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.

NACAC's List of Colleges Still Accepting Applications

The National Association for College Admission Counseling’s annual “College Openings Update” -- formerly known as the "NACAC Space Availability Survey" -- is now live. More than 250 four-year colleges and universities still have space available for qualified freshman and/or transfer students. The list also includes information about financial aid and housing availability.

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: 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.

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.

Daniel Gin, Niles West High School

Dan Gin had been a generalist high school counselor for four years when he boarded the Illinois Association for College Admission Counseling (IACAC) Bus O' Fun Tour. Road tripping for a week through ten college campuses in Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, Gin realized he had found his calling. "I could be the one who helps students find the right college," he said. And for the past eight years, Gin has, as the College and Career Counselor at Niles West High School in Skokie, Illinois.

Set in a suburb eight miles north of Chicago, Niles West is a culturally diverse public high school serving more than 2,600 students. Among those students, there are 96 different spoken languages, with the most common being Urdu, Spanish and Assyrian. Thirty per cent of the students are English language learners. Another 30% are on free and reduced lunch. And since Skokie is in the first ring of suburbs on the borders of Chicago, one in four students are transfers. So as the only college counselor on staff -- though he's assisted by 11 generalist counselors -- Gin faces some special challenges.

NACAC's List of Colleges Still Accepting Applications Available May 3

NACAC's annual Space Availability Survey, a searchable list of colleges still accepting applications for Fall 2013 freshman and transfer students, will be available to the public beginning this Friday, May 3, on NACAC’s website. Colleges’ listings also will include information about the availability of institutional financial aid and housing. Counselors, students, and families are encouraged to check the results periodically. NACAC anticipates that many colleges will complete the survey after the initial deadline and will update their listings as space availability changes. In 2012, 375 colleges listed either freshman and/or transfer space availability.

Required Reading for Parents

"And of course none of it matters very much at all, none of these early successes, early failures. I wonder if we had better not find some way to let our children know this..."

In 1968 in the Saturday Evening Post, author Joan Didion published an essay on being denied admission at Stanford University. It's timeless commentary on dealing with rejection and the complex feelings stirred by that bitter pill many applicants face at some point in the application process. Didion rooted out her rejection letter as an object lesson for a 17-year-old niece going through the process and then employed it as an opportunity to appraise the college admission landscape -- an appraisal that is surprisingly relevant in 2013. Enjoy...

On Being Unchosen by the College of One's Choice