READY for takeoff: Do College-bound students have the tools they need to apply?

Dan Bidikov, Aaron Brezel, and Aaron Bialer, Dan Bidikov, Aaron Brezel, and Aaron Bialer

The first several months of senior year can be a whirlwind of essays, transcripts, and recommendations. Many seniors find themselves either overwhelmed by the influx of responsibilities or unsure about what they even have to do.

One issue in preparing for the college application process is starting at the correct time. To help with the college application process, the Schreiber guidance department provides students with Naviance, an online resource that aims to improve college and career planning. Familiarization with the Naviance website begins at the end of every student’s sophomore year. But is that ideal?

“The earlier the better,” said senior Brandon Small, “We didn’t really do anything until junior year, which is fine, but it could be better.”

Part of the student body believes that the guidance department has reached the sweet spot in terms of timing its preparation of students for college applications.

“While starting early makes a lot of sense, it brings up two important questions: one, is it worth it to bring such a high degree of stress into your high school career so early, and two, is the only goal of high school to get into college? I think the school does a good job of balancing both sides of those issues,” said senior Zach Herron.

Some students believe that it is not the timing but effectiveness of the education methods that matters.

“I think that [the informational meetings] start at the right time, but the way they go about educating us is wrong. When we meet in those large groups, it ends up being a waste of time, because it’s an ineffective method. With so many people, the entire atmosphere is naturally way too distracted,” said senior Simon Shapiro.

“The group meetings are to give out the general information, so that we can tell everybody. At no time are such meetings the know all and end all. If they need help, we have small sessions in the morning in room 112. If you need help with Naviance or the CommonApp, go there. They are also willing to schedule a time in room 112,” said Director of Guidance Mr. Hank Hardy. “How effective is it for general information to have one hundred individual meetings?”

Meeting one-on-one with guidance counselors is an option. Students can sign up for meetings in the guidance office or by phone. This allows students to get advice on a more personal level.

Student experience with counselor communication varies.

“All of the guidance officers are really easy to access at all times. Making appointment is easy to do and sometimes you can even just walk into their office and talk to them if they’re not with another student,” said senior Caroline Rimmer.

Others believe that given the number of students and the expectations of each student, the guidance office is spread too thin.

“It is hard to set up meetings on your own accord,” said senior Cal Gross. “because guidance counselors have packed schedules. It seems like they don’t have time for you.”

Some believe that the issue with guidance meetings is not the difficulty involved in scheduling, but the effectiveness of the meetings.

“There is no way of indicating the urgency or any other information about the issue that you are meeting with the counselor about when you sign up for a meeting,” said senior Erica Andrew. “Counselors aren’t helping us create our lists and manage deadlines so they expect us not only to keep track of our own deadlines but have everything done two weeks early so they can leisurely sort through it.”

Some students argue that a positive attitude goes a long way when working with guidance. “

All you have to do is blow kisses and you can cut the line,” said senior Rachel Sirotkin.

“We try to go with everybody being treated consistently and equitably. If there is a usurping of the rules, then somebody has to notify me, so I can inform my department that these are the protocols we need to follow,” said Hardy. “For college applications, once a student’s materials go into Naviance, then it goes to the counselor to process and then it is going to be uploaded or mailed to the colleges. Nobody is to jump the line. The only case in which there can be an exception is if there is an impending deadline.”

Even with the help of guidance, it can be beneficial for a student to conduct college research and prepare on his or her own.

“I like to tell myself that I am on top of everything, but it’s tough to keep track of everything you have to do,” said senior Rachel Johnson.

Naviance is made up of various tools that allow students to do anything from build a resume to compare their scores with those of previous applicants from Schreiber, allowing students to easily organize their preparations.

However, there is disagreement whether or not the school exposes students to the Naviance too early.

“Obviously Naviance is an important website for us to have access to, but we didn’t really need to know about it so early,” said Johnson. “When kids are exposed to all that information so early, it can be stressful.”

“Even when people thought ‘yay the website was dumb and inaccurate’, I still liked hearing about it so early, so I could log on and remind myself of how low my chances are of getting into college,”said senior Cameron Appel.

Students should always know that they have a choice regarding how early they start to use Naviance, and what features of the service they take advantage of.

“You can’t go back and change old grades. By giving you the opportunity to look ahead and use these programs, people are given the chance to start looking more forward. Just because it’s open, doesn’t mean you have to open it,” said Mr. Hardy.

Naviance has features beyond statistical comparison.  Through the Naviance system, the guidance office offers test preparation, career and personality examination, and college finding questionnaires.  Guidance believes features like this are relevant to students in the earlier parts of high school.

“There are a couple of reasons why we are slowly bringing in for more. Over the last couple of years we’ve opened up the sophomore accounts in around March, April, or May because we do the career exploration piece with them at that time. We started hearing from parents and students questions about why they couldn’t see Naviance, not to research colleges earlier, but to have the opportunity to look at colleges to see what a college wants,” said Mr. Hardy.

The main draw of Naviance is the wealth of information about colleges available to students. With the click of a button, students are able to access a plethora of statistical information on any college they want to apply to. This is helpful for prospective students who want to see if their GPA is high enough for their dream school.

Naviance takes on a more vital role for seniors. Teachers upload student recommendations to the Naviance website where they can then be sent to any college the student chooses.

However, as useful as Naviance is, students may find it helpful to use other sources of data collection resource during the arduous college application process, as Naviance is only based on the often small sample size of Schreiber applicants.

There are many other sources from which students can conduct their research. Some use online sources, whereas others use print sources.

“Due to the school workload, I don’t have the opportunity and time to visit many colleges, so I try my best to research them by their personal websites, Naviance, or using the very useful search engine, Google,” said senior Lauren Livingston.

