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college search 5 Things to Do Before Starting the College Search continued from page 15 colleges. WOIS is a Washington state database Admissions professionals frequently set up that provides career interest assessments, booths at local high schools to talk to students. suggests college pathways, and guides students The representative working the booth isn’t some in creating résumés and college application random person; they’re often the very person who material. Naviance is a similar tool for will be reviewing your child’s application. nationwide use. Students can usually access these College admissions personnel are assigned to online tools via school accounts. different geographic territories and high schools Also consider BigFuture. An online tool within those areas. “We get to know students,” created by the College Board (the company says Montenegro, “so when that student does that brings you the SAT and AP apply, [we] can say, ‘Oh yeah, curricula), BigFuture provides I met this student at that high questionnaires that recommend school,’ and can advocate for the colleges, resources to help with the student’s admission.” Students admissions process and financial advice. The site also features to-do Now, for the underestimate lists for parents, with collegeapplication the power of their related tasks for them to complete Once in their junior year, students for each year their teenager is in who’ve done the work of selecting own story. high school. colleges find themselves in yet another quagmire: figuring out how to get in. There’s no perfect Visit campuses formula. Campus visits are an essential part Of course, a student needs to meet the of a college search, but this doesn’t mean an East college’s minimum admissions requirements. Coast road trip is in order. Then, applications are reviewed holistically, “Whether you’re thinking of staying locally says Monica Tafoya, an assistant director of or not, take advantage of the fact that there are admissions at Seattle University. so many great institutions that you can explore “We look at the whole student,” she says. “Of within two hours,” says Adrian Hodos, an assistant course, we see the GPA, but we also look at grade director of admissions at Seattle University. “Visit trend, the classes that they’ve taken, what classes a big state school. Go to that smaller liberal arts are available at their high school and how they’ve school. Get a feel. Let that feeling inform what you pursued their unique academic interests.” are looking for in your college search.” As far as how involved a student should be Once a student has been on several campuses, in their school and community, colleges want they’ll have more confidence answering quality over quantity. questions about college preferences. “We’re looking for students who’ve had A campus visit also makes the idea of college meaningful experiences,” says Montenegro. “We tangible. If a 15-year-old becomes entranced aren’t looking for a long laundry list of clubs, with a dorm room or picturesque corner of a but rather one or two experiences that they can quad, that image may propel her through high speak about: why the activity is meaningful, what school, encouraging her to sign up for that AP leadership lessons they learned, what they’ll class or set a goal of all As for the next semester. bring to the campus community.” “We have a lot of high school students who come But competitive GPA and test scores are here for a field trip,” says Montenegro. “Maybe UW crucial. “Academic factors really are of primary Bothell wasn’t on their minds, but they’re motivated importance,” says Matt Bishop, an assistant to apply after coming to campus.” director in the Office of Admissions at UW. “Extracurricular engagements are going to Make it personal come into play only as it relates to whether Making a personal connection with admissions your academic factors were strong or not. It can representatives is one of the most overlooked enhance an application, but academic factors are aspects of the college admissions process.

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going to be the driving decision.” The question about what test score or GPA is “good enough” is impossible to answer. “Admission is really fluid, and every year the candidate pool changes,” says Sandie Vea, a counselor at Everett’s Mariner High School. Some years, students with a certain GPA will get in. Other years, that same GPA will not be competitive enough. There are no guarantees. Students need to check specific admission requirements for the colleges that they’re interested in and then try to get as high above the bar as possible.

Tell your story y While grades, tests, classes and activities are important, so is a student’s story and their ability to tell it well. “Colleges do take into account the challenges that kids overcome,” says Vea. “Students underestimate the power of their own story.” Montenegro seconds that: “We have a lot of students who have family obligations at home, or work, or they have special interests like composing music. We encourage students to think beyond what they think we want to see. We are always looking for reasons to admit students — never looking for reasons to deny — so the more thoughtful and thorough a student can be on the application, the more information we have to advocate for their admission.” Bishop also stresses that the most compelling personal essays are ones that deviate from the normal clichés. “Try to stay away from topics that a lot of your peers might have written about,” he says. “We read a lot about service trips, sports championships and overcoming athletic injuries. If you write about a common experience, make sure to tell a story that only you could have written.” Some of the best admissions essays that Bishop reads are about simple experiences, like a student having coffee with their dad. The best essays are “able to articulate a certain degree of self-reflection, nuance and self-awareness,” he says. “That is what is going to stand out.” n Jenna Vandenberg is a Seattle-based writer, runner and teacher. parentmap.com/learning

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