Skip to main content

College Countdown: Keeping High School Students on Track for Admission

Jul 31, 2017 08:30PM, Published by Jennifer Monahan, Categories: Advertisers, Education, Today


Central Catholic graduates, photo by Roy Engelbrecht


Gallery: College Countdown: Keeping High School Students on Track for Admission [9 Images] Click any image to expand.



PSAT, SAT and ACT tests. Application deadlines. GPAs. Campus visits. College essays. Financial aid. The considerations facing high school students as they prepare for post-secondary study are overwhelming, and it can be tough for parents to know how to help their children navigate these tricky waters. 

Having a plan and a timeline are a must. Here, three guidance counselors from prestigious local high schools share their insights about staying on track throughout the college preparation process. Keith Bryner is director of college counseling for The Ellis School and has worked in college admissions at Carnegie Mellon University and American University. Phil DiRenzo is director of counseling at Central Catholic High School and has experience in admissions at La Roche College. Lauren Lieberman is director of college counseling for Shady Side Academy and previously worked in admissions at the University of Chicago. 

Researching Schools

According to these experts, during the early years of high school, parents should follow their children’s lead about when to begin the college search process. “There is no wrong time to start,” Bryner said. 

Lieberman explained that college visits can be informal. “If you’re on vacation or at a wedding, go have lunch on a nearby campus or walk around a bit,” she said. Especially in ninth or 10th grade, students can get a feel for the campus without having to do a formal visit. Juniors and seniors should make a point of stopping by the admissions office, however. 

By the summer after junior year of high school, students should start to visit some schools. Day trips to nearby campuses or more comprehensive college trips are both effective in helping students determine what they like and dislike in a school.

DiRenzo advises high school juniors to attend the Pittsburgh National College Fair held annually in February at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. The event is free and brings together admissions counselors from over 250 colleges and universities to meet with students and parents.

“This is the biggest college fair in the region,” he said. “It’s a great time for families to launch the college search process.”

While DiRenzo said that Central Catholic students begin utilizing the school’s college and career readiness software in ninth grade, junior year is when most college-bound students encounter some of the typical benchmarks for college preparation. One major milestone is the PSAT.

STANDARDIZED TESTING

Many schools offer the PSAT in 10th grade as a way of practicing for the real thing. The PSAT administered during the winter or spring of 11th grade is the official exam, making students eligible for National Merit scholarships and honors. The test is a fairly reliable predictor of SAT scores, Bryner said.

Depending on PSAT results, Bryner guides students toward one of three paths. Students with very strong PSAT scores might take the SAT during spring of 11th grade, while students who want to raise their scores might put off taking the SAT until the summer, allowing time to complete their junior year coursework and possibly do some test preparation. Students with scores well below their desired outcome typically delay the first SAT test until summer or even fall of senior year, allowing time for test preparation courses or tutoring.

Many students do test preparation between junior and senior year, Lieberman explained, because they find summer to be a time when they can better focus. The demands of classes and extracurricular commitments often make such attention difficult during the academic year.

In advising students about test preparation, Lieberman uses the analogy of getting physically fit. “Some people can have a training plan and do it on their own. Some people make better progress as part of an exercise class. Some people need a personal trainer,” she explained. The same principle applies to ACT or SAT test preparation, and the best approach varies depending on individual motivation and accountability.

FINANCIAL AID

For students seeking financial assistance, the summer after junior year is a great time to start researching potential merit scholarships. DiRenzo said PittsburghFoundation.org and Fastweb.com are two helpful resources to find available scholarships.

Lieberman suggested parents use the Net Price Calculator (a feature on virtually every college and university website) to help determine the real cost of attendance. She recommended that parents begin honest financial conversations with their children early so that students know what role family finances will play in college selection. “Students should know whether they should be considering in-state versus private schools, whether they might need to take out loans and what, if anything, parents will be able to contribute,” Lieberman explained.

