Through a highly individualized program that involves both students and their families, the College Counseling office helps students find the college or university that best matches their goals and interests—a place where they will thrive, excel, and contribute.
- Get to know your teachers.
- Map out a tentative four-year course selection with your advisor.
- Join a few clubs, try some new activities.
- Set up your account and explore Family Connection.
- Think you want to play sports in college? Check out the NCAA Eligibility Center online.
- Drive through college campuses when traveling.
- Think about your summer plans.
- Choose the most challenging courses you can, particularly in your areas of strength.
- Be earnest about your school work.
- See your teachers with questions you may have.
- Find out about the IB program and its requirements.
- Find out about AP classes.
- Attend the Charlotte Independent Schools’ College Fair.
- Start logging your activities on the Resume section of Family Connection.
- Start visiting colleges. Attend an information session and take a tour.
- Try a new activity. Volunteer to take on a leadership role. Try to implement something in one of your clubs that has never been done before.
- As part of your summer plans, do some SAT/ACT preparation.
- Buy a guidebook about colleges that will give you an “insider’s” look at the colleges.
- Challenge yourself in class. Participate. Ask good questions. Find your “voice” in classes so that teachers can write about your academic pursuits.
- Spend time with your teachers outside of class with specific questions and establish a rapport with them.
- Attend the Charlotte Independent Schools’ College Fair and the Junior Forum.
- Seek out leadership opportunities in your clubs and sports teams.
- Think about what you might do for the “good of the whole,” your school or community.
- Fill out questionnaires on Family Connection to prepare for your junior conference.
- With your college counselor, begin building a list of colleges.
- Spend spring break visiting colleges. Attend an information session and take a tour. See students who you know attend that college.
- Do something great this summer.
- Take the PSAT in October; remember that it is the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship program.
- Take an ACT and a SAT. Decide which you prefer and plan to take it again in the spring or fall of your senior year. Take the Subject tests if they are required by the schools you plan to apply to.
- Fill out the Common Application over the summer.
- Read the supplements for each college and determine whether you can use the same essay for multiple schools’ questions?
- Dig in! Really perform well this first semester, as colleges may be asking for mid-year grades.
- Make visits to colleges to see them when school is in session during our days off from school.
- Take the last of your standardized tests.
- Give your self time to write, reflect, and edit your essays.
- Make a lasting impression in your extracurricular activities. What can you implement, start, influence as your legacy at Country Day?
Finding the Right Fit: What to Look For in a College
Your choice of a college should be an extension of yourself, and your search for the best college for you should be guided as much by looking at yourself as it is by looking at the colleges and rankings and guidebooks.
Focus your decision-making on what is important to you. College is not simply a place where you will study and live for four years; it will be the place where you make lifelong friends and begin to shape your adult identity both intellectually and socially.
Some factors to consider in the college search process:
- Availability of intended major
- Possibility of combining majors
- Library and computer resources
- Class sizes and faculty/student ratio
- Availability of full-time faculty vs. graduate assistants as professors
- Reputation for academic quality
- Availability of off-campus programs
- Quality of facilities and faculty in area of intended major
- Opportunities to try out career interests through internships
- Percentage of graduates accepted to intended graduate school
- Percentage of graduates employed after graduation
- Quality and accessibility of faculty
- Intellectual level of students
- Friendliness of students
- Accessibility and responsiveness of the administration
- Social opportunities—percentage students in Greek life
- Quality of social facilities for students
- Major athletic programs
- Diversity of enrollment
- Cultural opportunities
- Appearance of campus
- Size of campus
- Availability of housing
- Metropolitan area vs. rural
- Residential vs. commuter students
- Availability of good places to study
- Food—dining halls and near campus
- Nearby shopping, restaurants
- Convenience of transportation
- Total cost (tuition, fees, books, etc.)