“Unigo is a very helpful website that sends me emails about important information on financial aid and how to manage other college questions,” said senior Jackson Shain.

Unfortunately, it can be challenging for Schreiber students to decide where to apply on sources other than Naviance. ACT and SAT scores remain constant throughout every school district; however, GPA scales do not.

“I try to use websites other than Naviance, but I never know how I compare to applicants from other schools,” said senior Ben Pan. “Schreiber is the only school I’ve heard of that uses a 4.5 system.”

“The 4.5 system makes it difficult to compare my GPA with applicant data of a 4 or 5 scale. Even CommonApp does not allow submissions on our scale,” said senior Eric Rosenblatt.

Yet, students must be able to work around our unorthodox 4.5 system and find a method of research that works for them.

College Confidential, founded in 2001, is a compilation of hundreds of articles and discussion forums about choosing a college, getting in, scholarships, and more. It currently contains the largest college-bound community on the web, highlighting the idea that everything posted is entirely confidential.

However, some do not trust the opinions of their anonymous responders.

“I think College Confidential is useful if you want to worry more, but it is not based on factual evidence,” said senior Noah White.

Students and parents on the site have even developed their own jargon.

“Here’s my numbers, so chance me maybe? Cornell ED,” username TypeRA titles his discussion board.

There is a whole forum of “College Chances” discussion boards, featuring a single college-bound student asking others to “chance him/her” at specific schools, hoping members will suggest whether each school is a safety, target, or reach.

While it does not necessarily advocate the use of College Confidential, the guidance department does see the value in online resources for college research and application preparation.

“There are websites much better [than College Confidential].  College Prowler is fabulous. I love collegeclicktv.com, it offers students videos about the process,” said guidance counselor Ms. Nori Cerny.

All college bound students have to deal with the application process. Although it is universal, opinions vary on how much the school does for struggling students and everyone has a different approach for tackling college applications.

“The only consensus about college applications is that there is no consensus on college applications,” said senior Annie Kim. “Is the school doing enough for me? I guess I’ll find out when I get my decisions.”

 

Admissions Perspective

With the hundreds of college applications flooding the guidance department every Fall, counselor’s attention can be stretched thin.  This makes informed, helpful advice hard to come by.  Students must take  the initiative to have a general idea of what college admission officers look for in an application.  There are many opinions on what makes an application stand out.  In reality, there is no right answer.  Each college has its own system for analyzing prospective students, making it impossible to have a “perfect” application.  There are however, general guidelines one can follow to make an application more attractive.

Mrs. Ann Brown, Director of Admissions at Union College, cited the following as the most important factors for admissions at most schools.

“1. Grades: good grades make an application stand out.  If you have had consistent excellent grades throughout, bravo.  If you have improved over high school, terrific.  Senior fall grades are critical to the success of your application.  When reading folders, I review your transcript starting with the senior year.  Later, if you were to want to pursue a waitlist, your spring grades will also be important.  Study more, meet with your teachers, reviews your tests and correct wrong answers.

2. Courses: all schools will consider the courses you have taken in high school and how you have challenged yourself.  Advanced, honors, AP, IB or colleges courses are some ways that students reveal the strength of their programs.  Take the most advanced classes you can and still do well and stay healthy.  Also challenge yourself in areas of strength. If you love English, do advanced work in that area.  I love French but if you do not, do not pursue that and do poorly.

3. Recommendations: Your counselor will write about your life in and out of school so be sure to share your resume and dreams with him/her.  Your teachers will write about your life in the classroom.  Competitive colleges read these very closely and appreciate what your counselor and teachers have to add.  Be sure to thank them!  Colleges do not appreciate additional teacher recommendations.  If one is required, offer two NOT five or six.  Too many recommendations delay the reader from getting to your essay.

4. Extra-curricular activities: Have you made good use of your time?  Show that when listing activities.  Be careful not to have your first four activities under one umbrella (e.g. lacrosse).  Consistency and variety make activity lists interesting.

5. Personal Statement: Widely called THE ESSAY.  Write your own essay.  Write three drafts of your essay.  A positive aspect of  YOU should be the topic of the essay. Avoid redundancy.  Enlist a caring adult to read your essay and give your feedback.  Friends will be too kind to edit.  A carefully written piece will be an asset to your application.”

Alumni Perspectives

Perhaps the effectiveness of the guidance department’s preparation methods is best judged by already excepted college students.  The Schreiber Times found a few opinions from recent graduates on their perceieved preparedness for their college applications.

 “Although there were a great deal of workshops and meetings, I felt there was never really much personal attention given out to students.  Without personalized attention I felt overwhelmed and underprepared as deadlines approached and work began to pile up.” – Conor Boyle, ’13 “I thought Schreiber prepared me very well for the whole process.  There were many meetings to go over it, and my guidance counselor, Mrs. Linsner, was always available and very helpful.  It definitely worked out for me.” – Holly Hubsher’13

The whole college application process is messy and confusing, and it’s like that no matter where you are.  I think Schreiber helped me as much as it could, keeping me informed about which forms I had to fill out and which colleges were visiting when, among other things.  Although I did most of my own research, the school still definitely guided me through the process.” – Eleanor Kim ’13

“My guidance counselor and the guidance department were very helpful during the application process.  The folders they gave us during junior year that included information on how to write an essay and create a resume definitely helped guide me when working on my applications,” – Dana Mirro, ’13.

“I feel like the informational meetings and help from my awesome guidance counselor made the college application process easier” – Alexa Pinto, ’13.

I would say that the school did not prepare me all that well for the college process.  It took a lot of my own time to research what types of schools I would be interested in visiting and applying to.  Most of the process was done on my own and without the help of the school,” – Ali Peltz, ’13.