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Home / Independent College Counselors

February College Search Guide

San Jose State University. – Courtesy Photo

The Road to College

By May S. Ruiz 

With winter break in the rearview mirror, your children’s emphasis should have shifted back to school work. Hopefully, they have also done well in their first semester and are actively involved in this phase of their learning.


Your children are well into the second semester of 9th grade and are now fully engaged in the academic and extra-curricular life at their school. They should continue focusing on maintaining good grades. If their first semester marks need improvement, now is the time to turn things around. Time management is of paramount importance as schedules could prove to be challenging with their course load, sports and extra-curriculars all vying for their attention and time.

Encourage your children to start thinking about their summer community service activity. Your student’s college counselor may have some recommendations on community service and other clubs and organizations to develop his or her interests and abilities. I have to emphasize that your children should pursue an activity they are truly passionate about and be involved in it throughout their four years in high school. This shows admissions officers genuine interest and zeal.


Make sure your children are staying on top of their grades so that the final grades that go on their transcript are the best they could earn. The schools they will be applying to will only get to see all the marks in their first three years in high school. If their first semester grades weren’t stellar, they need to improve their grades this semester. They need to meet with their grade class dean to make sure their grades and courses are on the right track for graduation. They should know what tests they need to take and register for them (www.collegeboard.com; www.act.org).

It would be a smart move for them to take the SAT subject test the year they take the course while it is still fresh in their mind. My daughter took her SAT II Chemistry test as well as the AP test in May of her sophomore year.

– Courtesy photo


I cannot emphasize this enough – junior year is the last complete year that college admissions officers will be looking at when your children send their application. They need to maintain their good grades and continue their extra-curricular activities. If they had good study habits back in 9th grade and have established a routine, they shouldn’t be feeling overwhelmed right now.

Recently, I was reminded of the fact that for most students meeting frequently with their school’s counselors isn’t always a possibility. In some high schools where there are as many as 400 seniors to four full-time counselors, a junior may not even get any face-to-face time with a counselor. This puts the onus on your children to be very resourceful and to take the initiative in gathering their research material and plan their course of action as they embark on the college application process.

Outside independent resources are also available for you and your children if you need assistance. One particular organization I heard about is called CollegeVine in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Its near-peer mentoring method pairs high school students with highly-qualified college student “peers” who have had recent success navigating this same road, which is challenging and daunting for teens. This model works because students relate to mentors closer to their own age who truly get them, communicate the same way, and are already on the campuses of the top universities with access to real-time information and tools. Peer mentors confer with students via video conferencing.

If you want an independent counselor who can sit down with you face-to-face during the initial meetings, Greg Kaplan would be a good resource. He grew up in and attended Southern California schools and has written an excellent book called “Earning Admission: Real Strategies for Getting into Highly Selective Colleges.” He will guide your student through the four years of high school and strategize how to best present your child to admissions officers. He does Skype conferencing after the first meeting.

Meanwhile, as the parent of a junior, you should also make sure your child is on track – has taken all the courses the high school requires for graduation and is taking all the courses to complete the UC and Cal State requirements.

They need to be aware of what standardized tests they should be registering for and taking (SAT I in March, ACT in April or June, SAT II exams in May or June. AP registration is in the fall but specific deadlines may vary by school, so your children should check with their teachers or AP coordinator.  www.collegeboard.com, www.act.org).

Your children’s plans for spring break college visits should be finalized. If they are visiting the colleges on their own (not the high school’s group-arranged tour), they need to call the admissions office to schedule their visit. It would be very ill-advised for parents to be scheduling the college visit for their students. As much as you want to be hands-on, relinquish control and have your children make the appointments. Most universities have a morning and an afternoon tour at 10:00 am and 2:00 pm. There is usually an information session for an hour and a walking tour afterwards. If they are thinking of applying through early action or early decision, they might want to make an interview appointment with an admission officer (if it is a requirement for application). They might also want to schedule to meet with a current student to learn more about the school, or ask to see the rooming arrangements.

– Courtesy photo


Your children should not take for granted that they are all done with schoolwork because they have sent in their college application. Don’t let them succumb to “senioritis” – they still have to submit their final transcript. The school can rescind their acceptance if admissions officers see a drastic drop in their grades. In fact, a single lower mark can trigger some questions. Besides, third quarter grades are very important in case they are waitlisted. And, in the unfortunate event that they realize the college or university they are attending isn’t the right fit for them, senior-year grades will be crucial if they decide to apply for a transfer. One college freshman I know did just that this past winter break.

Additionally, seniors need to be mindful of their social activities. Schools are tech-savvy – they check social media profiles of students they have accepted and can rescind that offer if they find unacceptable behavior. Your children should be mindful of what may end up online.

If your children have received new awards or commendations, or have accomplished something significant since they sent in their college application, they should email this important update to the admissions officer or the area representative of the school they applied to.

The months following the end of the college application process are usually as anxiety-ridden for seniors as well as parents. While everyone has breathed a sigh of relief that the mad rush is over, the waiting period is just as nerve-wracking. In the next few weeks, some college decisions would be trickling in.

Remind your children to be careful how they share their good news as their friends might be getting some bad news at the same time. If they have been accepted to their “safety school” but aren’t planning on attending it, they should resist the urge to boast about it as it might be someone else’s “dream school.”

Most of all, your children need to be patient – the answer will eventually arrive and nothing can hurry it up. Colleges notify at different times and in different ways. They shouldn’t read into the timing of the decision letters; their friends getting good news early doesn’t necessarily mean a bad outcome for them.

Your children should confirm with the colleges to make sure they have all the documents they require. They should continue applying for scholarships (www.scholarships.com; www.collegexpress.com; www.scholarships360.org, www.fastweb.com, www.studentaid.ed.gov, www.affordablecollegesonline.org/graduating-debt-free) and getting their FAFSA (www.fafsa.ed.gov) ready for submission.

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