fall. Check the visit schedule regularly and meet with representatives from the colleges that interest you. The list will be posted in the Commons, and on your First Class desktop.
- Most important of all, keep focused on your schoolwork. First semester senior year grades are a very important part of a selective college application.
- Take the SAT Reasoning Test again, especially if you are applying under an Early Decision or Early Action program. You can take the ACT again in October or November.
- If the colleges on your list recommend or require SAT Subject Tests, the October test date is a good time to take them if you did not take them in May or June.
- Continue to narrow and refine your list. Your college counselor can help you with this task.
- Work on your applications. Get serious about your essays! The college counseling staff is happy to look at drafts and answer any questions.
- Continue to meet with college representatives visiting Paideia. The list of visitors is posted in the Commons and on First Class.
- If you haven't done so, ask your teachers for recommendations.
- Many scholarship deadlines are in November and December. Check with your college counselor about scholarship opportunities or visit www.fastweb.com for more information. Naviance also has scholarship information available.
- If you are applying for financial aid and a college requires the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile, you can fill out that form now. Check what the colleges require for consideration of need-based financial aid. Some colleges ask for the CSS Profile and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The CSS Profile is available to fill out in the fall, but the FAFSA is not available until January.
- Take the SAT Reasoning Test again if you did not take it in October. Or, take the SAT Subject Tests if your school recommends or requires them. You can take the ACT in November as well.
- Continue working on your applications. We STRONGLY suggest you complete all of your applications before the Holiday Break.
- Finalize your list if you have not done so.
- You can take the SAT Reasoning Test or Subject Tests in December.
- Complete all of your applications. We STRONGLY suggest you complete your applications before the Holiday Break. You'll be very glad you did.
- Prepare well for your final exams. First semester senior year grades are a very important part of a competitive college application.
- Enjoy your break!
- After completing all of your college applications, this is the time to relax and wait for the college admission decisions.
- Focus on doing well in the spring semester. Don't let senioritis take over! The colleges' acceptances are conditional upon your successful completion of your senior year at the level at which you were performing when you applied.
- The College Counseling Office will send an updated transcript with first semester senior year grades to every college to which you have applied.
- If you are applying for Financial Aid, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) becomes available online in January. Most colleges ask that you fill out the FAFSA by early to mid February, so we advise getting your tax documents in order as early as possible.
- Keep waiting, although some of you will hear decisions in February.
- If you hear from a college, let the college counseling office know!
- If a college requests additional information, let the college counseling office know.
- Keep a close eye on financial aid application deadlines.
- Keep senioritis at bay. Stay focused on doing well in school.
- College decisions will continue to arrive, and you can begin deciding which college you would like to attend from those to which you are admitted. John and Lenore are glad to discuss this with you!
- Many colleges will offer admitted student programs on campus. These are helpful if you are unsure about your college choice(s).
- Most colleges will notify you of a decision by mid-April. Notify the college counseling office when you hear news from a college.
- Carefully choose your college based on all the information you have gathered throughout this process. If you need someone to talk things over with you, don't hesitate to talk to the college counseling Staff.
- Inform the college you choose to attend and enclose the required deposit. May 1st is the universal reply date for notifying colleges of your intention to attend.
- Decline any other offers of admission in writing.
- Don't let senioritis kick in just yet! You're almost there!
- May 1st is the deadline for you to notify colleges of your decision. You may place only ONE deposit!
- Take AP exams.
- The college counseling office will mail a final transcript to the college you are attending. Keep us posted on how things are going your first year in college! We'd like to know how you're doing!