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.
College advisors begin one-on-one work with juniors in mid-November, after seniors have submitted their early applications. We host group information sessions for juniors in the early fall and occasionally throughout the junior year.
There are required small-group classes for juniors about the college admissions and application process, beginning in early fall and once or twice a term throughout the year. Juniors will be divided into small groups and scheduled for group meetings during free periods, and we’ll sometimes meet as a full class during faculty meeting break or after dinner. 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. At the group meetings in November, we will introduce students to Naviance and give them their passwords for this website so they can begin researching colleges. Once juniors have access to their Naviance accounts and have been assigned a college advisor, they are asked to complete a junior college questionnaire on that website, which will solicit information about students’ academic and extra-curricular histories and their interests and aspirations for the future. As soon as that questionnaire is completed online, juniors should contact their college advisor for an initial meeting. We recommend each junior meet with his college advisor at least once before the December break, and that they set up and appointment to check in with their advisor about once a month during the junior year.
We begin early in the junior year so that students have 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. With these group meetings and regular one-on-one appointments scheduled by the student with his or her advisor, we hope to make each student feel comfortable with this new responsibility and encourage rational, intelligent decisions over the course of the college research and application process.
Meeting for Parents (mid-January)
Look for your invitation to a meeting with college advisors and a guest speaker in January. Please fill out the Parent Questionnaire prior to the January meeting, or by February 1st at the latest. As we work with your children and create peronsalized lists of colleges to recommend to each junior for research, it’s invaluable to have parental input.
Long Winter Weekend and Spring Vacation
This is a great time to make some college visit plans while college students are on campus. Admissions offices will be in the thick of their meetings to review senior applicants, so 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. We strongly recommend visiting schools with a range of selectivity each time you plan a family trip; avoid the “aspirational college tour” (visiting a large number colleges to which even the strongest students are statistically unlikely to be admitted). Seeing a wide range of colleges helps each student begin to delineate personal preferences and can be reassuring to all, as some selective (but not uber-selective) colleges are incredibly impressive, if you take the time to visit.
Late Winter Term and Spring Term Junior Year
By winter, we expect juniors to have completed their Naviance questionnaire and had at least one meeting, if not more, with their college advisor. After two or three one-on-one meetings, the college advisor will come up with a list of college suggestions for research: a list of 20-25 institutions that will satisfy some or all of that student’s requirements. We’ll also share 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 parents and guardians able to visit Deerfield for Spring Family Weekend (typically early May), there will be a time set aside for us individual family meetings, 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 during the year for family meetings by appointment.
Junior year can be a busy one, so we advise juniors to plan their testing carefully with their college advisor and to calculate about an hour of test preparation into their weekly schedule for a month or two leading up to their planned test. Most juniors will take either the ACT or the SAT once by the beginning of Junior spring, SAT Subject Tests in May or June, and AP exams in the first two weeks of May. The best results tend to come from focused preparation and taking the test in the second half of junior year or in senior fall. Most students will take the ACT /SAT two times. There is rarely any benefit to taking these tests more often or beginning to test as a younger student. Please see our page on Standardized Testing for more information.
We strongly encourage juniors to ask two teachers for college application recommendation letters before school closes for summer. Colleges generally expect to hear from two academic teachers, ideally in different subject areas: often one math/science teacher and one humanities teacher. Since colleges want to hear what recent teachers have to say about each applicant, junior year teachers are ideal candidates. (Many seniors file applications in the month of October for November 1 deadlines, so senior year teachers won’t have had as much quality time to work with a student before writing a recommendation.) Juniors should discuss their options with their college advisor and ask teachers in person before leaving campus. Occasionally a particularly talented artist, musician, or actor will also ask for a supplementary recommendation from a fine/performing arts teacher. Many colleges cap the number of recommendations they will accept, so plan on asking for two letters of support for your application and seek the counsel of your college advisor if you have any questions.
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. Log into your Naviance account regularly to research schools and to update your electronic “list of colleges I’m considering.” Save your notes about each college you research and/or visit; 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?
We submit transcripts and recommendations for all college applications 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 of selectivity on your list that you are most interested in visiting. THIS IS CRUCIAL. Determine a visit plan with your parents, and go to those colleges’ websites to make appointments to visit and interview, if possible. (If there is an opportunity to call a college, please do it yourself! Some colleges will track who does the calling, and they prefer to speak to the applicant, not the parent.) 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. Each year we have several students who were likely to be admitted to schools on their 50% and 70% lists, but were not because they did not visit (especially a school nearby) 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, though you still want to be prepared and engaged. To prepare for an interview, research the college’s offerings in your academic area of interest and have a few 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 thank you note (hand-written or emailed), mentioning specific things you liked about the college.
You should prepare your arts supplement over the summer, whether you plan to submit theatrical or dance clips, a music recording, or shots 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.
Most students will take a final SAT or ACT in the fall of their senior year. For those students, we strongly recommend preparing for the test in late summer through a course, a tutor, or self-study. Students should find the option that works best for their learning style, schedule, and budget. Watch for communications from the College Advising Office over the summer for up-to-date offerings. Options include:
- Live online courses (financial aid is available)
- Free online self-paced courses
- Test prep books from the library, Hitchcock House, or amazon.com (Princeton Review, Kaplan, or Barrons are examples)
- Private tutors
- Both the College Board website and the ACT website offer tips and practice test questions, and both publish test prep books.
The college admission process will test your organizational skills. To begin with, organize all the information you have received from colleges into folders, electronic or paper. As you become interested in a college, learn about its application process. Do they accept the Common Application? (Most do.) If so, do they have a supplement? 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 spreadsheet listing each college where you plan to apply and all of the relevant requirements and deadlines, or devise your own tracking system.
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. We’re eager to give you feedback on college essays as you begin to draft your statements.
Common Application & College Essay
We strongly recommend that you fill out the Common Application this summer. The 2016-17 application should be available online in early August.
Summer is the time to begin to tackle this project, especially drafting a few essays. 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 resumé 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, including a video clip of advice from the dean of admission at Yale.
Early Decision/ Early Action Applications
Early Decision is a plan whereby a student who knows where s/he wants to go and seems well qualified can apply, usually by November 1 or 15, and receives a decision in December. If admitted, the student must enroll and withdraw any other applications. Early Action is a plan by which a student applies early (usually a November deadline), and receives an admissions decision in December or January. Early Action is non-binding, so student may apply to other colleges if admitted EA, but an early offer can lead to a much short college list and a sense of relief at having one exciting offer before the spring. There exist numerous, somewhat confusing variations on this theme including Single Choice Early Action, Restrictive Early Action, Priority Deadlines, Rolling Admissions, and Early Decision II. Our advice: check out any of the early plans with the specific institution involved and discuss the options with your college advisor. 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 rejected or deferred be considered with the Regular Decision applications; 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.
As you prepare to return to school in the fall, we will ask you to complete a Fall Information Sheet to share notes on your summer activities and college research and to get an initial sense of your application plans. We recommend you set up an appointment with your college advisor very soon after your return to campus to share the thinking that has taken place over the summer. In consultation with your advisor and keeping in mind a balanced list of colleges (where you are likely to be admitted to a fair number of them), 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, though 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 Family Weekend holiday) and the beginning of 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. You and your college advisor should have finalized the list of colleges to which you plan to apply before you leave for Thanksgiving vacation, recognizing that there will be time for small adjustments in December. 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, and our long Thanksgiving break provides a wonderful opportunity to work productively.