The financial aid process (resulting in a package of grants, scholarships and/or loans available through a particular university or college) begins during October of students’ senior year, Bryner said. Most aid packages are now offered along with admission, providing clarity for families to determine the best financial fit.

college prep curriculum

Course selection during junior and senior year is another key component to stay on track for college admission. Lieberman said students should take the most challenging courses in which they can be successful, selecting classes in collaboration with teacher recommendations. 

“Parents especially can feel so much anxiety about classes, worrying that their children won’t be competitive for college,” Lieberman said. “Students should not forfeit the thing they love most—like the school play or a sport—just so they can really focus on a single class that they think will get them into college.” Admissions counselors consider everything in context, she added, so one single course or grade is unlikely to influence the student’s chance for admission.

APPLYING TO COLLEGE

During the fall of senior year, students should expect to spend about as much time on the college preparation process as they would on a regular academic course. Researching schools, filling out forms and writing essays take up some of that time, but Bryner also encourages students to make sure to dedicate what he termed “head time” to the process. “Think hard about what you are doing and about what you want,” he said. 

Lieberman said that self-reflection is often the most difficult piece of the equation, and the easiest part for students to skip. She suggested that students keep a journal, talk to their parents or find other ways to process their thoughts. She added that parents can assist by keeping up regular conversations and helping students consider questions like: What about high school have I loved? What am I passionate about? What about my group of friends—how do I replicate that in college? Or, if I haven’t been happy, how do I make a change?

She also suggested that students find adults they admire and ask them about their college and career journeys, as well as what steps they followed to achieve what they have, and what that might mean for their own choices about college.

Ultimately, Lieberman said, parents should encourage students to seek colleges or universities where they will thrive. Finding the best college is about finding the best fit for an individual student; a place where that person can be comfortable and take the next steps that will lead them toward adulthood.

College Checklist

Grades 9 & 10

 • If student expresses interest, begin informal visits to college campuses.

• Discuss college finances. What tuition can the family afford? How much will the student need to contribute through work, scholarships or loans?

• Consider taking a practice PSAT, if offered.

Grade 11

• Consider course selection in light of requirements for potential colleges.

• Attend Pittsburgh National College Fair in February.

• Take the PSAT.

• Check out the Net Price Calculator for schools of interest.

Summer after 11th grade

• Begin campus visits to potential universities.

• Prepare for the ACT and/or SAT exam.

• Research potential schools.

• Research potential scholarships.

Grade 12

• Consider course selection in light of requirements for potential colleges.

• Take the ACT and/or SAT exam.

• Complete college applications.

• Fill out financial aid forms (available October 1).

• Take time to reflect about what constitutes a good fit for the student.



  • Butterfly Forest

    08/23/2017
    09:30AM — 05:00PM

    In celebration of Earth Day, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens’ Butterfly Forest opens on...


  • Parkinson's Support Group

    08/23/2017
    01:00PM — 02:30PM

    Date: Last Wednesday of each month Time: 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Location: HealthSouth Harmarvil...


  • Alzheimer's Caregiver Support Group

    08/23/2017
    05:30PM — 06:30PM

    Are you caring for an aging parent or loved one with Dementia and looking for a monthly support g...


  • General Cancer Support Group

    08/23/2017
    06:30PM — 08:00PM

    General support for cancer patients and caregivers over 18. No students please.


  • Butterfly Forest

    08/24/2017
    09:30AM — 05:00PM

    In celebration of Earth Day, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens’ Butterfly Forest opens on...


  • Butterfly Forest

    08/25/2017
    09:30AM — 05:00PM

    In celebration of Earth Day, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens’ Butterfly Forest opens on...


  • Butterfly Forest

    08/26/2017
    09:30AM — 05:00PM

    In celebration of Earth Day, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens’ Butterfly Forest opens on...


  • PA Polio Survivors Network

    08/26/2017
    10:30AM — 12:30PM

    An interactive web conference titled Post-Polio Care: Past, Present and Future. To register cont...


  • Cindystock 14

    08/26/2017
    04:00PM — 10:00PM

    An outdoor music festival and picnic benefiting 7 local cancer charities at a private home in Wex...


  • Bluegrass Night

    08/26/2017
    06:30PM — 09:30PM

    The Jakob's Ferry Stragglers - Headlining Act The Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers draw freely from old-...


