THAYER ACADEMY COLLEGE COUNSELING GUIDE
UNDERSTANDING THE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS PROCESS
COLLEGE PLANNING TIMELINE
BEGINNING THE PROCESS
COLLEGE PLANNING TIMELINE
STARTING TO THINK ABOUT COLLEGES
RECOMMENDED TESTS FOR THAYER STUDENTS
COLLEGE ADMISSION: SNEAK PREVIEW
THE SCHOLAR ATHLETE
Introduction The college selection and application process is a time of self-discovery and personal growth. Students reflect on their lives, evaluate what is meaningful and important to their continued academic and personal growth, and develop criteria for a college environment that will accommodate these needs. Students need to keep an open mind and listen to all of the sometimes conflicting suggestions from friends, family, counselors, teachers and college admissions officers. They then need to take the time to evaluate the advice and put it into a perspective that is meaningful to them. There are about three thousand undergraduate institutions in the country, and many are appropriate for each student. Choosing a college is an interesting and exciting experience. If students begin early and follow the schedule outlined in this publication, they will have a good foundation before the process kicks into high gear in their junior year.
BEGINNING THE PROCESS
It’s never too early to begin thinking about yourself as a student, what kind of college might suit you best, and what you may want to do in the future. This information will become increasingly important with each passing year of high school. The work you put into your high school years will be reflected on the record that is sent to colleges in your senior year. You should be aware of how your choices and commitments will become a reflection of you when you apply to college. Students and parents are welcome to speak with college counselors at any time in their Thayer careers. However, the formal process begins in January of junior year with small group meetings that outline the entire process of exploring colleges and universities. Parents often ask what their child can be doing in 9th and 10th grades to best prepare them for the college process. Here are some suggestions: Make good decisions when selecting courses
The best course of action is to have four years of the five main academic areas (English, math, science, social studies, and foreign language) upon graduation. Students should seek to be the best generalists that they can be in high school; a broad education is the best preparation for college admission and success in the college classroom. That said, colleges take into account cases when students make curricular choices based on their strengths and weaknesses or their academic or career interests. Colleges publish their minimum requirements for admission consideration, and these standards can vary from college to college. For example, one college will require a minimum of two years of a foreign language while another college will require three. The graduation requirements at Thayer meet most college’s minimum requirements, but more competitive colleges will be interested in seeing students exceed the minimum. Students are encouraged to challenge themselves, taking rigorous courses in areas where they can be successful. Colleges do not expect students to take advancedlevel courses in every subject, but there is an expectation that students will push themselves beyond their academic comfort zones. Students should seek a schedule that stretches but doesn’t overwhelm them. For guidance on the best direction to take with course selection, students and parents should consult with their advisor, their teachers, and the department heads. The college counselors are also available to discuss the potential impact of a student’s curriculum on future college applications. PREPARE FOR STANDARDIZED EXAMS
One of the best ways to prepare is to read for pleasure. Reading reinforces and practices skills that are measured on standardized exams such as comprehension, vocabulary, and proper sentence structure. In addition, familiarity with the test can lead to better performance. Students should take advantage of any opportunity for exposure to tests. Thayer Academy requires practice tests (the PSAT) for freshmen, 2
sophomores and juniors. Participation results in online resources through the College Board which provide suggestions for improvement, additional practice tests, and information on college majors and careers. As students move into junior and senior year, some wish to enlist a test preparation company or tutor to assist with test taking strategies. Families exploring this option should realize that there are no guarantees regarding score increases. Some tutored students see their scores go up; others donâ€™t. More information on this option as well as an overview of standardized testing can be found on page 7 of this booklet. Get to Know YOUR Teachers
Most colleges request letters of recommendation from teachers as part of their application. The most effective letters come from teachers who know students well in both an academic and non-academic setting. Students should take advantage of the opportunities to meet with and get to know the Thayer faculty. When students are able to establish good relationships with Thayer teachers, it makes it easier for the teachers to be strong advocates for the studentâ€™s admission candidacy in senior year. GET INVOLVED
Involvement in activities outside of the academic realm is a great way to learn more about yourself. Activities can be within the Thayer community, independent of the school, a form of employment, or related to a serious hobby. Students may foster new friendships, develop a mentor/mentee relationship, learn valuable life skills, and perhaps gain exposure to what may become a college major or future career. Colleges are interested in seeing that students incorporate non-academic pursuits into their lives, but there isnâ€™t one specific type of activity (nor a set number of activities) they want to see. Students should make choices based on passions and interests, not based on the perception of what colleges want. The summer months are viewed as a time for students to take a break from academic work and relax! That being said, students are often looking for productive ways to spend their time. Many students find employment for the summer months. It is also a good time to get involved in other worthwhile endeavors. Colleges are happy to see students taking advantage of opportunities to broaden their horizons, but do not prefer one type of activity over another. Again, students should make choices reflective of their interests. There are many highly regarded, structured summer opportunities available each year. Programs can fall into one of many categories, a few examples of which include: academics, visual and performing arts, travel, community service, career exploration, leadership skills, and athletics. Financial aid is often available if needed. Students can inquire with the college counselors to discuss the opportunities that are available and what might be suitable.