- Cost of travel to and from home
- Availability of financial aid and scholarships
- Employment opportunities on campus
- Reviews by college students: www.unigo.com
- Recommended Reading
- How to Navigate College Web sites
- Test Optional Policies at colleges and universities across the country (www.fairtest.org)
Visiting Colleges—Things to Consider
Academic Quality: For most applicants, academic quality is the number-one issue, but few agree on how to judge it. One important measure is the attention faculty members give to the quality of instruction. Certainly, no single visit can assess this characteristic fully, but you can get some useful information by visiting a class or two. Did most students seem interested in the lecture? How advanced was the level of discussion? Did the atmosphere and class size invite student involvement?
Campus Culture: Visiting the library and classes are important, but alone they won’t tell all that you need to know about academic quality. In fact, a common bit of wisdom about college is that half of the education is what you learn outside of your courses, especially from your peers. So do a bit of eavesdropping. Visit the student center, walk through the mail room and have lunch on campus. Listen to conversations, read bulletin boards, pick up a student newspaper. Trying to absorb the culture of campus life will help you find out what students are thinking and care about most, and if you have things in common with them.
Athletics: If you’re into athletics, take time to see the sports facilities and programs. Relatively few students can be varsity athletes though, so be sure to ask about club sports, the intramural program and recreational athletics. Because availability is as important as quality, find out what hours those impressive new fitness centers and swimming pools are open for general student use.
Keep Notes: Finally, keep a notebook to organize your thoughts about what you see on your travels: interesting people you meet, special programs you want to remember and your impressions of a campus’ overall atmosphere. Later when you need to narrow your list—and your memories of several visits have faded and blurred into each other—you’ll be glad to have a record of what you saw and heard at each school. Good luck and enjoy!
Questions for College Reps
Whether you are on a campus visit or meeting with a college representative who is visiting Country Day, be prepared to ask questions about the school. Here are some suggestions:
- What do you consider to be the college’s strongest majors or departments? The most popular majors?
- When do you choose a major? How easy is it to change majors?
- What are other distinctive or unique majors or programs offered? (i.e., study abroad, internships, Washington semester, independent study, etc.)
- What percentage of your students go on to grad school and/or are employed after graduation?
- To what extent will graduate students teach my classes?
- Does the college have an honor code, and how effective is it?
- What percentage of students stay on campus on the weekends? What are some typical weekend activities? What cultural and recreational opportunities are available on and off campus?
- What percentage of students are in sororities and fraternities? Are students who choose not to join considered “outsiders?” What are the rules about alcohol on campus?
- What is the college’s policy concerning the credit and advanced standing for AP/IB tests?
- What percentage of students return for their sophomore year? Graduate? Continue on to grad school?
- Can you describe the atmosphere/personality of the campus?
- How many freshmen do not get their first choice of classes due to closeouts?
- What percentage of the college’s students live in campus housing? Describe the various residence halls.
- Is an interview required? Is an interview a possibility at your school? What part does the interview play in the admissions process? What part does an area alumni interview play?
- Do you require SAT Subject Tests?
- Do you super score the SAT and/or the ACT?
- How many students typically apply for admission each year, how many are accepted and how many enroll? What percentage are accepted Early Decision? Is this an advantage?
- What are the burning issues on campus?
- What is the general political climate on campus?
- What is the average class size? How many students are in the largest classes?
Many colleges and universities do not have admissions interviews available because of the size of their applicant pools. Others do; either with an admissions officer or with an alumni interviewer. Most colleges will tell you that the interview is not evaluative; that is, while the interviewer may take notes to share with the admissions office, the interview is primarily in place for you to ask any questions you may have.
No matter what, look at the college interview as an opportunity to share information about yourself. You want to put your “best foot forward.” Here are some suggestions:
- Dress as you would for an assembly day at school. Or something you might wear to church or synagogue. Look nice!
- Arrive early. Take the campus tour before your interview, if possible.
- Look your interviewer in the eye. Smile and give them a confident handshake to start.
