At The New School, students understand as early as 6th grade that we are preparing them for college. In our daily morning meetings, students at every grade level hear about upcoming college admissions visits and take part in applauding college acceptances as they come in. By 8th grade, most students are taking high school math and foreign language classes, putting them on track to take the advanced courses colleges look for. From freshman year on, advisors and members of the college counseling team discuss college with advisory groups and parents, and we encourage juniors and their parents to meet with us to develop an initial list of colleges. The summer after junior year we offer a class designed specifically for rising seniors, in which they craft their college essays.
Guidance and Support
Consistent with our mission, we expect seniors—with our support and that of their parents—to take ownership of the college application process. Seniors that show up in September with their essays written, knowing which colleges they plan to apply to are already a huge step ahead, but wherever they are in the process, we provide guidance and support throughout.
One of the ways we support seniors is by facilitating the process of obtaining transcripts and letters of recommendation. We ask them to complete a form giving us the “where, when and what” to send to colleges, and to turn in a “brag sheet” to help recommenders write thoughtful, descriptive letters. Our coordinator gathers all documentation, stays on top of deadlines, ensures transcripts are complete and accurate, and proofreads every recommendation letter before it goes out.
The counseling staff maintains an open door policy during college season, and they (along with teachers) are available and willing to read college essays and answer questions about applications. Parents and guardians are also welcome to call or come in at any time for advice or help.
Based on our experience and what we hear from the college admissions counselors that visit each year, the rigor of the high school curriculum—for New School students, the classes they choose—is the most important indicator of college success. Colleges also want to see grades showing an upward trend, good scores on standardized tests (at colleges that require these scores), involvement in leadership activities, contributions to the community, work or other worthwhile experiences, well written essays, good letters of recommendation and anything that makes you stand out.
When should I take college admissions exams?
As a rule of thumb, students should take either the SAT or the ACT in the spring of junior year and again in the fall of senior year.
The best preparation is, of course, taking rigorous courses at school and reading, reading, reading. Another excellent way to prepare for these exams is by going through your PSAT score report and seeing which questions you missed, and then going to www.collegeboard.com for explanations of the answers. In addition, the College Board offers free online SAT prep through Khan Academy. The ACT also offers test prep on their website: www.actstudent.org. Offline, there are numerous test prep courses offered by individuals and companies, which are easy to locate on the Internet.
How do I start looking for colleges?
There are many online tools and apps to help match students with colleges and careers, including the College Board’s https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/college-search?navid=gh-cs Big Future tool. In addition to plugging in grades and test scores, these tools will ask you to think about factors such as academic and extracurricular interests, location (big city vs. small rural), size of school and so forth. Also, you should: Visit college campuses Talk to college students Talk to people in professions that interest you Go to college websites Use our library resources Meet with college admissions counselors that visit the school Attend college fairs Meet with our college counseling team
Do I need to check in with the Admissions Office when I visit a college?
We highly recommend that you do! It is a fact that admissions counselors keep track of which applicants visit, as it demonstrates real interest in the college, and your interest can make a difference to whether you’re admitted. Even if you’re visiting a college just to get a feel for what a college campus is like (always a good idea) but don’t intend to apply there, play it safe and check in, in case you change your mind later.
Who will write letters of recommendation for me?
Steve Roushakes, our Head of School, writes a counselor letter for every student applying to college. As many schools want one or two teacher recommendations, you should ask teachers who know you well and can attest to your work ethic, even if you did not earn an A in their class. You can help them by submitting a “brag sheet” that highlights your strengths and accomplishments, and provides information your recommenders may not be aware of.
Should I wait until I’ve completed my application before asking for recommendations and transcripts?
No! A common error students make is not turning in their request forms until after they have finished their application, rather than turning them in and allowing teachers to work on their letters at the same time. This drastically reduces the lead-time teachers need to write the comprehensive, thoughtful letters that will reflect best on the student.
Should I apply early to colleges or wait until the deadline?
Applying early is generally better. Many colleges have a variety of deadlines, or “decision plans” for students to choose from. Regular Decision usually means the student applies by a specific date and can expect to hear back in late March or April. Early Decision means the student applies at an earlier date (often as early as November 1) and gets an admission decision early, but the student is bound contractually to accept the offer. Early Action allows students to apply early and get a decision early, but is not binding. Rolling Admissions generally means students get an admission decision relatively quickly and applications continue to be accepted until the class is full. There are variations on these decision plans, such as Early Decision I and II, but these are the basic plans.
Any tips on how to write a good college essay?
We highly recommend taking the Senior Prep summer course, in which you will craft college essays (and get them out of the way). There are many books and articles on the subject of college essays, but here are some general pointers: Choose a topic that represents who you are. Be personal, but not inappropriately so. Write with clarity, not affectation. Avoid clichés and exaggeration. Write several drafts, and have someone else review, edit, proofread!
If a college requires an interview, will they set it up and let me know?
Most colleges expect the applicant to arrange the interview, either on campus or at another location. We recommend that you set it up as soon as possible, as the counselors get booked up quickly. Also, be sure to go to the website, learn what you can about them and ask follow-up questions rather than basic questions, such as whether they offer a particular major. Dress neatly, be personable, and be prepared to talk about yourself as well as ask questions.
Should I only apply to colleges I know my parents can afford?
At the risk of alienating your parents, we recommend that you go ahead and apply to colleges that would be a good fit for you. All but the very wealthiest among us suffer from sticker shock when they look at college price tags, but they forget that colleges want students and they will offer you as much money as they can to lure you. Many colleges offer merit scholarships, particularly private colleges, but almost all offer need-based assistance.
How do we become eligible for need-based financial aid?
You and your parents should submit the FAFSA, for federal aid, after October 1st of your senior year. Some colleges also require the CSS Financial Aid Profile for non-federal aid. The calculations take into consideration many factors beyond annual income to determine an Expected Family Contribution. Here’s the basic formula: Cost of education – Expected Family Contribution = Aid eligibility Student contribution + Parent contribution = Expected Family Contribution
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