COLLEGE PLANNING TIMELINE THROUGH JUNIOR YEAR
FRESHMAN YEAR Take a solid course load with challenging courses. Work hard to insure strong 9th grade academic performance. Freshman grades count in college admissions. Take the PSAT in October (at Thayer). Get involved in activities at Thayer or in your residential community.
SOPHOMORE YEAR Take a solid course load with challenging courses. Work hard to insure strong 10th grade academic performance. Don’t succumb to “sophomore slump” – a common GPA killer that
students come to regret by their senior year. Maintain involvement in extra-curricular activities. Develop your talent and potential for leadership in a few areas while
continuing to try new things. Take the PSAT in October (at Thayer). Take appropriate SAT Subject Tests in May or June (most likely Biology,
maybe Math I); consult with your teachers and the college counseling staff to determine if appropriate. Explore possible career interests, if any. If interested in the possibility of playing a sport in college, meet with
your high school coach to get a preliminary idea of the options before you and how to prepare. In the summer before junior year, visit some colleges
(begin with those in the Boston area).
JUNIOR YEAR Take a solid course load with challenging courses. Work hard to insure strong 11th grade academic performance. Many colleges look at the junior year as an excellent predictor of a
student’s potential for college. Maintain involvement in extra-curricular activities. By now, you should be developing some clear interests (even passions),
ones that you might even consider pursuing in college. Take the PSAT in October. This is excellent practice for your first SAT. Begin working formally with the College Counseling Office in January in
both small groups and individually. Parents are encouraged to meet with counselors as well. Begin to think about college characteristics that interest you. In the spring, attend the BISCCA college fair at Milton Academy to
connect with colleges that may fit your preliminary interests. Visit colleges when the opportunity arises
(spring break, school holidays, summer months). If interested in playing intercollegiate sports, discuss your options with
your high school coach and begin to contact college coaches through email and phone. Register and take the SAT Reasoning Test in the winter or spring
(January, March, or May). Consider taking the ACT as well in April and/or June. Register for and take the SAT Subject Tests as advised in June. Take AP tests as appropriate in May.
