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Home / Early Action

December College Search Guide

University of Iowa. – Courtesy Photo

The Road to College

By May S. Ruiz

Well, the rain certainly put a damper on our Thanksgiving weekend. But Southern California is always in need of it, so the rain was something to be thankful for. We’re also feeling the Southland version of winter with cooler daytime weather and freezing overnight temperatures in the mountains. All these have resulted in snow-capped mountains, making for a veritable Alpine sight. Christmas tree lots beckon with fragrant firs and mall stores entice with all kinds of sales promotions. And, of course, children are eagerly anticipating the Christmas season and winter break.

As we head towards the end of the year, some students are finishing up on the first semester and grateful that they are halfway through this school year. At the same time, some universities are re-examining their application process in light of the bribing scandal that rocked some of the most elite institutions of higher learning in the country earlier this year.

In an article published on November 24, L.A. Times writer Teresa Watanabe reported that chancellors of UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz and the University of California’s chief academic officer said they support dropping the SAT and ACT as an admission requirement.

According to UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol T. Christ and UC Provost Michael Brown, research has convinced them that performance on the SAT and ACT is so strongly influenced by family income, parent’s education, and race that using them for high stakes admissions decisions is simply wrong.

While Brown sees the SAT and ACT as an inaccurate barometer for admission, he isn’t opposed to all standardized tests that measure students by how much they’ve mastered prescribed academic content. He cited Smarter Balanced, which is used in California to assess 11th graders on the state’s Common Core Curriculum.

The article further mentioned that the 10-campus UC system and 23-campus Cal State system would join more than 1,000 other colleges that have gone testing-optional, with 47 more schools joining in the last 12 months.

Such measures, of course, are bad news for the multi-billion dollar college prep industry and among the dissenters to universities’ dropping the SAT and ACT tests is the  College Board, which owns and administers the SAT. Any change to what has been standard in the college application process will upend the existing method and it’s safe to presume that it would take a while before everyone can agree to one solution.

As I have consistently preached to students, and parents who are helping and guiding them through the process, high schoolers should make sure they are getting good grades in all their subjects. The single, most important component of their transcript is their GPA. And, during the shift that is currently taking shape, it is the one constant that admissions officers are closely looking at. Students’ GPA reflects not merely what they’ve learned in the classroom but is an indicator of how well prepared they are to tackle the rigors of college and a predictor of their success when they get in.


What a relief it must be for your 9th grader – he or she has survived the first semester of high school. While your children’s thoughts may be all about Christmas holiday, this would be a good time to evaluate their progress. Remind them that while first semester grades don’t show on the final transcript, these are barometers of their academic strengths and weaknesses. Encourage them to use the winter break to plan how to improve where needed and how to build on their successes going into the second semester.


If your children are taking AP courses they should also have taken the AP and SAT II exams.  They should take the time to meet with their college counselors for guidance on how to improve their test scores, if necessary. Now is the time to look at their interests to determine what college course they might be suited for. Based on their aptitude and grades, they will have to start planning on their course options for 11th grade. They can also start researching which colleges offer the course they might want to pursue.


This is an all-important year for your 11th grader and it is one of the busiest of their high school career. Your children should be able to successfully balance their academic and extra-curricular responsibilities. They should have already taken rigorous course loads, participated in campus activities, and moved into positions of leadership in whatever extra-curricular endeavor they chose.

If your children are applying to universities that still require the ACT or SAT results, they should start preparing for the exams either by taking practice tests online or by taking a prep course. Hopefully, college counselors have met with you and your children, and have given you an overview of the college application process. Your children (and you) should already have been to at least one College Fair and have met with a few admissions officers.

It might also be an opportune time to visit some colleges, at least the ones in California, before the spring break when you might consider going to out-of-town universities. If you haven’t thought about college visits, now is the time to put it on your calendar. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for your children to see the campus for themselves. There is nothing more unfortunate than for them to matriculate to a college only to be miserable after the first few months. Adjusting to life away from one’s parents and the reality of college life is bad enough; finding out they are in the wrong school is just an added disappointment.


While kids all around are excited about the Christmas holidays – perhaps thinking about what movies they want to watch, and where to spend their time during their winter break – your high school senior is sweating over his or her personal essay or feverishly writing all the supplemental essays colleges require with their application for the regular decision or the second early decision (ED II) round.

This is a crucial time for seniors. They need as much encouragement as elbow room to get their applications ready for sending. Your children should be in constant communication with the school counselor to ensure that all transcripts, teacher recommendations, and supplemental material are sent to all the colleges to which they are applying. They should be on top of application deadlines for all the schools – they’re not all the same – to which they plan to apply.

If your 12th grader applied through Early Action (EA) or Early Decision (ED), he or she must also be nervously waiting to hear from the college. And I’m sure your child would be ecstatic to receive an acceptance letter from his or her first choice. An ED means your child is legally bound to matriculate to that university, and his or her college search is over. Whew! If your child is accepted to a school through EA, he or she can either accept that offer or still go on to apply to other schools.

Accepting an EA offer relieves your children of pressure so they can enjoy the Christmas holidays, but it doesn’t give them leverage if they are qualified for scholarships. The best scenario is to apply and get accepted to several colleges so your children can get to pick the best financial offer or scholarship. The daughter of a friend had this enviable position – she is currently a freshman at an elite private college in Pennsylvania and her mom only had to pay $57 for the entire school year.

If your children are fortunate enough to have heard from their school, and have been offered admission, it would be mindful of them not to brag about their acceptance. Some of his or her classmates may have applied to the same school and are hoping for admission. The university to which your child was accepted might be his or her classmate’s first choice. It would be very hurtful to then boast that he or she has been accepted but is not planning on attending that college.

On the other hand, if your children have been deferred on the EA or ED round, there are some things they can do to enhance their chances during the regular round. They can send any updates on any significant changes since they sent their application – a letter from a counselor about their first semester work or a letter from a senior teacher. They can also send in their first semester grades, especially if they have received some As in the meantime.

Your children can also write a strong letter of interest and intent – all colleges and universities are concerned about their yield. If they are assured that your child will matriculate if accepted, they will look at him or her in a more favorable light (that is, if your child fits the profile they are looking for). This is one reason most colleges have instituted the ED II – they are assured that the applicant will matriculate if accepted. At the same time, it’s disheartening for applicants who aren’t applying for ED II as they would be far fewer slots available making the regular round more competitive than it already is.

Provide encouragement to your children if they have been deferred – the school isn’t rejecting them, they have just been put in the pool for the regular round. Remember that these admissions officers have thousands of applications to read. They wouldn’t want to go through your children’s application again if they weren’t interested in the first place, they would have just outright rejected them.

Your children should research all available scholarships, and start completing the FAFSA.

Some useful websites are: CollegeXpress (www.collegexpress.com); Fastweb (www.fastweb.com); Free Application for Federal Student Aid (www.fafsa.ed.gov); National Merit Scholarship Corporation (www.nationalmerit.org);  Scholarships.com (www.scholarships.com); Scholarships360 (www.scholarships360.org); Student Aid on the Web (www.studentaid.ed.gov).

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