Freshman year is more about acclimating to Deerfield and establishing a strong foundation for academic and extracurricular success than it is about applying to college, but there are several areas where students and families should be planning ahead. Most notably, course selection and how you perform in those courses is key to establishing a strong academic profile. Spend some time speaking to your academic advisor about a potential four-year course of study in each of the academic departments. Also, if appropriate, in May or June you might take a SAT subject test if you have advanced standing in a particular subject, such as the fourth year of a language, precalculus, or advanced science study. (Note that very few ninth graders take Subject Tests.) Be sure to check with Vita Thiel if you might be a recruited athlete and you have questions about NCAA compliance, particularly if you repeated a grade.
Sophomore students should begin to prepare themselves for the admissions process, which will begin in earnest in the fall of their junior year. Most notably, sophomores should check with their academic advisors regarding course selection, review NCAA compliance if they hope to be a recruited athlete, and think about standardized testing (the PSAT in October and possible SAT subject tests in spring), as well as attend the spring college fair in May. The College Advising Office holds required informational meetings for sophomores over the course of the year, and invites sophomores to sign up for brief one-on-one meetings with a college advisor in February to review future course selection and a testing plans. The College Advising Office encourages students and their parents to begin touring campuses in the summer between their sophomore and junior years to begin to get a sense of what sort of college may seem to be a good fit based on location, size, academic focus, and selectivity. A more comprehensive list of suggested colleges will be created by the college advisor and the student in the winter of their junior year.
We begin our work with juniors in January after seniors have submitted their final applications.
Winter Term Course
A required course for juniors about the college admissions/application process will meet in January. Juniors will be divided into small groups and are scheduled for the course during free periods. We will explore the various factors that can influence college choice, such as location, size, proximity to a city, relative degrees of competitiveness and selectivity, and the availability of special programs or facilities. We will introduce them to Naviance and give them their password for this Internet database, so they can begin researching colleges. We will also touch on essay writing, testing, interviews, recommendations, visiting schools, how admission officers make their decisions, and any other concerns that the students in each group may have. In this meeting we will stress the tremendous variety of colleges and the fact that the search must be an individual one. By explaining the process in great detail during the junior year, we hope to make each student feel comfortable with this new responsibility and encourage rational, intelligent decisions during the senior year. We’re starting in the junior year so that the student has time to digest a significant amount of information and thoroughly complete a sensible exploration of colleges, a task that is very often time-consuming. Begun now and pursued diligently, the process need not compromise a student’s academic performance during the junior or senior year. As you might expect, it is imperative for students to attend the workshop, for we plan to cover important material, after which each student will be required to complete a Spring Information Form that will guide us in the advising process.
Meeting for Parents (mid-January)
Look for your invitation to a meeting with college advisors in January. Please fill out the Parent Questionnaire prior to the January meeting.
Long Winter Weekend and Spring Vacation
This is a good time to make preliminary college visits while college students are on campus. Admissions offices will be in the thick of their meetings and thus tours and information sessions may be limited, but a visit to nearby colleges may help students begin to think about what type of college they might be interested in and why. If possible, visit a larger university and a smaller, perhaps more rural college outside of New England to give yourself some sense of the variety of colleges there are to choose from.
Late Winter Term and Spring Term Junior Year
As students complete their Spring Information Forms, we will begin having individual interviews with each junior. After an interview or two we will come up with a list of 15 to 20 institutions that will satisfy some or all of that student’s requirements, and give our estimations of the student’s chances of admission to particular colleges, using the rough categories: “30% or less,” “50-50,” and “70% or greater.” When the list has been compiled, we will discuss our suggestions with the student and send a copy of the list to parents. It is then up to each student and his or her family to research these schools as fully as possible, attempting to be realistic about the student’s qualifications and needs. For those of you able to visit Deerfield for Parents Spring Weekend (typically early May), there will be a time set aside for us to get together, by appointment. Each year we invite an outside expert to speak to the parents of juniors to offer insights into how a student should approach the task of choosing a college and how the college admission process works. That same weekend, we will host a college fair for approximately 75 college representatives. Advisors are also available at other times by appointment.