STARTING TO THINK ABOUT COLLEGES
When students are ready to begin thinking about colleges, there are several characteristics to focus on to identify potential college matches. SIZE
Colleges range in size from small colleges with less than 1,000 students to universities with 40,000 undergraduates. Many students value the interactions with faculty like those they have experienced at Thayer Academy; whereas other students prefer more anonymity. Students should think about how they learn and what kind of environment will best suit their learning style. Keep in mind that the term “small college” generally refers to colleges with under 3000 students (considerably larger than Thayer). LOCATION
Begin to think about these factors when developing college preferences: distance from home; region of the country; school’s setting (urban, suburban, small town, rural). TYPE OF CURRICULUM
There are essentially two types of schools: (1) a liberal arts and science program that provides a well rounded education and (2) a specialized program that focuses on a specific career-oriented degree such as engineering, business, nursing, or education. Begin to understand the differences between colleges and universities. Colleges tend to be smaller and focus on the liberal arts, while a university tends to be a collection of several colleges with a broader range of academic offerings. Other considerations: what are the schools’ general requirements, including foreign language and math expectations? Are there opportunities for internships, undergraduate research, cooperative education programs, or international study programs? STUDENT BODY, STUDENT LIFE
What is the ethnic and geographic diversity? Are support services available? What voice does the student body have in school affairs? What athletic and extracurricular activities are available? What is the focus of the social life? Do most students remain on campus on weekends or seek their social life elsewhere? What housing and dining options are available? What is the percentage of undergraduates compared to graduate students? ADMISSION STANDARDS AND REQUIREMENTS
What is the average admitted students’ academic numbers (gpa, test scores)? Which tests are required? Is an interview required or expected? What are the application options? Are essays required? Are teacher recommendations required? What are the application deadlines and options?
Standardizing testing for college admission can generate many questions and anxiety. Colleges require standardized tests as a means to see how students compare to other college-bound seniors in the country. Most colleges that use test scores to evaluate applicants realize that students can have different testing profiles and learning styles. It is rare that a test score will make or break a student’s chances, but instead it will be folded into the larger assessment of a student’s academic ability and potential.
Most colleges require at least the ACT or the SAT, but some do not. For the schools that require testing, most will take a student’s best scores, even if it means mixing different scores (i.e. SAT Critical Reading score from one test date and the SAT Math score from another test date). Schools generally don’t have a preference between the ACT and the SAT and will take either one. A smaller number of schools (usually the more selective ones) require the SAT Subject Tests. Because students will not know where they are applying until their senior year, they are advised to take several tests before their senior year so that they will be prepared for any testing requirements that a college may demand.
GENERAL TESTING SEQUENCE PSAT/NMSQT
The PSAT is the preliminary SAT and the National Merit Scholarship qualifying test, designed to provide practice for students in the fall of junior year. All Thayer sophomores and juniors take the test on a designated Wednesday in October. The test is normed for the academic preparation of juniors, so freshmen and sophomores should not be alarmed if their scores are lower than anticipated. The PSAT is used to select National Merit Scholars, and the national merit selection index (verbal plus math plus writing scores) is determined annually for juniors only (sophomores do not compete). The minimum score necessary to receive national recognition varies from year to year and from state to state. Information about this test is distributed in English class in the Fall. After the test, students receive a score report which gives a detailed picture of exactly how the student did on the test, question by question. Counselors and teachers can help students interpret this data.
SAT REASONING TEST
The SAT Reasoning Test assesses a studentâ€™s reading, math, and writing skills. Each section of the SAT is scored on a scale of 200â€”800, with two writing sub-scores for multiple-choice and the essay. Critical Reading Section: The critical reading section includes long and short passages for reading comprehension as well as sentence completions. There are two 25-minute reading sections and one 20-minute section. Mathematics Section: The math section covers number and operations; algebra and functions; geometry; statistics, probability, and data analysis. There are two 25-minute math sections and one 20-minute section. Writing Section: The writing section includes both multiple-choice questions and an essay. The multiple-choice questions section is 35 minutes and the student-written essay is 25 minutes. For more detailed information on the SAT, go to the website at www.collegeboard. com. SAT SUBJECT TESTS
SAT Subject Tests are one hour tests in a single academic subject. You can take up to three subject tests in one sitting. The SAT Subject Tests are offered during the same testing dates and times as the SAT Reasoning Test. You cannot take both the SAT Reasoning Test and SAT Subject Tests on the same day. Tests are offered in the following subjects: English Literature, U.S. History, World History, Mathematics Level 1, Mathematics Level 2, Biology E/M, Chemistry, Physics, Chinese with listening, French, French with listening, German, German with listening, Spanish, Spanish with listening, Modern Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Japanese with listening, Korean with listening. When possible, students should take tests that are offered near the completion of the corresponding courses, typically in May and June. Only a small number of colleges require SAT Subject Tests, and those that do often require two. Usually the choice of subjects is left to the student, but some specialized majors may require specific subject tests. With the Score Choice option through the CollegeBoard by which most colleges abide, students usually maintain control over which test scores a college will see as a part of their application.
