College Admission: From Application to Acceptance Step by Step

Palo Alto High School's Sandra Cernobori is our Counselor of the Month


College Advisor Sandra Cernobori was sitting at her desk in the College and Career Center of Palo Alto High School in Palo Alto, California, when a parent came in to talk to one of her colleagues. She was not a parent at the school, but had some questions about college admission. A few minutes into the conversation, the visitor said to Cernobori’s fellow advisor, “Let me go get my son, I want him to hear this.” Whereupon she brought into the office her 18-month-old child. Yes, you read that correctly, her 18-month-old child.

Welcome to the world of college advising in the heart of Silicon Valley where the college learning curve -- and the pressure -- starts early for some.  Founded in 1894, Palo Alto High School, known as Paly, is nationally known for its academically rigorous environment. Its campus, which serves more than 1900 students, sits across the street from Stanford University. “Our students are often from families that are highly educated or highly value education, so expectations are high,” says Cernobori. “But we also have families where the parents have not attended four-year colleges.”

Juniors: It's never too early to start learning about financial aid

When it comes to financial aid, it’s never too early to start learning about what is a very complex and important topic. All colleges are required by law to have a financial aid calculator (sometimes referred to as a net price calculator) available on their website.  Financial aid calculators can provide an early understanding of what you will be asked to pay at individual colleges and what your aid award might look like.

So as you research colleges now and through the summer, check out the financial aid calculator for each school on your list as you’re surfing the colleges’ websites. Use the calculator to help you figure out what the colleges offer, as well as to start thinking about what you will need to do to make your choices work financially. If possible, try out the calculators with your parents.

Your results— the cost to you and the aid you may receive— may differ fairly significantly from calculator to calculator and from college to college. Just to see how things compare, try out the calculators at a few less expensive colleges and some more expensive ones. It can often be at least as affordable to attend a more expensive college that offers a strong financial aid program. Find out now, so you can select the colleges that work best for you while factoring in price, without ruling out options that might initially seem unaffordable.

Juniors: Know what test-optional means

Students need to check the testing policy of each school to which they're applying and that includes "test-optional" schools.  While "test-optional" means a college is flexible about the submission of standardized test scores, that term may mean something different at each school. At some schools, students are no longer required to submit SAT or ACT scores at all. At others, it means students must submit the results of AP, IB, or SAT Subject Tests in lieu of SAT or ACT results. Eligibility to not submit test scores may be contingent on other factors -- for example, you might need to rank in the top 10 percent of your class or have a GPA of 3.5 or above. Sometimes, there are alternative admission requirements such as the submission of graded papers, additional recommendations or in-person interviews. Pay close attention to the policies and practices of each school in order to determine what your testing plan -- and ultimate college list -- should look like. BTW, a full list of schools with test-optional policies can be found here at FairTest.

Laura Stewart, Ensworth School

Laura Stewart, our March Counselor of the Month, had both a unique opportunity and challenge when she joined the college counseling program at Ensworth School, an independent college preparatory high school in Nashville, Tennessee. For 46 years -- since 1958 -- the school had served only elementary and middle school students. Then, in August, 2004, Ensworth added grades 9 through 12, opening the new 127-acre Devon Farm campus one month after Stewart joined the school as Assistant Director of College Counseling.

Over the next five years, Stewart rose to become Director of College Counseling -- in 2009, one year after Ensworth School graduated its first senior class. As a result, she has had the opportunity to participate in building a counseling program where there were no preconceived ideas. As Director, she has been able to establish policies and procedures that reflect a philosophy with her own creative stamp and then watch the program grow. "It's hard for me to imagine being anywhere else because I've been so fortunate to get to do what I want," says Stewart.

Thank you, thank you to Assumption College

Thank you to Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, and their Vice President for Enrollment management Evan Lipp for the vote of confidence in College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step. Assumption is featuring our book in a postcard campaign the school is conducting with high school guidance counselors. We're honored…

College Admission in Sixth Printing


This week marks the one-year anniversary of the publication of College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step and we received the perfect present. Our book has gone into a sixth printing! Thank you again to our readers -- students, parents, and counselors -- for your support and confidence in our book. And thank you to our teams at Crown Books and ICM. Also, look for us at your neighborhood Barnes & Noble this month. B&N has selected College Admission as part of its “Get Ready for School” campaign! 

Elsa Heydenreich Clark, Immaculate Heart High School

Elsa Heydenreich Clark is the Director of College Counseling at Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles, California, a private Catholic college preparatory school for 555 young women in grades 9 through 12.  A graduate of the University of Southern California, Clark also holds a Master of Science in School Counseling from California State University, Los Angeles.

Since 1988, Clark has counseled juniors and seniors at Immaculate Heart, a unique institution with a storied history in Los Angeles. Founded in 1906, today the school ‘s student body includes many who are the daughters and granddaughters of graduates. It is also known for its diversity, reflecting the demographics of the Los Angeles population — two-thirds of those attending are students of color and many are first generation.