Back To School 1
- Page 8
By Lisa Baldino, Contributing Writer

The college application process has long been one of the biggest anxieties of high school juniors and seniors. That stomach-clenching feeling is spreading to underclassmen, and in some cases, middle schoolers, as competition for college admissions increases and time decreases.

Colleges and universities have becomemore selective, according to both statistical data and opinions of high school counselors and university admissions officials. The group concurs that there is a greater sense of pressure around the college application process than there was when Baby Boomers and Gen Xers graduated. However, technology has also streamlined the process, so it’s less cumbersome and more studentcentered. If you start early enough, you might even enjoy it.

Technology Aids

Applying for college is a building process, according to Terry Knight, school counselor at Bel Air High School in Harford County.“Communication is increasing and getting better. The process can be an enjoyable adventure. Admissions counselors are so helpful. Talk to them. Ask questions,” she says.

Knight describes an online program called Naviance, which gives an overall picture of the college landscape and customizes each student’s search process. She says it is a valuable tool that is generally accessible to most colleges and universities. “Students have access to Naviance in the seventh and eighth grades, so when they are in ninth grade, they can think about colleges and career planning.”

Students can upload their “brag sheets,” or resumes, request transcripts and recommendation letters and compare data from various colleges and universities by using Naviance. They can even see the acceptance rate of their high school’s applicants from previous years at a particular college. School counselors have access to the student accounts, so they can track the application process. “Naviance has made finding colleges more efficient,” Knight says.

The other significant technology update is the common application. It allows students to complete a single online application that is accepted by many colleges and universities. Students no longer need to spend countless hours filling out repeated information on different college forms. Complete the common app, and in a few clicks, you can apply to any number of colleges.

Timelines – When to Start Looking

Admissions counselors and high school counselors note that the actual college applications cannot be submitted until August of a student’s senior year, but the process itself starts much earlier. John Brenner, director of early college initiatives at University of Baltimore, says his department starts talking to students in middle school. “We are mostly looking for kids to become leaders at this age,” he says. “We talk to them about finances and knowing what to expect. We encourage them to prepare for the PSAT/SAT.”

Knight also notes the importance of the SATs, as well as the ACTs. She said that an estimated one-third of students test better on one or the other test, and most colleges are accepting scores from either or both.

University of Baltimore offers a dual enrollment opportunity to students in ninth through 12th grades. Students can take college courses taught by university professors right in their high schools. Brenner says the classes focus on math – algebra and statistics – and writing composition. “It’s an opportunity to connect students to the admissions office,” Brenner says. “Every student will complete an application for the program.” Brenner says 330 high school students earned college credits at UB in 2017 and fulfilled college general education requirements. In addition, UB partners with non-profit organizations during the summer months to offer one-credit, five-week courses to middle school and high school students. The courses include video game design and social justice.

By junior year, students can begin to identify colleges and start to visit campuses. When visiting schools, Brenner emphasizes asking questions to find out if it is a fit for you. He says, “Questions like, ‘How long does it take to graduate?’ ‘Do you have tutoring available?’ ‘What organizations are available for me on campus?’ ‘If an organization is not available, can I create one?’ should be asked at every visit.”

Kelly Farmer, assistant vice president of admissions at Stevenson University, advises ninth graders not to worry about which college they’re going to attend. “They should have the appropriate level of difficulty in their academics, be doing community service, and do well on the PSAT. It’s important that their schedules be appropriately balanced,” she says. She encourages students to start looking seriously at colleges by the end of their 10th grade year.

When applications become available in August before their senior year, students will be ready to complete them. The FAFSA (Financial Aid Application) is available in October for the following school year. “Choosing a college should be about who the student is as a learner,” Farmer says. “They should reflect on that and think about how that translates on the campus. What do you want to be involved in on campus – sports, performing arts, clubs?”

Acceptance – Who Is In

College admissions counselors are looking for students who will be successful on their campus, according to Farmer. She said each school has different criteria, but in general, schools try to look at the student as a whole. “The overall academic profile is used to make the admissions committee more or less interested in you. If your profile aligns with success, you will get a closer look.”The profile includes GPA (weighted and unweighted), coursework, schools attended and extra-curricular activities. “Essays are for students to speak to their own experience and be themselves. It’s a question of who are you, and why should you be on our campus,” she explains.

In Harford County, Knight says that English teachers make the college essay their first assignment in the class, so that students can get feedback on their writing and the content. “It’s about presenting your personality to the college,” she notes.“Tell themwhy it is your dream school, and why you would be successful there.”

Best Resources

Both high school counselors and college admissions counselors point to each other as great resources for students and parents.“Many school counselors have been to several college campuses and they can provide an overview for you,” Farmer says. Farmer notes that one educational study showed that when asked who the most influential people were in helping them to select a college, students said guidance counselors. Ultimately, she says, “You have to have ownership – ask questions, and don’t miss the bigger picture. Look at kids as a whole.” •

Decoding the Decisions – A College Prep Timeline

Middle school: Focus on balanced schedules and challenging classes

9th grade: Learn about Naviance and start a list of colleges
Consider dual enrollment opportunities

10th grade:

Spring: PSAT; begin college research and visits; check NCAA rules if sports are a variable

11th grade:

Fall: PSAT – necessary to be considered for National Merit Scholarships; SAT/ACT

Spring: SAT/ACT

Summer: College applications available for seniors

12th grade: Application process

October – FAFSA available

Nov. 1 – deadline for early decision

Dec. 1 – deadline for early action

March 1 – deadline for regular decision

May 1 – deadline for college selection

Early decision: a binding contract between one school and the student. If you are accepted at that school, you must remove your other applications from consideration and commit to the early decision school.

Early action: a non-binding agreement when students apply early in exchange for some benefit or consideration such as a special scholarship. •