RECOMMENDED TESTS FOR THAYER STUDENTS: Freshmen:
Typically, freshmen do not take subject tests as their curriculum does not correspond to the material on the exams.
Sophomores should consider taking the biology and math exams; about a third of Thayer’s sophomores typically take the Biology subject test and/or the Math Level 1 subject test. In most cases, the math and biology teachers speak with their classes about the exams and which students might be best suited to take them. The biology exam is most appropriate for students doing well in Biology Honors and perhaps for students doing well in Biology. Students who have completed two years of Algebra and one year of Geometry are good fits for the Math 1 subject test in terms of content; students who feel comfortable and confident in their math ability can consider taking the exam. Otherwise, there will be other opportunities in the junior and senior years to take the math exam as well as exams in many other subjects. Juniors:
Junior year is the optimal time for students to take SAT Subject Tests, as the curriculum that year puts students in a position to consider several different exams. Juniors can choose from Chemistry, U.S. History, Math Levels 1 and 2, English Literature, and foreign language (French, Spanish, Latin). We recommend that juniors try to take at least two subject tests. They can consult with their teachers and their college counselor about the exams for which they will be best prepared. ACT: THE AMERICAN COLLEGE TESTING PROGRAM
This test serves as an alternative to the SAT Reasoning and SAT Subject Tests. It is a battery of subject-related tests in English, mathematics, reading, science, and an optional writing section (most competitive colleges will require their applicants to take it); and students receive a score for each test as well as a composite score that ranges from 1 to 36. Because the ACT is, in some regards, a better indication of a student’s learning in high school courses, some students fare better on it than they do the SAT. Historically, one third of Thayer students score significantly higher on the ACT than the SAT; one third about the same; and one third significantly lower. All colleges accept both the SAT Reasoning Test and the ACT and will use the student’s best test results when making their admission decision. In addition, many of the colleges requiring SAT Subject Tests will accept the ACT in their place. This test is given in a few schools in the area at dates other than the SAT and SAT Subject Test dates. Talk to a college counselor about the advisability of taking this test. For more information, go to www.act.org. 9
ADVANCED PLACEMENT PROGRAM
This program enables high school students to challenge themselves with college level work and, perhaps, achieve advanced standing when they enroll in college. Scores range from one to five, and the academic departments at each college have their own criteria for granting credit, normally a score of four or better. Thayer prepares students for Advanced Placement Examinations in most academic areas and offers many specific Advanced Placement courses. The examinations are given in May at the end of an Advanced Placement course or with a teacher’s recommendation if the student is not taking an official AP course. AP test scores are not required for admission purposes, and colleges often do not use them to evaluate an applicant’s candidacy for admission. A handful of colleges will accept AP test scores in place of SAT Subject Test scores. TOEFL: TEST OF ENGLISH AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE
The TOEFL is designed for students for whom English is not a native language. The test is offered in two formats – internet-based test or paper-based test, depending on the test center. The test is four hours long and tests all four language skills that are important for effective communication: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Registration is available online. Tests will be administered on set dates every month of the year from September through June. This test is used to determine facility with English. Students who have resided in the United States for longer than five years should speak with their college counselor about whether or not to take the exam. Colleges will take a student’s bilingual background into consideration. For more information, go to www.toefl.org. SERVICES FOR STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES
Students with documented disabilities may be eligible for accommodations on standardized exams (SAT, ACT). If you believe your child could be eligible for accommodations, consult each agency’s website for information about guidelines and procedures. Each testing center has different criteria for determining eligibility. Generally speaking, paperwork requesting accommodations needs to be submitted a few months before a test date in order to be considered. For information and assistance in submitting accommodation requests, please contact Erica Archabal, Director of the Hale Learning Center, at 781.664.2202. TEST PREPARATION PROGRAMS
At Thayer Academy students are engaged in a rigorous academic program which develops verbal and mathematical reasoning abilities that are measured by the SAT Reasoning Test and the ACT. Teachers also familiarize students with the SAT test format and do some preparation in class. In addition, both the College Board and ACT provide very good practice materials at no cost.