Summer Before Senior Year
Research the colleges on the list from your college advisor and any other institutions that interest you. Use a college guide such as Fiske because it will give you some subjective information not available on websites or in a college’s written materials. Take notes as you go—colleges can begin to sound the same but of course they’re not. Note curriculum requirements, faculty-student ratios, retention rates, housing, strength of the department(s) that most interest you, location, social life, and any other criteria that are important to you—such as athletics, diversity, community service, etc. Save your notes; they will be helpful next fall when you need to answer supplementary questions to the Common Application about why you are a good match for a particular college.
As part of your research at each college be certain to check out course requirements for particular programs in which you may be interested. For example, if you are planning to apply to any of the University of California campuses you must have a full-year fine arts course during high school. If you are applying for engineering, please check for specific math/science high school courses and/or math/science SAT Subject Test requirements. Fine arts or architecture programs may require portfolios; what format would they prefer? What’s the due date?
Whenever possible, we submit transcripts and recommendations electronically using Naviance. This means that it is ESSENTIAL that you keep your Naviance account up to date. Please follow the Naviance instructions, including completing the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act section on the Common Application after August 1. During the summer you will be able to keep a list of colleges you are considering in your Naviance account. After you return to school, you and your advisor will narrow this list down to the schools to which you wish to apply and then activate the list, a critical step in being certain that all of your forms get to the right college at the right time. In addition, we’ll be asking your teachers to submit their recommendations electronically to Naviance so that all of your materials reach colleges at the same time.
Visits and Interviews
Select schools from each category on your list that you are most interested in visiting. THIS IS CRUCIAL. Determine a visit plan with your parents, and call the colleges to make appointments to visit and interview, if possible. Most large colleges will not offer interviews but many small liberal arts colleges will. Take advantage of the opportunity to interview. Not only is it a chance to learn more about the college, but it will also give you an opportunity to talk about your academic and extracurricular interests. These interviews are not difficult—most Deerfield students are poised, articulate, and comfortable speaking with adults. You will shine! And interviews demonstrate to the college your sincere interest, which at many colleges today is very important. It is especially important to express your serious interest at 50% and 70% schools. This year we had several students who should have been admitted to schools on their 50% and 70% lists but were not because they did not visit or did not seem interested in their interview.
Interviews are either evaluative or informational. In an evaluative interview, the interviewer will assess you as a candidate and write a report for your admission file. An informational interview is non-evaluative and primarily for you to learn more about the college. To prepare for an interview, research the college’s offerings in your academic area of interest and have a few prepared questions. Be ready to speak about your academic and extracurricular interests. Practice a mock interview with a parent pretending to be the admission officer. After an interview, write a hand-written thank you note, mentioning specific things you liked about the college.
You should prepare your arts supplement over the summer, whether you plan to submit a theater tape, a music tape, or slides of your artwork or photography. Check carefully for due dates, which sometimes differ from application deadlines, and instructions about the desired/required format for your submission.
While, generally speaking, it is preferable to ask for letters of recommendation in person, your teachers will understand if you email them over the summer to ask them to write, especially if you plan to file an early application. Be sure your email is full and complete—not simply a request for a letter. If you have questions about which teacher(s) to ask consult with your college advisor.
You don’t need to take an expensive course or hire a tutor to improve your test scores. Some preparation and review is advisable and discipline is required. Here are a few free or inexpensive ways to study for the SAT or ACT this summer:
- Get a book of practice tests and take one. Score it and go back over the questions you got wrong. Is there a pattern to the kind of problems you missed? Can you learn to do these types of problems?
- Sign up for the SAT question of the day on the College Board website. You will get an SAT question and answer each day in your email.