- Be honest and be yourself.
- Be ready to answer the question, “Why are you interested in this college?” Be prepared to discuss several reasons why you are serious about attending the school.
- Have some questions ready, other than those you can find the answers to on the college’s Web site. Perhaps there was something on the tour you would like clarified.
- Have five attributes about yourself that you want to get across during the interview. Try to work them into the answers you give.
- Provide examples. If you say that you are a good leader, have an anecdote about a time when you demonstrated that.
- Answer questions thoroughly, but watch the length of your answers. You don’t want to answer with one sentence, but you also don’t want to continue talking too long.
- Humor is a good thing, if you use it properly. It lightens the moment and helps you take a deep breath.
Questions usually center on some themes. They include your goals, your strengths and weaknesses, your values, your individuality, your intellectual interests and accomplishments; they might also concentrate on what you might contribute to the college, what you’ve read lately, or what you do for fun. Occasionally, colleges will ask students about current affairs, but typically they want to know about you.
Think of this as a conversation rather than an interview. What kind of conversation would you have with a friend of your parent(s)? Typically, after the first few questions, the interviewer will find out what you enjoy and will focus on that idea. Be ready with your five attributes!
Thank the interviewer for his/her time. Be sure to write a thank you note or e-mail to thank them again when you return home.
The College Counseling office has a list of questions that might be asked as well as questions you might ask. Stop by for a copy.
Making Most of Your Summers
In general, colleges want to see that you are active and interesting; what you do with your summers can help colleges know about what you like and enjoy. You do not have to do “high priced” experiences to be competitive. Often, staying in Charlotte and pursuing something in your “own backyard” is going to be helpful to your applications.
- Rest, rejuvenate, sleep.
- Read, read, read.
- Go on a family trip. With as busy as you are during the school year, a trip to the beach or to a family reunion is a great way to spend part of your summer.
- Get a part-time job; colleges love students who work.
- Travel. There are lots of programs for study abroad in the summer. Perhaps you are interested in a language immersion. Perhaps you will take a trip with Country Day’s International Studies office. Try a homestay experience. A program where you are learning to speak the language or living in the culture is often considered a better option than a sightseeing kind of trip. (*Note: the outdoor adventure kinds of trips are great experiences, but they are high-priced and colleges are aware of that. Do these if you love the outdoors, but keep in mind how colleges look at these trips).
- Attend a summer academic program at a college. Many colleges invite students to live in the dorms, take a few classes, and experience life on a college campus. If you have a favorite school, visit their web site and type in “summer programs” in the Search tab to see what might be available. If you do well in your courses, professors might be someone you can ask to write a recommendation for you. Just remember that attending a summer academic program does not necessarily enhance your likelihood of admission at that college or others.
- Attend a summer camp in an area you enjoy. There are camps for creative writing, engineering, architecture, art, photography, film—so many options. Try something you think you may be interested in studying in college.
- Volunteer. Think about your gifts and talents, how could you put those to work in a volunteer opportunity? Are you a computer whiz? Could you help older adults in a retirement community? Are you a lacrosse player? Could you help with a summer camp at Country Day or offer lessons in your neighborhood? Are you a book fiend? Is there a library that could use your talents? Volunteering in your community is a real bonus to your college applications.
- Leadership programs, like outdoor adventure trips, are often very costly. The content is good; you will hear great speakers and you will be with like-minded students from across the nation and world. These programs often send very formal impressive looking invitations to participate. It is likely they got your name and address from standardized tests that you’ve taken or perhaps from a recommendation by a faculty member. The “value-add” for these programs for college applications is minimal.
Extracurriculars and the College Process
Similar to what you do with your summers, what you do during the school year is important. What story do you want to tell when you are applying to colleges?
There are not “best” activities to fill your time outside of class. What do you enjoy? What do you think you would enjoy? Start doing those things in an intentional way.