You can pick up booklets in the College Counseling Office, and the websites for both tests provide assistance as well. More extensive books and software for independent preparation are available in libraries and book stores. Generally, the best preparation is to work hard in academic courses and to do extensive outside reading. Some students and families choose to seek outside help for the SAT or ACT tests in the form of a course or a tutor. When researching these options, you should seek options that work best with your learning style and academic level. To be effective, these options require a great deal of effort. Students are expected to practice the strategies they are learning on their own time. You need to be fully committed and able to balance these additional academic responsibilities prior to signing up. If there is any doubt as to whether you should invest in additional test preparation, remember that college admissions officers see classroom performance as more important than a score obtained from four hours on a Saturday morning. These tests do not pretend to measure motivation, creativity, kindness, decency, sense of humor, and other human qualities that colleges take into account when considering applicants. These qualities will have more of an impact than 50 points on the SAT. Thayer does not endorse any test preparation tutors or services. However, we host an SAT preparation course offered by Summit Educational Group on our campus for interested juniors. The course, which begins in January each year, prepares students for the May administration of the SAT. FEE WAIVERS
Students who receive significant financial assistance from Thayer Academy may qualify for standardized testing fee waivers through the College Board and ACT. Students should speak with their college counselor if they believe they fall into this category.
College admission: sneak preview
When you make your first contact with a college, the admission office begins a file of your communications and includes your academic and extracurricular credentials as they receive them. They make the decision to accept, deny, or waitlist based on these documents. At large universities there are often set criteria that must be met for admission; however, most of the colleges to which Thayer Academy students apply, make the final selection by committee. Folders are reviewed by admissions officers, and the officer in charge of Thayer students presents applications to the committee and advocates for them. Some documents in the student’s file are more important than others, and the importance may vary from college to college and from year to year. In the next few pages, we discuss the most important components considered in college admissions. ACADEMIC RECORD
The transcript shows the quality of the work you have done in the upper school, making it the single most important record in your file. Colleges have found that there is a strong correlation between the type of work a student does in secondary school and the work that will be done in college. They look for a student who has taken a challenging but appropriate program and has done well. Strong junior and senior years are especially important because colleges realize that it takes some students longer than others to adjust to a rigorous secondary school program. In addition, these years represent a student’s performance at the closest entry point to college, and the work expected of students is typically closer to the expectations in college. For that reason, declining grade trends are particularly troubling to colleges because these trends may continue into freshman year. EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES
Colleges are concerned about the non-academic contributions and experiences. They want students who will keep a college campus active and interesting. The quality of commitment is more important than the number of activities. Colleges also want students who look beyond their school life and contribute to the community. They want to know a student’s level of competence and interest in an activity whether it is athletics, the arts, community service, or an after-school job. Such commitment also reveals a great deal about a student’s personal qualities, values, and strengths. RECOMMENDATIONS
Most colleges ask for a counselor recommendation and at least one teacher recommendation. The college counselor writes a summary of the student’s experience at Thayer Academy. This summary explains a student’s academic work across all disciplines and discusses your extracurricular involvement as well as contributions made to the Thayer community. The teacher recommendations discuss a student’s ability, work ethic, and talent. Students do not have to get an “A” in a course for the teacher to write a good recommendation. Colleges want to know about a student’s willingness to persevere and to get help when work becomes difficult. 12
Colleges are particularly interested in writing ability, your intellectual curiosity, and engagement in classes. Thayer students are encouraged (but not required) to have one recommendation from the humanities and one from the quantitative areas. THE ESSAY (PERSONAL STATEMENT)
Most colleges require a personal essay, which is a good opportunity for students to share a part of their personality or history that does not come across in the general information on the application. Colleges expect students to write clearly and correctly. Students should use a style with which they are comfortable and let their voice come through. Thayer offers a college essay writing workshop the summer prior to senior year and requires that all students submit a draft of their college essay to their college counselor in August. STANDARDIZED TESTING
Many colleges view test scores as less essential in determining a student’s potential. In fact, for many schools the submission of test scores is an optional part of the college application. Colleges tend to rely more on the transcript and the other contributions you can make to their community. However, there are some institutions that use test scores as a significant part of their decision-making process. At these schools, testing can decrease your chance of admission if your scores are below the middle range of their applicant pool. SUPPLEMENTARY MATERIALS
Students applying to a music conservatory, art school, or to a specific art or theatre major within a university, will probably be required to have an audition or submit a portfolio for evaluation by a faculty committee. Details for these submissions will be available in the applications, and students should work from the junior year onward with members of our Arts Department to prepare this presentation. In some cases, students may wish to send supplementary materials that demonstrate their extracurricular talent, but they should do this only if the work is very good and the admissions office says it accepts supplementary materials. Otherwise, it could be a nuisance to the admissions office and an embarrassment to you. It is always a good idea to get an expert’s opinion on the material you might like to submit – consult with your teacher or college counselor.
