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By John Raftrey And Lori McCormick

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About this blog: We are writing this blog to give practical advice to students and parents, to reflect on issues affecting college admissions, and to provide a platform for a robust community discussion on post-secondary choices. We occasionally f...  (More)

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Juniors: Time to Start the College Process!

Uploaded: Mar 2, 2015
(Written by John Raftrey)

Juniors and Juniors Parents:
For you, the future has never been closer.
Here is what you should be doing right now to start finding your future college.

1) Download the "School Profile" from your school's website. This is what is sent to the colleges along with your transcripts and counselor recommendation. It usually shows how the class GPA is broken down by decile or by raw numbers. This is where you find out at Monte Vista High School that to be in the top 10 percent of your class you have to have a 3.97 unweighted GPA. At most Silicon Valley high schools a 3.5 GPA is the middle of the class. This will give you a reality check on how colleges will see you compared with your peers.

2) Learn how your school manages the college process. Even if they haven't officially told you yet, it is somewhere on the school's website. Now is the time to learn the process and deadlines.

3) Ask two teachers to write recommendations. It is preferable to get letters from teachers in different disciplines such as science and history. Junior year teachers are best, but if that's impossible one from sophomore year will work. They don't have to write them until summer or even fall, but get their commitment now. The popular teachers will get the most requests and will have to turn down students who ask late. The teacher writing the letter doesn't need to come from a class you received an A in but from the teacher who knows you the best ? the one that can write about your many layers (work ethic, participation, endurance, commitment to learning, leadership, critical thinking, creative thinking, etc. ).

4) Figure out where you have a good chance of getting accepted. Two great sources: your school's Naviance website and Big Future. Big Future. For Naviance look under colleges->scattergrams. It will show a graph of GPA v SAT/ACT by college and which combinations from your school from the last three years applied and which ones were accepted and rejected. Big Future will tell you a school's overall acceptance rate and mid-50th percentile test scores for the most recent freshman class. Most will have GPA's by range e.g. 3.75-4.0 40%, 3.5-3.75 59% 3.0-3.5 1%. Go to bigfuture.collegeboard.org -> school name->applying

5) Write down the big college list. This can be 20 schools. It is not your final list. It is just to get you started. It's fine to include hard to get into schools like Stanford and Harvard, but it should also include colleges that match your profile where you have a good shot at getting accepted.

6) Spring break would be a great time to visit a few of these schools. Check out Lori's recent blog post on what to look for. College Touring Tips

7) Research your colleges and see what their recommendations are for the SAT subject tests. Make sure you take the tests in May or June. You do not want to have to cram these in when you are back in school in the fall.

8) Research your colleges and see what they recommend for high school courses. If you plan to go to an engineering school, it's a good idea to have at least one year of physics.

9) Find something productive to do this summer. When the Stanford application asks what you did the last two summers it's helpful if you actually did something!

10) Parents Homework: Get started on the parents' brag sheet. Every school has one, sometimes with a different name. Sometimes it's on Naviance. This is where you write about your son or daughter and give it to the guidance counselor so she/he can write a personal essay about your kid. Make sure you and your student are on the same page regarding his/her strengths and weaknesses and key anecdotes. My opinion: every family has ups and downs, unemployment divorce, deaths in the family etc. Unless these seriously affected your child's GPA by a full grade or more, or gave your student an amazing growth experience where they really shined, I would not write about them. The same thing applies for learning disabilities. I would make it clear to the counselor you do not want to disclose a learning disability unless your child overcame an amazing obstacle to really shine. It should only be used to show why the high grades and test scores and even more amazing. It should not be used as an excuse for low grades.

The more work you do now, the less stress you will have later. Good Luck.
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Posted by jeff, a resident of Barron Park,
on Mar 3, 2015 at 7:47 pm

[Removed due to off-topic inappropriate comments]

Posted by Dean, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 12, 2015 at 11:40 am

Thanks for the advice. I've never seen the "school profile" before, even though I have a Paly graduate in college already. Very interesting information.

Posted by local mom, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Mar 9, 2017 at 5:24 pm

A 3.5 unweighted may be the average for silicon valley high schools, but it's also the avg GPA for admission to many fine colleges and universities.

While being in the top 10% may be required for a small list of super competitive schools, it's not for hundreds of other great institutions. And on top of that, many schools know the caliber of our local public and private high schools and apply their own weighted tot he rigor and preparedness of the students. Many would rather have a student with a 3.5 GPA from a strong silicon valley high school, than a 3.5 from a school of unknown reputation.

I respectfully ask that your blog not add to the college admission hysteria. I appreciate the range of schools described in the past.

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