- Both the College Board website and the ACT website offer tips and practice test questions. Both publish test prep books.
- Another suggestion for test prep books for ACT and SAT are by author Brian Leaf.
The college admission process will test your organizational skills. To begin with, organize all the information you have received from colleges into file folders either actual or virtual. As you become interested in a college, learn about its application process. Do they accept the Common Application? If so, do they have a supplement? What testing does the college require? Is the ACT or SAT optional or required? Are SAT Subject Tests required? How many? How many teacher recommendations, if any, do they require? Make a checklist on the inside of the file folder for each college where you plan to apply or devise your own online tracking system. The checklist should include a place to record the date you sent the application, the supplement, your test scores, and the date you gave your teachers your recommendations about college.
Your college advisor would like to hear from you during the summer. Please contact us at our Deerfield email addresses and provide us with an update of your visits and thinking about college. Of course, as mentioned above, we want to help with essay topics and/or revisions as you begin writing your essays.
Common Application & College Essay
We strongly recommend that you fill out the Common Application this summer. The 2015-16 application should be available online in early August.
Summer is the time to begin to tackle this project. Your objective is to tell them something about yourself that they do not know from the rest of your application. That means that you do not want to write a resume or write about an abstract topic that is hard to grasp in 500 words. Instead, try to find a story about you that illustrates something you want colleges to know. Finding a good topic is the hardest part. Start brainstorming. Send your advisor a couple of your best ideas, and the two of you can decide which idea has the most potential. Write a first draft, and feel free to send it to your advisor for some feedback. We don’t want you to spend hours on it and have us tell you in the fall that we really don’t think it will work. By the time you return to Deerfield we hope that you will have a third or fourth draft that we can look over. You may also want to consult with one of your English teachers or your advisor. Try to limit the number of people who look at your essay; too many editors tend to muddy the waters. The College Board has some helpful information on writing an effective college essay.
Early Decision Application
Early Decision is a plan whereby the student who knows where he or she wants to go and seems well qualified can apply, usually by November 1 or 15, and receives a decision in December. There now exist numerous, confusing variations on this theme including Early Action, Early Notification, Rolling Admissions, and Early Decision II. Our advice: check out any of the early plans with the specific institution involved. A student with a clear first choice and strong qualifications at the time of application may be rewarded with early peace of mind. But, changing student preferences and dramatic academic improvement can make a binding commitment to attend a particular institution both premature and uncomfortable. And many students get swept into the early application frenzy without realistically assessing their prospects for early admission. (Almost half of our early candidates are deferred or rejected; only a few of those deferred are later admitted to that college.) Students who wish to file an early application must feel that they are a strong candidate based on their freshman, sophomore, and junior year record and test scores. And remember that many colleges are now rejecting a larger number of early candidates rather than simply deferring them. Try not to get caught up in the early frenzy; give your own situation careful thought. Any student wishing to apply early must let the college office know by October 1, so that we have time to complete the paperwork in support of that application.
In the fall, we will ask for another Information Form and conduct another round of individual interviews with students in order to share the thinking that has taken place over the summer. At that time you will narrow the list of colleges to which you will apply. (In past years the average number has been eight to ten). Throughout the fall, representatives of college admissions offices will visit Deerfield. Most of these sessions will be held in groups, a few will be individual interviews—some are used as selective measures, most are simply informational. It is the student’s responsibility to see those representatives when they are on campus and to arrange with teachers to be excused from class when necessary.
Weekends (especially the Fall Weekend holiday) and Thanksgiving vacation can be used for further college visiting if appointments are scheduled well in advance. But students will need to use time in the fall to write their applications, so don’t postpone too many college visits. We must have your final list of colleges to which you plan to apply before you leave for Thanksgiving vacation. Consider your Thanksgiving vacation plans carefully. Students will need plenty of free time in which to work on college applications while they’re away from Deerfield.