college application

For rising high school seniors, college application season can be daunting. 

According to Margaret Appenheimer, director of college counseling at Hathaway Brown School, and Andrew Cruse, associate director of college guidance at Laurel School, both in Shaker Heights, creating a plan can help avoid stress.

Deciding if one is going to apply early is a good place to start, they said.

“Applying doesn’t truly happen in earnest until the summer or early fall of their senior year,” Cruse said. “For deadline schools, typically by Nov. 1 of their senior year are the early deadlines and then the regular deadlines are January or February. Typically, we would expect our students to be ready by the fall of their senior year.”

Cruse added rising seniors should prepare for a “meaningful” search. Near the end of their junior year, students should meet with their counselors and get an idea of how they will be spending the summer. 

“So, when our students come back in August, they’re ready for the application process,” he said. “That is where they need to be.”

Appenheimer explained the best time to start applying depends on the type.

Appenheimer said students can choose to apply in “early action,” which is before Nov. 1; “early decision,” which is like early action, but is a binding commitment; “rolling,” where colleges review applications as they receive them and roll out decisions soon after; and “regular decision,” which is where a deadline is in January or February.

When applying for schools, students should consider the overall “fit.”

“We throw the word fit around, and I think it’s a word that has been washed of meaning, but it’s so important to remind students that this is about there being more than one “right” school out there for them,” Cruse explained. “There are a lot of options out there. We stress about opening one’s mind and broadening the search. And that isn’t easy for a

17-year-old to do. But we ask them to do a little introspection so they are coming from a place where they know how they’re going to investigate.”

Appenheimer said a big thing to consider is price.

“Students and parents should talk together about the role that finances will play,” she said. “We recommend that parents complete the (College Board’s) net price calculator for at least 10 schools their child is considering, which is on every college’s financial aid (web page). Having an honest conversation about what your family can afford will help students direct their college search.”

Additionally, Appenheimer suggested students consider how they learn in their college search.

“If having one-on-one attention from a teacher is a must, (the student) might rethink applying to an institution that has the majority of classes in a massive lecture hall,” she noted. “On the whole, we encourage students to take the time to reflect on what they want their college experience to be like, both academically and socially.”

Most high schools offer assistance for students during application season.

“We have a robust college counseling program in which we start working with students in January of their junior year,” Appenheimer said. “We also discuss the purpose of the college essay, examine exemplars and have writing workshops to explore essay ideas and development. ... The support continues throughout the senior year.”

Both professionals said this continued support can help lower stress levels associated with applying for college.

“In so many ways, this process has become such a high-pressure experience and the way it conflates with the end of this giant chapter of life, it turns into a perfect storm of pressure,” Cruse stated. “It can be a tricky business applying to schools. It’s very easy to get carried away. So, we try our best to keep everyone’s feet on the ground.”

Appenheimer added, “Deciding where to continue your education should be an exciting, happy time in a young person’s life. We stay informed of the constantly changing college admissions landscape and are proud to advise students as they choose what’s next.”

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