During freshman year, the College Counseling Office takes a back seat to the important work occurring between new students and their teachers and advisors. These mentors focus on making sure students transition to Thacher successfully, setting them up for the kind of self-discovery and growth that can be hampered by immediately introducing the pressure of college admissions. That said, advisors are well informed of general college admission requirements and understand that a student’s performance, starting freshman year, will be considered in an admissions review.
College Counseling Introduction
In September, the sophomore class has its first meeting with the College Counseling staff. The focus is students’ academic standing and their trajectory through senior year; making the most of Thacher’s offerings every day; and forging strong connections with faculty who may ultimately write letters of recommendation.
SAT and ACT Testing
Two testing paths are available when applying to college: the SAT or the ACT. Schools accept both without bias. To help determine the right choice for each student, sophomores take the PSAT10 (precursor to the SAT) and the Pre-ACT. With these results in hand and some preliminary advice from a student’s counselor, families can identify a test prep program for their student. The College Counseling Office also provides families with a list of test prep options that Thacher students have used in the past.
By the start of their junior year, students have a testing plan in place for either the SAT or ACT. In the spring, they’ll also sit for SAT Subject Tests.
Individual College Search
In mid-January, college counselors meet individually with students to discuss goals, aspirations, educational backgrounds, and family histories. This helps counselors recommend schools that students and their families should explore. Another meeting takes place after Spring Break—a time that some families use to visit colleges. This second meeting focuses on refining the list of colleges that students should research, as well as confirming testing strategies, senior year course loads, and summer plans.
Every junior enrolls in College Class during the spring trimester. College counselors lead these weekly sessions, focusing on developing a thoughtful college list, setting up a Common Application account, initiating work on college essays, teacher recommendations, financial aid applications, and interviews. These sessions acquaint students with the application process, so that when they embark on the real deal senior year, they are confident and well prepared.
When students arrive on campus in the fall, the College Counseling staff schedules individual meetings to catch up on summer activities, fine tune college lists, and discuss all details of their applications. They confirm a plan of action for the fall and develop a strategy that may include early decision, early action, rolling, or regular decision applications. Follow-up meetings are dependent on each student’s needs. In December, every student meets with their counselor to finalize the college list. Individual meetings continue through the winter and spring to address issues that may arise and to help students weigh their options when admission decisions are released.
Every senior’s schedule includes weekly College Class, which begins in the fall and concludes a week after Winter Break. In small groups with their counselor, students work through each segment of the application process - completing all forms, making recommendation requests, writing essays, discussing interviews, sending official test reports to colleges, and completing financial aid documents.
College essays have a unique audience and require students to shift from analytical writing to personal prose. Some students find this challenging. Junior year workshops help students begin to practice this style of writing. Senior year involves lots of feedback and refining of topics. Experience has taught us that finding your voice takes time. And thoughtful, authentic, teenage voices are the most compelling. Over-worked professionally coached or edited pieces are a huge red flag for colleges.
Today, just a handful of schools provide interview opportunities. If an interview is required or offered at or near Thacher, the College Counseling staff helps coordinate the meeting and arranges transportation if needed.
In the majority of cases, parents manage all financial aid applications. The College Counseling Office has a program in place to help them. Applying for aid is an annual event and, once in college, students are responsible for triggering the application process and making sure all necessary documents are in place. It’s important to note that Thacher’s application for financial aid differs significantly from the college process, as can the financial aid awards. Families are encouraged to plan ahead for this process.