Advice for Juniors

Anna Takahashi, Eastside College Preparatory School

Located just north of the affluent town that is home to Stanford University, East Palo Alto has had a history of crime and violence and Silicon Valley's boom economy has largely bypassed the community and the families of the Latino, African American and Pacific Islander students who reside there. Today, the dropout rate for students from East Palo Alto is 65%. 

In 1991, a Stanford student started an after-school basketball program for East Palo Alto kids in grades 4 through 8, linking participation with attendance at a daily study hall. But he soon realized it wasn't enough for these students, who, after eighth grade, would be bused 20 miles away to the nearest high school.  So in 1996 that Stanford student, Chris Bischof, founded Eastside College Preparatory School, private school with an intensive, college-prep curriculum.

With an initial class of eight students, at one point, Bischof, who is today Eastside's principal, was using park benches in a muddy lot as a classroom. Today, more than 300 students enrolled in grades 6 through 12 attend school on a full built-out campus that includes boarding facilities for more than 100 students.

Juniors, if you could do anything this summer...

When College Admission was in high school, summers felt long and slow, a time to earn some extra money and hang out with friends. We worked as a neighborhood babysitter and a proof reader at the local newspaper. Earned a little extra high school credit with classes at the local community college -- one was a "typing course"! Polished short stories in the style of John Cheever that garnered a desk drawer full of rejection slips. On days off, we sprayed our hair with Sun-In and hit the deck at the pool. Every night, we met up with friends by the swings at Kilgore Park. There was so much time for everything.

Today, high school students -- particularly rising seniors -- may feel the need to fill their summer fuller. Terri Devine of Francis Parker School in San Diego, CA, joins us today to talk about summer plans -- particularly for any juniors stressing about their resumes. Read on for some good advice and great ideas…  

What Should Juniors Be Doing This Summer?

The answer to this question is really quite simple…get some rest, read, and explore what you find truly interesting (and it would be fine with everyone if what you find truly interesting is a summer job…more on that later).

College and Life: Is it about the finish line or the road you take to get there?

Mark Moody, Co-Director of College Counseling at Colorado Academy, is back with us today with an excellent discussion of "outcomes" -- a meme in the media and a subject on the minds of some students, parents, educators and other interested parties. Read on to see why becoming "dis-oriented" from outcomes may provide the happiest ending. 


I’ve noticed the term “outcomes-oriented” being used a lot lately. It’s apparently a desirable quality, describing my LinkedIn contacts on their profiles, applicants I encounter on hiring committees, professional services in marketing emails that land in my inbox. When you consider it, “outcomes-oriented” is an interesting pairing of words. It suggests a constant headlong bearing toward a projected future, radar locked on a defined finish line and a specific expectation of what should await there. It feels antsy and impatient. Let’s get to the outcome, people! Who cares how? Full speed ahead!

Trevor Rusert, Sewickley Academy

We want to tell you a story. A story that we think gets to the heart of who most high school college counselors are -- at least the ones every parent wishes for their son or daughter. This is a story about Trevor Rusert and a student named Amanda.

Amanda lives with her father, a single parent. Her family is working class and Amanda had a significant scholarship to attend Sewickley Academy in Pennsylvania where Rusert is Director of College Guidance. But her scholarship didn't cover everything, so Amanda worked 30 hours a week at McDonald's as shift manager -- 6 p.m. to midnight, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and then full shifts on the weekend -- to make up the difference. In the summertime, she worked with Sewickley's maintenance crew during the day and was back at McDonald's at night -- 70-plus hours a week.

Juniors: Questions to Ask when Visiting Campus

In the official group information sessions colleges offer, an admission officer will usually provide an overview of the college -- the school’s history, academic programs, undergraduate life, athletics, the application process, and financial aid-- followed by a question and answer session for students and parents. (Quick tip: let students lead with their questions first!)

During this Q&A, the admission officer will be able to provide you with answers about most aspects of daily life on campus— academics, housing, any special programs such as study- abroad opportunities. But don’t be afraid to have them address broader queries about the who, what, and why of the campus -- and the application process. Here are some questions you may want to ask:

• What impresses you the most in a student’s application?

