Planning for College in High School

Parent Q&A

  • College Prep between Sophomore / Junior Years

    (13 replies)

    My daughter will be working, but I was also thinking that maybe she should use some of her time this summer to do some college prep. Wondering if anyone had suggestions, for a kid who will be starting their junior year in the fall, of good things to do to kind of get a leg up on applications and what not. I hear the Junior year can be quite busy and my thought was that maybe she could get a little ahead.

    I was thinking that maybe something like starting on some general essays to then tweek accordingly when she starts to apply to colleges, or SAT prep, or even practicing filling out some applications? Or am I going overboard? Are there any tutors or courses that would kind of work with someone as an almost junior to do this kind of thing? I had also thought about having her take a community college course, but with her new job, vacations, etc., I'm afraid that we might be setting her up for failure if she does too much. Any advice is appreciated.

    it is too early for her to start writing college essays or working on applications but she could research colleges she's interested in to narrow down which to visit during the school year. it's great that she is working, that will go on her college app. If she has time, she could start some SAT prep, but there will be time for that during the school year -- calm down Mom or Dad.

    My daughter just finished her first year of college, the first semester at a school that I encouraged her to apply to and accept, and the second semester at the school that was actually her dream school and she applied to all on her own during the middle of her first semester (lol I never even saw the application or the essays). Thus, my advice is this: make all those options available to her, but as long as she has something to do for the summer and is generally a good student, don't push. At the beginning of my daughter's senior year, we used Alpha College Prep to help with organizing the application process (for that first semester), essays, and SAT prep, and having that knowledge really helped my daughter a lot and allowed me to stay out of it.

    I got some very good advice when I asked a similar question, and the answer was, "Don't do anything."  Kids are under tremendous pressure concerning college these days -- it just seems to be part of the zeitgeist -- and explicitly asking them to worry about "getting a leg up" on applications when they've just finished their sophomore year would unnecessarily add to it, IMO.  The whole scarcity model of college acceptance -- the idea that our kids have to get into the "right" schools, the "best" schools, or else they and we are failures -- is so messed up.  (I don't mean to suggest that you have this attitude, but it is so pervasively implied in our society that it impacts even kids whose parents try to dial back the pressure.)  The fact is, every kid with decent grades and some kind of financial and/or organizational support will go to college, probably a college they'll enjoy and find success in.  If you feel you must give your daughter an assignment this summer, my advice is to ask her to think about what kind of college she might like -- in terms of geography, size, areas of excellence -- with no reference to GPA.  I highly recommend the book "Colleges That Change Lives" if a liberal arts college is a possibility for you (and colleges sometimes give big scholarships to students from distant states).  Best of luck to you both!

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Start planning for college for ''complicated'' 9th grader?

Jan 2016

Our teen is just starting 9th grade, however, as we have learned from first grade on that he is a ''complicated'' kid, we expect that the college search will also be complicated. I have heard some parents and their teens start to get advice from college counselors before 10th grade (what classes to take in order to better know what sorts of colleges/routes after high school might be a good fit, etc.) and wondered what people suggest as far as timing and people? We are likely going to ask an independent college consultant as our son tends to not fall into any of the standard categories (we'd like to help him head towards a college where his differences are more of a feature than a problem...). He's 2e, not a driven student, and very afraid of failure, so we don't want to freak him out by rushing him, but we expect it will take a lot of detective work and thus time to help him find a good match. Thanks a lot, looking ahead

The best college advice could be provided by college admission officers on college tours. My suggestion is to take your child to visit some colleges, take the college tours and listen to the admission offers who explain the admission process and answer questions. Seeing beautiful college campuses could be very motivating for students to work hard to get into them, too. College admission officers also come to places near you like Berkeley High every year. Although the events are organized for juniors and seniors, it is best to start earlier. You could start with a college tour and then as he gets closer to the college application and essay writing, etc. hire a college counselor if needed. Soheila

High school freshman being asked what he wants to major in

March 2015

Our son is at El Cerrito High. Counselors have asked him about what he wants to major in, in college, and he really has no idea. This is supposed to inform what classes he chooses for next term.

So, what resources are there for young highschoolers to try to figure out their future direction? I haven't found anything helpful at the school, and am thinking the guidance counselor should be able to help us out but it seems difficult to get time with them. Maybe an online self-evaluation? Do they still use Meyers-Briggs? Or is there some way to gain experience in a lot of different areas ... or is there something I don't know about how this whole thing works? Are there private consultants who help with this? Thanks!