Think in categories:
- Academic pursuits/Academic honors
- Volunteer work
- Part-time work
- Religious activities
What do you hope to learn and do in your time in the Upper School?
There are no parameters and no formula for extracurriculars for the college admission process. The most selective colleges look for a depth in involvement rather than a breadth of involvement. Is there a way that your activity gives you local, state, or national attention? Does your academic passion lead you to do research in the summer? Are you the best soccer goalie in the region? Are you doing something great for the good of your community?
What IMPACT are you making? Colleges want students who will add value to their college community in meaningful ways. How will you contribute?
Comparing the ACT and SAT
The ACT and SAT are nationally administered standardized tests that are used by colleges and universities to evaluate applicants. Most colleges and universities will accept either or both exams. The chart below provides an understanding of the structure and content for both tests.
Length of Tests
2 hours, 55 minutes
Evidence-Based Reading & Writing
4 sections: English, Math, Reading, Science
4 sections: Evidence-Based Reading, Writing and Language, Math w/out calculator, Math w/ calculator (plus optional Essay)
Arithmetic, Algebra I & II, Geometry, Trigonometry
Algebra I & II, Problem Solving & Data Analysis, Geometry, Trigonometry
Measures reading comprehension based off 4 reading selections: social studies, natural sciences, literary narrative/prose, and humanities
Emphasis on words in context, command of evidence, interpretation of informational graphics, and text complexity
Measures interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills in the natural sciences
N/A; no science section but there are data graphics and interpretation skills throughout Reading, Writing and Language, and Math sections
Optional: “evaluate and analyze” three different perspectives, “state and develop” personal perspective, and “explain the relationship” between own and those given
Optional: comprehension focused, emphasis on analysis of argument, and use of clear written evaluation
Composite Score is average of the four test scores from a range of 1 (low) to 36 (high)
Two sections (ERBW & Math) scored on a 200 to 800 scale; total score ranging from 400 to 1600
SAT Subject Tests
SAT Subject Tests are one hour, multiple-choice tests in specific subjects, which measure students’ knowledge of particular subjects and the ability to apply that knowledge.
In general, only the most competitive colleges require Subject Tests for admissions purposes, and most require two Subject Tests. Students should consult the colleges he/she are interested in to determine if Subject Tests are required for admission, and to determine which tests he/she should take and how many.
Other Helpful Information
College Application Tips
- Show appropriate level of interest and enthusiasm in the school that you are applying to. Emphasize the positive reasons for your application to that school.
- Demonstrate your sincere interest in the schools that track this (some private colleges) by making a campus visit, seeing the rep at Country Day, and emailing the admissions office.
- Try to establish a personal relationship with an individual admissions officer. That person can act as your advocate before the committee. Often the person who visits our school is the one who will represent you, so be sure to come to that college meeting and be engaged.
- Write your essays early to allow time to rewrite them if necessary. Take time with your essays—good essays can make your application stand out. Show your essay to an English teacher or college counselor who will give you critical, objective feedback.
- Take care with your applications and proof read them several times before submitting.
- Send supplementary application materials if it helps demonstrate additional talents or skills.
- Keep your college counselor informed of your first-choice college as well as any responses (acceptance, rejection, waitlist) you receive from a college.
- Don’t send too many recommendations from family friends. If someone knows you well and can write an in-depth recommendation and has a special relationship with the college you want to attend, that person is appropriate.
- Email the admissions office with any new information during senior year—awards or new things that come up after you have submitted your application.
Tips for Teacher Recommendation Letters
- For colleges that require teacher recommendation letters, they can be of critical importance.
- Be very thoughtful in choosing teachers to write for you, and be very respectful of the time it takes to craft a good letter.
- Find out how many teacher recommendations the college requires.
- Most colleges do not require any teacher recommendations, some require one letter and only the MOST selective colleges require two letters.
- You should not send the college more recommendation letters than they require.