• What are you looking for when you read students’ essays?

• What are some of the things you hate to see in an application?

• Is demonstrated interest a factor in your admission decision?

• Are admission decisions need- blind?

• What kind of student does well here? What kind of student doesn’t do well here?

• Did you attend this college? What has changed since you’ve been here?

• What changes do you see taking place on campus in the next five years?

Carolynn Laurenza, Uncommon Charter School

Carolynn Laurenza grew up in a farm town in the middle of western Massachusetts' Pioneer Valley, also known as the "Five Colleges" corridor because it's home to Amherst, Mount Holyoke, Hampshire and Smith Colleges, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. This might have presaged her choice of profession in life.

Today, Laurenza is the College Placement Coordinator for Uncommon Charter High School in Brooklyn, New York. A graduate of Swarthmore College, she earned a Masters in Education from University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Laurenza spent three years as a guidance counselor at a regional public high school in the "Five Colleges" area before joining Uncommon Charter in the summer of 2011.

"It's a different reality," says Laurenza, who was named a "Counselor that Changes Lives" earlier this year. "As a public high school guidance counselor, you're juggling many types of social/emotional issues, the administrative needs of the school, trying to help kids in all grades and doing college counseling. At Uncommon, I get to focus on college counseling."  

Juniors: Time to Plan your College Road Trips

Juniors, now is the time when you and your family should sit down and plan when and where college trips are going to occur. Time, distance, and cost are all considerations for families making college visits. But planning ahead is another element of approaching the application process wisely by being organized enough so that you and your parents are not constantly nagged by doubts and concerns.

With some dates in mind for visits, then check the website of each of the colleges you plan to visit to obtain dates and times for tours, information sessions, interview availability, and other opportunities. Make a reservation if required. Do this as far in advance as possible so you can get a spot on a date that works for your family. Some schools may not require you to reserve a space for info sessions or tours but ask you to let them know in advance that you’re attending. Do this.

If the college requires or strongly suggests an applicant interview, arrange an appointment for when you are on campus. There are usually a limited number of time slots for interviews, available on a first- come, first- served basis.

Juniors: Sign up for College Rep Visits at Your High School

Regional representatives from the admission staff of colleges visit high schools throughout the country each year to meet with interested students, both in the spring and fall. These meetings usually take place in small groups for 30 to 45 minutes, to answer questions and provide the latest information about their colleges and admission policies.

Check your high school’s policy about attendance at these sessions. Most schools allow juniors time off to attend, beginning in the second semester. But there may be different requirements. For example, juniors may be allowed to attend only if the session occurs during a free period. Your first responsibility is to your academic work. Check with your counseling department for the college visit schedule.

Juniors: Check out a College Fair

Juniors should be knee deep in creating an initial list of colleges. Here's another tool for your research arsenal -- college fairs. At college fairs, admission representatives or alumni are present to answer questions and pass out brochures and other information to students and their families. These events are a great starting point to learn more about a wide range of schools or to get to know one of the colleges on your list more deeply.  

Since these events can be crowded and chaotic, an action plan can help ensure that you get the most out of the experience. Here are our suggestions:

        *    Obtain a list of the participating colleges online or from your college counselor in advance of the fair and determine which schools’ booths you will want to visit.

        *    Do some homework. Check out the websites of the schools you want to visit and prepare a list of questions after you’ve done some research.

        *     While you're collecting brochures from colleges in which you may be interested, also pick up the business card of the school's representative.     They could be a good contact point for further information.

        *     Do not bring a resume. Schools are not interested in a resume from you at this point.

        *     College fairs sometimes include information sessions on subjects such as financial aid or the search process, so plan accordingly if you want to attend.

Great advice for Juniors from the Admission Officers at Tufts

Tufts University has an excellent behind-the-scenes blog written by the school's admission officers -- Inside Admissions. In today's post, Meghan McHale offers up spot-on advice for juniors on how to maximize what remains of their high school years. Read the whole thing here. Admission office blogs are great resources for students -- providing insight into the admission process and what the school may be looking for, as well as solid information about the mechanics of the process. Spend some time perusing the admission office blogs -- or those of professors, students, and others -- as you research colleges.