I can see where this would be confusing. Personally, both in my own BA and with my daughter, we didn't worry too much about this. In your first few semesters of college you can just take general education requirements, which are mandatory anyway so you might as well get started on them. Part of the point of those requirements is to learn more about your own interests. Once your son is in college he'll get the course listings and the general ed requirements list and can pick from classes that fill those requirements. I had a good time choosing between astronomy and meteorology, for example, even though I wasn't going into the sciences.

As for deciding on a degree does help to be able to declare a major as some colleges seem to insist on it. But you can change your major. I went into my undergrad program as journalism major even though I knew I didn't want to be a journalist. My daughter graduated only two years ago but I honestly can't remember what she declared at UCSC, only that she ended up in English.

Some people know what they want early (I wanted to be a writer) and some don't. My brother did all his general ed requirements before choosing his degree and although my parents stressed about it, it was fine. He chose photojournalism and is a successful photographer today.

Have your son think about which classes he likes the best and where he feels the strongest. Then look at the majors at the colleges he's interested in, and read about what course are included. He'll probably be drawn more to some things than others. Let that guide his declared major, and he can think about it more when he gets to college. My only caveat is that some schools don't offer certain degrees--like UC Berkeley doesn't offer journalism BAs, UCSC gave up its liberal arts degree, and psychology is so impacted there my daughter could never take a class to even see if she was interested. So do a little checking around to make sure he doesn't pick a school that closes doors for him. mellow mom

Choosing classes for 10th grade is really not complicated. There are few choices. But, for example don't choose an AP class unless you are going to put in the work. There aren't even very many electives available. Basically, just choose an English class, math based on placement, Chemistry, etc. Don't over think this! EC mom

Both chem and physics needed for college admissions?

March 2013

I'm hoping some of you can weigh in on this question.

Background: My daughter is a hs junior, currently selecting courses for next year. She's taken solidly regular ed, college prep curriculum (no honors or AP) and has a language processing disability which greatly affects her in classes like English and history. Despite this, she's pulled off all A's and B's with a combination of hard work, tutoring, and plenty of mom-help. Her SAT's will definitely not be stellar, particularly the reading/language.

Her sciences so far have been 'general science', biology, and chemistry. Her goal for years has been to take marine biology as a senior, however now I'm hearing from the college counselor at her school that it's highly recommended to have both chem and physics. Really??? This is not a kid who is going to the Ivies, or probably any private school (we were thinking probably the Cal State system, for reasons of $, academics, and distance). She's for the most part unsure of where she wants to focus, although her two areas of interest at this point are something like kinesiology/athletic trainer/PT assistant or environmental/marine biology/sustainable technology.

She is willing to double up on sciences in order to be able to take marine biology, but with the other, pretty heavy class load she's got (Eng and History (required), pre-calc, Mandarin) I really hate for her to be so weighted down the same semester she's doing college applications.

any input on this? did high school in the 70's

I would look at the requirements for the CSU system yourself and see what they actually are. You could also try calling the admissions people at one or two colleges. I can tell you my foster daughter, who is a sophomore at SJSU, absolutely didn't take physics (let alone marine biology). She was accepted to Sac State and SJSU, with less than stellar grades, certainly not all A's and B's. You sound really grounded about your daughter's strengths, challenges and goals. Let that guide you. The college counselor may be off track.

No, only two of three lab sciences are required by any college, including most engineering programs. Don't get caught up in the insanity of college ''have to or my child won't get in.'' There are 3,400 colleges. Enjoy the process. Wendy Walker-Moffat, Ed.D

The schools my son applied to (private, UC, and CSU) required a certain number of lab-based science courses (I think only 3 years' worth), but didn't specify that they be Chem, Physics, etc. We were worried b/c he took Geology one year, and we weren't sure it counted as a lab science. He took Physics senior year just to be safe.

Your best bet is to check the requirements on the web sites of the colleges your daughter is likely to apply to. Even check out some of her possible ''reach'' schools, to find what the strictest requirement is. We had to scramble with my son's senior class choices because a few schools he was interested in said 3 years of math was required, but 4 years of math was ''desirable.'' Well, if you're competing for a spot, you want to be in the desirable category.

