Planning & Preparation
The College Counseling program at CSN serves students throughout their Upper School experience. We offer a variety of programming and presentations aimed at informing our community of the ever-changing dynamics of the college admissions landscape and serving our students’ needs. Students are assigned a counselor by the end of their sophomore year when individual meetings begin, although we welcome communication and questions from students and parents of any grade.
FRESHMAN AND SOPHOMORE YEARS
These early years lay the foundation for what comes later. Students should focus on finding their way academically, excelling in the classroom and giving thought to their strength and weaknesses. Outside of the classroom, students should explore their interests, whether that is athletics, student clubs, community service, or music. Colleges are looking for students who are not only academically accomplished, but who will pursue and lead in a range of areas on their campus. In the long run, depth and authenticity matter more than quantity.
Discussions concerning college should be focused on the student – academic progress, areas of study, and pursuit and development of interests – rather than specific colleges or pre-determined directions. CSN offers students ample opportunities to flourish in these areas, providing academic rigor, informed guidance, and a variety of interest outlets.
Students will also take the PSAT, or Practice SAT, both years.
While most colleges take a wide range of admission criteria into consideration, the most important aspect is the high school transcript. Schools evaluate your performance in grades 9-12. However, your performance in grades 10, 11 and the first part of grade 12 are most important. A strong junior year won't erase a weaker performance freshman and/or sophomore year, but it will show a trend, which, if continued senior year, may open doors at many colleges. Conversely, no matter how strong the record of your first two years, a weaker junior year or senior schedule, unless explained by exceptional circumstances, might quickly close doors.
Along with grades, the courses you select are also important. Many colleges have specific numbers of courses required in certain fields; you should check guidebooks to determine these requirements. However, the general rule of thumb is that you should take as challenging a curriculum as you can handle successfully. In CSN terms, this means selecting Honors and Advanced Placement options if appropriate for you. The vast majority of colleges say they would prefer (again, when appropriate) to have a student take the harder class and earn a "B" than opt for the easy "A" in a standard level class.
Finally, you will be taking standardized college placement exams this year – SAT and ACT, and in many cases, AP exams.
Above all, senior year is a balancing act: classes, lengthy applications, standardized tests, extracurricular activities and, of course, when possible, sleep! Whatever you do, don't fall victim to the temptation to slack off! The first quarter and first semester are still relevant to admissions decisions, and all admission decisions are contingent upon completing senior year at approximately the same level of performance you achieved to date. Even after acceptance, schools will withdraw acceptances if your grades drop significantly. Second semester grades are also crucial if you are wait-listed at one of your choices, or if you decide to transfer after a year or two (it may happen).
Your best approach to the year is to stay ahead of the game. Start applications well before they're due, leaving time to polish them thoroughly. Take advantage of software and/or websites that allow you to complete multiple applications simultaneously. And be sure not to procrastinate on your schoolwork. Also, the more you've researched colleges and established a firm list of schools by the middle of the summer, the better shape you'll be in. Then you can focus early on completing applications, instead of spending that time investigating college options. Finally, those seniors who have a couple of well-crafted essays under their belt prior to the first day of senior year will find the process much less stressful than those starting at ground zero.
- College Board
- Federal Student Aid
- Princeton Review
- Florida Bright Futures Scholarship
- Colleges That Change Lives
- Peterson's StudentEdge
- Sallie Mae - College Answer
- High School Counselor
- Edadvisor - College Planning Newsletter
- College Planning Blog
- Florida Office of Student Financial Aid
SAT: REASONING TEST
SAT is a three-hour test in verbal and mathematical reasoning ability. Scores range from 200 to 800 on each section. There are two verbal sections: critical reading and writing. The math sections assess your ability to solve problems involving arithmetic, algebra and geometry, using three formats: multiple choice, quantitative comparisons, and a section in which you write your answer rather than selecting from multiple choices. The test is offered on seven dates each school year. Students register online at www.collegeboard.com, paying via credit card.