- Please pick up Teacher Recommendation Request forms from College Counseling before the end of junior year and take these to your teachers when you go to ask them for the recommendation.
- Please return the completed forms to College Counseling before you leave at the end of your junior year.
- Most teachers will give their letters directly to College Counseling and our office will take care of sending them to the colleges.
- You should ideally ask teachers who have taught you in your junior year. Or at least in the last two years.
- Don’t forget to thank your teachers for writing recommendation letters for you!
Early College Application Plans
Early Decision (ED)
- You may only apply to one college under an Early Decision plan and you are committing to attend that college if accepted.
- If you are accepted, you must withdraw all applications to other colleges.
- Your application will be evaluated on the basis of your record through your junior year.
- In order to be ready to apply Early Decision, you must do extensive research and visit college campuses and be absolutely sure of your ED choice.
- Early Decision applications generally fall around November 1.
- At some colleges, an Early Decision application increases your chance of being accepted. This is a question you should ask a representative of each college.
- You must be absolutely certain that the ED school is your first choice and you will not regret losing other possible college options.
- If you are NOT sure, do NOT apply ED!
- Also, if you think you will need financial aid, you should probably not apply ED—talk to the college rep.
Restricted Early Action (REA)
- Restricted early action is a nonbinding plan where students apply to a first-choice college early and receive an early decision (admit, defer, deny), usually in December. Students have until May 1 to respond to this offer of admission. You may apply to other schools under regular or nonbinding rolling admission plans, but you may not apply to any other school under an early action, early decision, or restricted early action plan. Check on individual college websites to find the verbiage that each college uses in the restrictions of their early plan.
Early Action (EA)
- Many colleges and universities have Early Action or Early Notification plans.
- EA works the same way as ED, but is not binding—you do not have to commit to attending the EA college if you are accepted—you have until May 1 to decide.
- EA deadlines are also around November 1.
- Pay careful attention to the college’s Early Action policies—many schools have “Restricted Early Action” programs that do not allow students to apply to any other schools early.
- Many state universities as well as some smaller colleges have rolling admissions plans.
- These schools review applications as they come in, and the earlier in the process, the better—usually in September and October.
- Generally, four to six weeks after your application has been received, you will receive a decision.
- Many colleges offer scholarships based on academic achievement, standardized test scores, talent, and leadership in order to attract outstanding students. Competition for these scholarships is intense.
- Each college lists available scholarships on its website.
- It is the student’s responsibility to explore scholarship opportunities.
- Students may apply for some scholarships; Country Day must nominate its candidates for others; and some colleges select candidates from the applicant pool without any separate application.
- Scholarship information is published in the Daily Bulletin and distributed to seniors at grade level meetings, as well as being posted on the board in the entrance to the Upper School dining hall.
- Financial aid is assistance based solely on “need”--the family’s ability to pay versus the cost of attending a college.
- To determine the amount of need your family has at a particular college, the college will require your family to submit a standardized financial statement--the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA).
- Families may also be required to answer additional questions on a separate, non-federal form in order to be considered for state or institutional aid--the CSS PROFILE form from the College Board. A fee is charged for processing this form.
- Parents must complete both of these forms online.
- The college will try to offer a financial aid package (consisting of work/study, loan, and grant) which will absorb the difference between the expected family contribution (EFC--based on the college’s computation of the family’s ability to pay) and the actual cost of attending that college.
- The actual cost of attendance includes not only tuition, room and board, but also transportation, books, etc.
- Since college costs vary, the amount of your financial aid package may also vary from college to college.
- Many colleges have a Net Price Calculator on their website-–a useful tool for families to estimate their cost of attendance.
- The best source of information on financial aid and scholarships can be found online.
- Avoid any web sites that require payment! The best sites are free.
- Parents should also contact the financial aid offices at the colleges and universities their students are applying to; it is the financial aid office’s job to help and provide parents with the appropriate information.
Helpful Web sites