  • Butterfly Forest

    08/28/2017
    09:30AM — 05:00PM

    In celebration of Earth Day, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens’ Butterfly Forest opens on...


  • Cranberry High Noon Toastmasters

    08/28/2017
    12:00PM — 01:00PM

    Toastmasters International is a world leader in communication and leadership development. Become ...


  • Western PA Professional Business Association

    08/29/2017
    07:30AM — 08:30AM

    As one of the premier Pittsburgh Networking Groups, the mission of the Western Pennsylvania Profe...


  • Butterfly Forest

    08/29/2017
    09:30AM — 05:00PM

    In celebration of Earth Day, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens’ Butterfly Forest opens on...


  • Butterfly Forest

    08/23/2017
    09:30AM — 05:00PM

    In celebration of Earth Day, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens’ Butterfly Forest opens on...


  • Parkinson's Support Group

    08/23/2017
    01:00PM — 02:30PM

    Date: Last Wednesday of each month Time: 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Location: HealthSouth Harmarvil...


  • Alzheimer's Caregiver Support Group

    08/23/2017
    05:30PM — 06:30PM

    Are you caring for an aging parent or loved one with Dementia and looking for a monthly support g...


  • General Cancer Support Group

    08/23/2017
    06:30PM — 08:00PM

    General support for cancer patients and caregivers over 18. No students please.


  • Butterfly Forest

    08/24/2017
    09:30AM — 05:00PM

    In celebration of Earth Day, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens’ Butterfly Forest opens on...


  • Butterfly Forest

    08/25/2017
    09:30AM — 05:00PM

    In celebration of Earth Day, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens’ Butterfly Forest opens on...


  • Butterfly Forest

    08/26/2017
    09:30AM — 05:00PM

    In celebration of Earth Day, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens’ Butterfly Forest opens on...


  • PA Polio Survivors Network

    08/26/2017
    10:30AM — 12:30PM

    An interactive web conference titled Post-Polio Care: Past, Present and Future. To register cont...


  • Cindystock 14

    08/26/2017
    04:00PM — 10:00PM

    An outdoor music festival and picnic benefiting 7 local cancer charities at a private home in Wex...


  • Bluegrass Night

    08/26/2017
    06:30PM — 09:30PM

    The Jakob's Ferry Stragglers - Headlining Act The Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers draw freely from old-...


  • Butterfly Forest

    08/27/2017
    09:30AM — 05:00PM

    In celebration of Earth Day, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens’ Butterfly Forest opens on...


  • Memorial Park Church Family Fall Festival

    08/27/2017
    12:00PM — 02:30PM

    We will be kicking off the year in style, so come and see - there's more to us than meets the eye...


  • Health by ZIP Code: Where you Live Matters

    08/27/2017
    02:30PM — 04:00PM

    Hear from the leading experts on health issues that impact the African-American community and how...


  • Butterfly Forest

    08/28/2017
    09:30AM — 05:00PM

    In celebration of Earth Day, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens’ Butterfly Forest opens on...


  • Cranberry High Noon Toastmasters

    08/28/2017
    12:00PM — 01:00PM

    Toastmasters International is a world leader in communication and leadership development. Become ...


  • Western PA Professional Business Association

    08/29/2017
    07:30AM — 08:30AM

    As one of the premier Pittsburgh Networking Groups, the mission of the Western Pennsylvania Profe...


  • Butterfly Forest

    08/29/2017
    09:30AM — 05:00PM

    In celebration of Earth Day, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens’ Butterfly Forest opens on...


  • Butterfly Forest

    08/30/2017
    09:30AM — 05:00PM

    In celebration of Earth Day, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens’ Butterfly Forest opens on...


  • Parkinson's Support Group

    08/30/2017
    01:00PM — 02:30PM

    Date: Last Wednesday of each month Time: 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Location: HealthSouth Harmarvil...


  • Butterfly Forest

    08/31/2017
    09:30AM — 05:00PM

    In celebration of Earth Day, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens’ Butterfly Forest opens on...


