January College Search Guide

The Road to College

By May S. Ruiz

Winter break is over. I hope your children got the opportunity to de-stress, enjoyed time away from school, and just delighted in being teenagers. The years between middle and high school aren’t that long and once gone, will never come back.  Give your children the chance to relish this period in their lives.

It amazes me how much driving parents do during the school year taking their kids to school, after-school sports practice and events, AP or SAT classes, weekend music lessons, etc. If all that running around makes parents stressed out I can only imagine how it must be for children who are juggling all these activities on top of going through puberty.

Parents can help their children by showing their support and guiding them through their high school years. Starting preparations for college admissions in 9th grade instead of during the spring of your children’s junior year makes this process more manageable.

Private high schools have counselors to give personal attention to students during the college application process. But many public schools do not have the staff for individualized guidance and it falls largely to parents to help their children.

There are independent counselors you can consult for advice as you and your children navigate the admissions process. Sometimes just having someone you can call to answer some of your concerns or questions takes off much of the burden.

Greg Kaplan, a Southern California native, offers counseling via Skype. He has written a book called Earning Admission: Real Strategies for Getting into Highly Selective Colleges that enlightens you on the process; he also offers college counseling workshops in the San Gabriel Valley.

An educational service called CollegeVine, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, whose counselors are current university students, is also a good resource. These peer mentors can give your children the most current information about what the colleges are looking for since they are still in school themselves. Consultation is also done via video conferencing.

FRESHMAN:  Typically, the beginning of the year marks the halfway point in the schoolyear.  First semester grades would soon be released, if they had not been sent out yet. If your 9th grader’s marks are not great, he/she would need to use the second semester to better them as it’s the end-of-year grades that show on the transcript. A student’s grades are a very important, if not the single most important, component of the college application.

Make sure your children are continuing their extra-curricular activities in arts or sports, with concentration on one or two where they excel. Finding something they are truly passionate about and doing it throughout their high school years show their commitment. My daughter realized she loved acting only when she reached 11th grade. Thus, she didn’t have enough time to engage in it, and her resume reflected that.

SOPHOMORE:  This is your student’s second year and by this time he/she should have fully transitioned into high school. He/she needs to put extra effort into weak subjects and solidify grades for the second semester. Your children should continue their focus on academic performance skills, sports participation and arts involvement. They should also start studying for the PSAT ( Taking a practice PSAT in 10th grade gives them the chance to identify weaknesses then work on them before taking the NMSQT ( in 11th grade. At my daughter’s alma mater, students meet with their grade level dean in the winter of 10th grade to discuss year-end testing options and junior-year course options.

Sophomores enrolled in Advanced Algebra and Pre-Calculus register to take the SAT II Math Level 2 exam in June of their sophomore year. Those enrolled in Functions, Trigonometry and Advanced Algebra (FTAA) take this same exam in June of their junior year, after completing the Advanced Topics and An Introduction to Calculus-Honors (ATIC-Honors) course. Sophomores who are thinking of going into science, medicine, architecture and engineering are encouraged to take the SAT II exam in Chemistry in May or June of their sophomore year. Your student should also start lining up summer activities.

JUNIOR:  The second semester of junior year is significant as it is the beginning of the college application process. From their research, students are now ready to start planning a visit to colleges. They can even do their initial campus virtual tours online,,, Counselors usually recommend that students use their spring break to go to several different types of schools. A good list should include a small liberal arts college, a medium-sized research university and a large state university to let them have a feel for what “small” or “large” school means.

Your children should be able to experience firsthand if a large city like New York makes them feel alive and vibrant or if it totally overwhelms and scares them. They need to experience if a campus with 20,000 students is the right setting for them. While they don’t necessarily have to visit the schools they are actually considering applying to, this trip should give them ideas about what they are looking for in a university. Once they’ve established  the elements they are looking for, they can start making a record of schools they would put on their list of colleges to apply to.

SENIOR:  All college applications should have already been sent out for the January 1st regular decision/admission deadline. Some universities, like Georgetown, have a later deadline.

Parents should already have filed their income tax returns; get ready to submit FAFSA ( Apply for scholarships. There are several websites to help you with your search like,,,

As much as I am tempted to say “Tell your kids to breathe a sigh of relief because the hard part is over,” the reality is that they will be anxious because all that’s left now is the wait. And, oftentimes, the waiting is more difficult than the application process. Just be there for your kids to remind them that they have done a great job and they should let the admissions professionals do theirs.

The months from January through March can still be a time for your children to do something to help their cause. Mid-January is when high schools get their first semester grades finalized. If your student’s mid-year report is particularly spectacular, this could be a very good development especially if he/she is applying to a highly selective college. When your children’s high school sends the grades, have your children follow up with an email to the area representative telling them about their hard work and interest in that college.

If your children have been deferred at a college when they applied through early action or early decision, it is advisable for them to send in an additional teacher recommendation, but only if this supports their application. Likewise, if your student has received any notable honors or made any significant achievement, he/she should let the admissions officers know by email.

Having done all these, you and your children will now just have to wait patiently for the process to play itself out.

January 3, 2018

About Author

May S. Ruiz May S. Ruiz was born in the Philippines. Her mother, a school teacher, and her father, the press liaison officer for American Embassy in Manila, instilled in their children the importance of getting a good education. Appreciation for book and the arts, and experiencing various cultures have been her lifelong pursuits. After college she immigrated to the U.S., where she met her husband. They have a daughter who has the same passion for learning and literature, and being a responsible global citizen.

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