PSAT/NMSQT (PRELIMINARY SAT/NATIONAL MERIT SCHOLARSHIP QUALIFYING TEST)
This test is given in mid-October to all sophomores and juniors. It comprises two 25-minute math and two 25-minute verbal sections, plus one 30-minute writing skills section. It is useful as a rough predictor of SAT scores, a counseling tool and test practice. This test is also the basis of some merit scholarships, and the source of many college mailings. Scores, which arrive in December, are similar to SAT scoring, with a maximum score of 1520; results are not included on your transcript. Students are automatically registered by the school.
AP: ADVANCED PLACEMENT EXAMINATIONS
These tests are the culmination of a year-long, nationally-prescribed curriculum. While not required for college admissions, colleges respect the rigor of the courses and will look favorably upon strong test results (4 or 5 at highly selective colleges; 3, 4, or 5 at many other colleges).
ACT includes tests in four areas: English, mathematics, reading and science reasoning. Scores range from one to 36; four sub-scores plus a composite score are reported. All colleges accept ACT equally with the SAT. While statistically, most students score comparably with the SAT, some will find one test or the other to their advantage. The College Counseling office has a concordance table that can help you compare your SAT scores to your ACT result to see which is preferable.
Some differences between the tests include: (1) the ACT math involves some trigonometry; the SAT does not; (2) the ACT stresses reading comprehension, but is not as focused on vocabulary, especially out of context; (3) the ACT tests English grammar; the SAT does not; (4) unlike the SAT, there is no penalty for guessing on the ACT, so you should answer each question. The test used during one school year is basically the same, so it can be helpful to take it more than once in that time period. Students register online at www.act.org
The ever-increasing cost of college may be prohibitive. We urge you not to rule out applying to a certain college on the basis of cost, since the only way to know for sure if it is affordable is to apply for financial aid. However, as you will see below, financial aid is both complicated and unpredictable, so read this section carefully, make charts to keep yourself organized, and ask lots of questions.
Financial aid is assistance to help families meet financial need, the difference between the total cost of a college and the expected family contribution. By federal law, the primary responsibility for funding college costs rests with the family, insofar as they are able. Paying for college is assumed to be the family's top priority after basic expenses have been met, but before family vacations, new cars, etc. Financial aid is meant to supplement – not replace – the "family contribution." If you are receiving federal aid, you cannot receive more money than the amount of financial need you show. Demonstrating financial need can be complicated.
FAFSA (FREE APPLICATION FOR FEDERAL STUDENT AID)
This federal financial aid form requires no fee for processing or sending results to colleges. The FAFSA is the only form required to apply for federal aid. It must be sent to each college where you apply for financial aid. This form, available online at www.studentaid.gov, cannot be submitted prior to October 1 (this is a change from a few years ago, when it was January 1), but should be submitted as soon as possible thereafter. Do not wait to complete your taxes. This process will use your prior year’s tax records. If your tax situation has changed or is complicated, contact the financial aid offices. They will instruct you on how to demonstrate more recent changes. Check each college's financial aid deadline, and submit well before the first of these. Never miss a deadline. Even being one day late may eliminate your eligibility for grant funds.
The CSS PROFILE
Many private colleges feel that the formula used by FAFSA is overly simplistic. For instance, the FAFSA asks no questions about home ownership or home equity, doesn't ask for financial information from the non-custodial parent in a divorced family, and doesn't take into account private school tuition for other children. In addition to creating inequities in assessing the financial strength of a family, colleges often cannot afford to follow this formula in allocating institutional aid (the colleges' own financial aid money). Hence, CSS (the College Scholarship Service) developed a supplementary form, called PROFILE, which charges a fee per college. The PROFILE should only be sent to those colleges that require it. The PROFILE can be completed online at https://cssprofile.collegeboard.org. Submit the completed PROFILE at least a couple of weeks before the first college's deadline.
These forms result in different expected family contributions. FAFSA, whose formulae are called Federal Methodology, assesses your eligibility for federal aid. PROFILE, which uses Institutional Methodology, determines eligibility for the college's own funds. Most selective, private colleges require both FAFSA and PROFILE, while most public universities require only FAFSA. Note that a few highly selective colleges use their own form in lieu of the Profile. Always be aware of individual colleges’ requirements and guidelines.
CSN is the largest independent, nonsectarian school in Southwest Florida. 100% of its seniors attend selective four-year colleges.