  • Butterfly Forest

    09/01/2017
    09:30AM — 05:00PM

    In celebration of Earth Day, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens’ Butterfly Forest opens on...


  • Butterfly Forest

    09/02/2017
    09:30AM — 05:00PM

    In celebration of Earth Day, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens’ Butterfly Forest opens on...


  • Butterfly Forest

    09/03/2017
    09:30AM — 05:00PM

    In celebration of Earth Day, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens’ Butterfly Forest opens on...


  • Butterfly Forest

    09/04/2017
    09:30AM — 05:00PM

    In celebration of Earth Day, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens’ Butterfly Forest opens on...


  • Cranberry High Noon Toastmasters

    09/04/2017
    12:00PM — 01:00PM

    Toastmasters International is a world leader in communication and leadership development. Become ...


  • Western PA Professional Business Association

    09/05/2017
    07:30AM — 08:30AM

    As one of the premier Pittsburgh Networking Groups, the mission of the Western Pennsylvania Profe...


  • Pastor Chris Hodges at Victory Family Church

    09/06/2017
    07:00PM — 08:30PM

    Join us at Victory Family Church for a special mid-week message as we welcome Pastor Chris Hodges...


  • Cranberry Breast Cancer Support Group

    09/06/2017
    07:00PM — 08:30PM

    Support for breast cancer. Patients only.


  • Metastatic Cancer Support Group

    09/07/2017
    05:00PM — 06:30PM

    UPMC Passavant Hospital-McCandless This group is offered for any cancer patients and survivors...


  • Playlist

    09/09/2017
    06:00PM — 07:30PM

    Is your soundtrack stuck on repeat? Are you just shuffling through your days? This series—full of...


  • Playlist

    09/10/2017
    09:00AM — 10:30AM

    Is your soundtrack stuck on repeat? Are you just shuffling through your days? This series—full of...


  • Playlist

    09/10/2017
    11:00AM — 12:30PM

    Is your soundtrack stuck on repeat? Are you just shuffling through your days? This series—full of...


  • FOX CHAPEL AREA HIGH SCHOOL SPONSORS PRESCHOOL

    09/11/2017
    09:40AM — 10:50AM

    The Family and Consumer Sciences Department at Fox Chapel Area High School will sponsor a prescho...


  • Cranberry High Noon Toastmasters

    09/11/2017
    12:00PM — 01:00PM

    Toastmasters International is a world leader in communication and leadership development. Become ...


  • Western PA Professional Business Association

    09/12/2017
    07:30AM — 08:30AM

    As one of the premier Pittsburgh Networking Groups, the mission of the Western Pennsylvania Profe...


  • As the 19th century ended, people had more money, more free time, and more ways to spend both. K...


  • FOX CHAPEL AREA HIGH SCHOOL SPONSORS PRESCHOOL

    09/12/2017
    09:40AM — 10:50AM

    The Family and Consumer Sciences Department at Fox Chapel Area High School will sponsor a prescho...


  • Date: Second Tuesday of each month Time: 5:30 p.m. Location: HealthSouth Harmarville Contac...


  • Head Injury Support Group

    09/12/2017
    07:00PM — 09:00PM

    Date: Second Tuesday of each month Time: 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Location: HealthSouth Harmarville ...


  • FOX CHAPEL AREA HIGH SCHOOL SPONSORS PRESCHOOL

    09/13/2017
    09:40AM — 10:50AM

    The Family and Consumer Sciences Department at Fox Chapel Area High School will sponsor a prescho...


  • Amputee Support Group

    09/13/2017
    05:30PM — 07:00PM

    Amputee Support Group Date: Second Wednesday of each month Time: 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Locati...


  • General Cancer Support Group

    09/13/2017
    06:30PM — 08:00PM

    General support for cancer patients and caregivers over 18. No students please.


IN THIS ISSUE 

 

 

 

 


COMMUNITY EVENTS

NEW & NOTABLE

LIKE US ON FACEBOOK!

Receive a digital edition of NHM in your inbox every month. Sign up by sending a request to mmfisher@northhillsmonthly.com.