College counseling starts before you enroll, when you develop the four-year plan with the Academic Dean. This sets the tone for your academic program, and helps you clarify your college goals. In January, the entire community gathers for a program dedicated to the college counseling conversation. In addition to renowned speakers who address the entire community, there are specific programs for each grade. Ninth graders talk about the academic program and the importance of taking academic risks, and they hear from seniors about crafting a theme through their academic and Co-Curriculum choices. Tenth graders begin conversations about college counseling that touch on identifying strengths, making use of summer programming, and navigating standardized testing. Juniors and their parents serve as mock admission panels and review actual college application files with college admission professionals. Seniors and their parents talk about leaving this institution that they love and making the transition to college. Additional programming throughout the year is topical and designed to serve each grade level and various constituencies.
Sophomores and juniors take the PSAT in October. Sophomores take PLAN in January which will be called ASPIRE starting in 2014-2015). These practice measures for SAT and ACT give girls a benchmark of their progress in a national context and allow college counselors data from which they can offer advice when planning for SAT and ACT testing.
As the school year gets underway, so does the college counseling process. Information sessions are offered to junior parents, students take their first SAT, and each girl is asked to make an individual appointment with her college counselor. After this initial meeting, girls are encouraged to schedule as much individual college counseling time as they need. Specifics covered at this point include self-assessment, gathering and organizing information, and establishing test and college visit calendars. Experience shows that careful planning in these early stages ensures a smooth process overall.
Madeira juniors are encouraged to visit schools to gather information about the many options and variables they may want to consider. While not possible for all, the college visit can eliminate the fear of the unknown or replace a romantic notion with a realistic one. Madeira also takes girls on a college tour during the long Presidents’ Day weekend. This tour visits several types of schools: large universities, small colleges, public/private, urban/rural.
Most colleges require teacher and school recommendations. The college counseling office writes a letter of recommendation for each girl on behalf of Madeira. In addition, girls contract with two teachers in spring of their junior year for academic recommendations. These contracts are filed in the college counseling office, and timely reminders are sent to faculty in the fall until letters are submitted.
The rest of junior year should be devoted to a strong academic finish. Senior course selections will largely be guided by logical progression and previous performance. To college admission committees, everyday performance and strength of program are still the best indicators of potential for future success. SATs and SAT Subject Tests, are taken in May and June, respectively. There are opportunities for standardized testing in October, November, and December of the senior year as well. Many girls will retake tests in the fall, but any senior will tell you, it is best to take the subject tests at the end of the junior year.
All juniors participate in workshops that help begin the process of writing essays, which many girls then work on over the summer. English teachers and the college counselors discuss strategies and review practice exercises.
Along with summer reading comes a lengthy college-counseling questionnaire sent by the college counselors to each rising senior and her parents. The end of the junior year is the best time for girls to reflect on their progress and achievements during high school. By chronicling their activities and thinking about their strengths, weaknesses, and contributions, students get an idea of how their application will be viewed. This is an opportunity for girls to think out their responses to college application questions by writing, in essence, a rough draft of their applications. It is also a valuable resource for college counselors when compiling information for letters of recommendation. College visits may continue (or begin) during the summer.
Time management becomes even more important for a first-quarter senior. Rigorous courses, school leadership, and regular activities compete for time with college essays, applications, and interviews. Communication with the College Counseling Office becomes a priority. In order to ensure that all school records are ready, girls are asked to have their applications completed at least two weeks before college established deadlines. Record keeping is crucial. Each school will have its own forms and deadlines. In addition to admissions applications, financial aid forms come from the colleges, the College Scholarship Service, and the federal government. Some institutions require all these forms, some only one.
Throughout the fall, seniors meet with the director of college counseling as a group to review the process and deadlines, and to discuss topics such as confidentiality, decision-making, and emotions continue.