Help on the College Application Process for High School Kids
Competition for spots at colleges and universities is tighter than ever. But families are getting an edge with admissions counselors, test prep services and lots of early planning.
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"I and my team strongly believe in the high school counselor," says Williams, who was formerly one herself. "Counselors know a student from a social and academic perspective within the whole high school climate. One of the first questions we ask our young clients is how well they know their high school counselor. If the answer is, 'She wouldn't know me if she fell over me,' I would say, 'Then that's your fault.'
"Students need to go in there and introduce themselves and develop that relationship with their counselor, because he or she is so important to the whole application process. Advocating for a student is really the counselor's role."
"If I knew back in high school what I know now, I would have spent a lot more time in my counselor's office," Whalen says. "We're networking with admissions people regularly when they visit the high school and at events. If I feel the need to advocate for a specific student, it means something to the admissions person that we already have a relationship."
For his part, Ambrose says such calls from high school counselors are welcome.
"In fact, we wish we got more of them," he says. "Counselors can help us understand why a student's grades may have slipped during a certain semester. Perhaps there was something going on at home or in their personal life that we need to know about."
Where it can become challenging for many students is the amount of time they are actually able to get with their high school counselor – given the counselor's often heavy case load. Whalen is the counselor for a little more than 400 Clarkston High School students, and he is responsible not only for college counseling but all other counseling on students' personal, social and emotional issues – as well as academic scheduling.
At some schools like the University of Detroit Jesuit High School, where Whalen worked prior to joining the staff at Clarkston High School, college counseling duties are separated from school counseling responsibilities. Whalen handled the former during his eight years there.
"I strictly provided college advice, wrote recommendations, reviewed applications and attended networking events," he says. "I had more time to visit college campuses and attend conferences."
The American School Counselor Association recommends an ideal student-to-counselor ratio of 250-to-1. However, according to the U.S. Department of Education, in 2009-10, each public school counselor (including elementary and secondary) on average had responsibility for 460 students. In Michigan, the ratio was 660-to-1. NACAC estimates that under current ratios and time-on-task allotments, students in public schools can expect less than an hour of postsecondary education counseling for the entire school year.
"At some large public schools, counselors may have 750 students who they're working with," notes Beth Fagan, an independent college counselor based in Bloomfield Hills who works with students all over metro Detroit. "If you multiply that by all the paperwork, it's a lot. So I work in conjunction with guidance counselors. I am another avenue to help facilitate the college application process."
Fagan personally finds satisfaction in being able to help children who may be experiencing personal problems at home that influence whether, where and how they apply to school.
"Sometimes the school systems are not aware of what is going on inside a home," she explains. "I am there to help be these kids' advocates. That is my passion. If you are very bright and have strong parental support behind you, you'll be just fine. But sometimes there are kids that need additional help for personal reasons or because they have a learning disability, and my heart lies in helping them."
Test prep books
Looking for a few additional resources? Try these on for size:
- Cracking the ACT by The Princeton Review gives a comprehensive guide to preparing for the ACT exam. Includes access to three full-length practice tests with detailed answer explanations, specifics of what you need to know for all five test sections and test-taking strategies.
- Cracking the SAT, also by The Princeton Review, is likewise a comprehensive guide to preparing for the SAT exam. Includes access to five full-length practice exams, a "Hit Parade" of vocabulary appearing most frequently on the SAT, drills, explanations and thorough review of all SAT topics.
- The Real ACT Prep Guide, by way of ACT.org contains insider test-taking tips and strategy, practice and insight from the makers of the ACT.
- The Official SAT Study Guide, by the College Board includes 10 official SAT practice tests created by the test maker and more than 1,000 pages of test-taking approaches, practice questions and critical concepts.
- Great College Guides College Board College Handbook 2012, also by the College Board, provides objective information on every accredited college in the United States.
- Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think about Colleges by Loren Pope is a college guide introducing 40 of the best colleges you've never heard of. Includes a chapter on how students with learning disabilities can find schools that fit their needs.
- Cool Colleges: For the Hyper-Intelligent, Self-Directed, Late Blooming and Just Different by Donald Asher highlights schools that may be a good fit for students identifying as any of the adjectives in the title. It includes info on what the Ivy League is and looks for in students, universities that don't give grades, schools that don't require SAT scores and data on the highest-paying majors.
- Fiske Guide to Colleges by Edward B. Fiske provides an insider's look at more than 300 colleges and universities. The book is updated and expanded every year and looks at the academic climates and social and extracurricular opportunities at each school profiled.
- The College Board Book of Majors, again by the College Board, describes college majors and lists which schools offer them. A comprehensive guide to academic programs offered at four-year and two-year colleges.
- The K & W Guide to College for Students with Learning Disabilities by Marybeth Kravets and Imy F. Wax is a guide for students with learning disabilities and their families to approaching the college search process.