THE SCHOLAR ATHLETE
Close to 80% of Thayer students play sports, but less than 5% of high school studentathletes are able to play college sports. Be honest with yourself about your athletic ability, potential, and commitment to the sport. Speak with your Thayer coach and former players (especially those with similar ability to yourself ); ask them for their perspective on your chances of success in collegiate sports and what you should probably work on to improve. Also get their advice on what to expect from college sports to see if itâ€™s the kind of commitment you really want to make. Your Thayer coach can help direct you to certain schools. You also want to insure that you are identifying colleges where you have a reasonable chance of admission. While athletic ability can increase your chances of admission, only a few students are able to get admitted almost entirely on the basis of their athletic contribution. If you are interested in the possibility of playing a sport in college, the second semester of junior year is a good time to begin contacting college coaches, informing them of your interest and your background. It is usually best to do this through an inquiry letter or email. You can find their contact information in the athletic section of any collegeâ€™s website. In a letter or email, state your interest in their school and program; outline your athletic experience, achievements, and statistics; and include your academic credentials. In many cases, this will open a dialogue with the coach that will help you get to know the college and the team better. Sophomores and juniors interested in playing at the collegiate level can initiate conversations with their high school coach to begin assessing options and discussing the steps in the recruiting process. First and foremost, though, remember that the academic record is critical for recruited athletes, and student athletes must make sure their academics always take a higher priority than their athletic commitments. College coaches are governed by rules restricting the contact they can have with high school students. For more information, speak with your Thayer coach and go to the NCAA website (www.ncaa.org) to review the Guide for the College-Bound Student Athlete.
In general there are two categories of financial aid: merit-based and need-based. Need-based financial aid is the most common form of aid. You gain access to those funds by filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to all colleges, the PROFILE to those colleges that require it, and an additional institutional form if required. Parents can file the forms online. Deadlines vary from college to college and depend on application deadlines. If a student qualifies for aid, the college will then respond with a financial aid package that is typically composed of grants, loans, and work study, depending on the familyâ€™s level of need and the collegeâ€™s resources and packaging policies. Some colleges offer competitive, merit based awards for a variety of talents including academic, athletic, and artistic. A few colleges are now rewarding community service and leadership. You do not have to be financially needy to receive these awards; you just need to demonstrate the required talent or interest. Most colleges announce their various merit award programs in their application packets. The college counseling office receives announcements for many small, community based scholarships, and we make these available to students in their senior year.
There are many resources available for you to use in your college search. Students can access materials on the internet. Thayer’s Web site (www.thayer.org/college/index.html) is organized to help students use the Web for college research.
Some other useful college-related web sites: www.collegeboard.com www.princetonreview.com www.collegenet.com www.collegeview.com www.colleges.com www.campustours.com
The College Counseling Office also has several guide books, and many are also available in bookstores and in the library. Some commonly used guidebooks include: Fiske Guide to Colleges Peterson’s Guide to Four Year Colleges Colleges That Change Lives The College Board College Handbook The Gourman Report - Rates Programs Rugg’s Recommendations for Colleges – Rates Programs
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