College Admission: From Application to Acceptance Step by Step

Juniors: Are you Taking the PSAT?

The PSAT/NMSQT will be administered on October 16 and October 19 to high school juniors. The PSAT is a "practice" test for the SAT and colleges do not see scores. So there is no need to prep for the test. But it can provide important feedback about where you need improvement.

Also, scores on the PSAT taken in the junior year are used to qualify students for the National Merit Scholarship competition, the best- known scholarship program in the country. So a strong score could translate into scholarship money.

Seniors: Does the early bird always catch the worm?

There can be a lot of pressure to apply early at this time of year -- from peers, parents and media. Students start thinking that they must apply NOW under an early action or early decision plan.  Before you succumb to that pressure, spend some time understanding how decision plans really work, what the numbers in the headlines actually mean, and whether it's a good idea for you personally. Check out the Decision Plan Chapter Excerpt on the Book page here on the website to understand how your grades and scores could figure into a decision to apply early and benefit from the input on decision plans from the deans at Johns Hopkins, Drake University, and Northern Illinois University, as well as others.

College Admission in Highland Park's Pioneer Press

Thank you to Karen Berkowitz of Highland Park's Pioneer Press for the great article on our appearance tomorrow night, speaking with the parents of Highland Park and Deerfield High Schools. We'll be talking about grades, courses, essays, financial aid, what colleges are looking for and why and, most important, how to approach the college admission process with calm and purpose. You can read the Pioneer Press feature here.

Juniors, Focus Your Efforts in the Classroom

Juniors, start the year off right by giving your best effort in all your classes. The 10th annual State of College Admission 2012 report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling found that "academic performance in college prep courses" has been consistently rated as the top factor by colleges in admission decisions for the past decade. In 2011, 84 percent of colleges reported grades in college prep courses as decisive. One more time for emphasis: the grades you earn and the classes you take are important -- and grades in your junior year can be critical.

So focus your efforts in the classroom. Take a strong academic courseload and challenge yourself. If you are doing less than three hours of homework each day, talk with your counselor about enrolling in more advanced classes. First and foremost, what colleges will want to know about you is what you are like as a learner. Show them that.


Common Application Update: Relax... Help is on the way!

At NACAC's 69th National Conference in Toronto last week, representatives for the Common Application -- in two sessions to meet overflow demand -- answered many of the concerns that have arisen since the new platform debuted in August. Most of the information shared will soon be available on the Help Center where, as of October 1, there will be staffing 24/7.  The biggest issue, according to counselor Jan Williams who was our eyes and ears there, seemed to be that students have to click on "submit" before they can see "print preview" -- causing "all kinds of confusion and angst."  College Admission staff said they intend to address the problem.  Scott Anderson of the Common Application has told us that as more and more people interact with the application, they will be making adjustments and refining the interface.

Returning next week: Our Weekly Advice for Seniors... and Juniors, too!

Look for the return next week of our most popular feature on the blog -- our weekly advice for juniors and seniors. Each week, there will again be two posts --one for seniors, one for juniors with timely tips on what students should be doing now in the college application process, all year long. See you soon!

The Parenting Process

We are very excited about a new recurring feature here on the blog! We will be joined monthly by a group of parents who will blog about their reality of the college application process. They'll be bringing you their firsthand experience of the emotional highs and lows, insight into the coping strategies that have worked for them, and some foresight -- or 20-20 hindsight -- into what to expect, and how to appropriately help, during the course of a college admission journey.

We may not always completely agree with what our parent bloggers have to say when it comes to an individual piece of advice. Our book is a comprehensive guide and as such, speaks to students and families on both ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between -- from first-generation students or those from under resourced schools to those who have been groomed for college since birth. Our guest bloggers are writing from their particular experience. But we believe that parents are hungry for true stories of treading the college application track as a family and that hearing the experience of fellow travelers is always helpful in what can be a stressful time.