I think your daughter will be fine with marine biology. The CSU system doesn't require physics. She will have taken 4 years of science, with marine biology. And it's really good to take a course you care about! And instead of drowning in overwork fall semester senior year, she can do her apps and focus on whatever her extracurricular interests are.You/she should make sure she has a-g requirements covered. Four years of language, especially Chinese, are good; colleges like that consistancy. As to private colleges, you should be focusing on ones that are a good fit and have some academic supports in place to help your daughter have a good experience. Your daughter sounds like a solid kid and a hard worker. With research and planning, she should end up with some fine acceptances next spring. One last (contrarian) note....if she (or you, or anyone else) decides that physics would make a difference, a good, if pricy option would be to take it at Tilden Prep over this coming summer. Tilden's mastery learning, individualized approach really works for motivated kids who work best with support. Been there

No! Do not believe the advice that your teen must take Physics. If your student wants to take Marine Biology do it and she'll be able to do well in that class because she's motivated. My son really did not want to take Physics senior year. (He doubled up on History.) Senior year he took AP Environmental Science because he really is interested in environmental issues, got an A and credit from USC for the class. He was also accepted to a UC and private colleges. Especially if a kid is not applying to the Ivies, senior year is a chance for our teens to really pursue subjects about which they feel strong interest & passion! Mom of a USC Freshman

My response to your question about having your daughter take both chem and physics as a requirement for a Ca. State U. It is absolutely not necessary. I am a mother of 2 college kids who both went to Albany High School and did community college after that. Neither of them took chemistry or physics in high school or community college and one is at Chico and the other at a private 4 year school, U. of Puget Sound in Tacoma Wa. The one at the private college did not even take the SATs. There is so much hype about having to take 2-3 sciences and precalc. It is all overblown in my estimation. A kid with a language processing deficit will need more time to get through the English and history classes. Does she have an IEP or 504 plan to allow extra time and accommodations for test taking? I am also a speech/language pathologist in private practice with 30 years in the field of public school special education services. I would highly recommend that she take chem and then marine bio her senior year since that is her passion. I think community colleges are a great transition from high school. (Cabrillo College near Aptos is great for someone interested in Marine Bio. It is a natural step to going to UC Santa Cruz or Ca. State Monterey Bay for Marine Biology. Humboldt State is also a good one for that field.) She will do well if it is something she is very interested in. Listen to her. She will teach you well. My kids are still teaching me to listen more and direct less. Have fun with her while she is still home. It goes way too fast. marilyn

No your teen doesn't need to take physics too. My daughter took chem, but not physics, and got into all six colleges she applied to, last year. BHS mom

How many AP classes required for UCB admission?

Feb 2013

My daughter grew up in a very homogeneous part of the bay area (Orinda Country Club neighborhood) and didn't really seem to think anything of it. (We are from India) Recently though, while on the UCB campus for a concert she noticed so many pupils around who looked a lot like her.She even commented on the name of the ''Krishna'' copy center on Shattuck. I suspect she may be at an age (13) she is trying to make sense of her identity as an American Indian girl. Needless to say, UCB become her first choice for college.

The high school advisor said UCB requires many AP courses to prove that the student is not fazed by challenge. My nephew said he took 10 AP courses (he got in but chose to go to Wash U). In complete disbelief , I checked with a friend, she said her son also took 10 AP classes, on top of being an athlete and holder many other achievements.

My kid is very smart and I suspect it will not be too hard for to take AP courses. But if she takes this many Ap subjects, I am concerned she will not have a life. After all, she will be 16 only once.She wont have time for friends, learning to drive, to sleep, to read for pleasure... I find it hard to believe, that UCB will reward this kind of manic behaviour (10+ AP courses) with admission to the university. I know my information at this point is purely anecdotal.I am hoping some of the admissions officers and parents would respond to my post. I am curious to know what is the least number of AP subjects she could take without been considered lazy

NB:I am of course going to encourage her to apply to several non ''pressure cooker'' schools. Anon

UC Berkeley is very competitive. However, one AP Sophmore year, one or two junior year, and 2-4 APs senior year should be sufficient, assuming she gets mostly As in the other courses. A number of AP courses are culminating courses like AP Calculus (usually senior year) and AP foreign language (junior or senior year), so it would be nearly impossible to take 10 APs. At many high schools the honors science option each year after 9th grade is an AP science. So 3 science APs; a foreign language; and AP Calc or AP Stat; AP English and AP History(senior year) gets a student to 7 AP classes. It would be possible to take a few more APs, depending on the school, such as AP Econ, or AP Art History.

Activities do matter, so I think part of 9th and 10th grade involves finding out what a student is interested in and how to pursue that. You'll have to see what she's able to do as she gets older. One school to look at is Douglas, a girl's college that is part of Rutgers New Brunswick (the State University of New Jersey). My niece attends Douglas and lives in a special science/math dorm where most of the students are Asian, many of Indian origin. a teacher

She should do an AP in English, one in Bio or Chemistry or Physics, Ap calculus if she is good at math, one in history and then maybe AP Macroeconomics or AP environmental science. There is absolutely no reason to take more than 5. UCB is looking for we'll-rounded students and someone who takes 10 is not well rounded. If she is not good at a subject, it is better not to take the AP class since it it just too stressful and she won't pass the AP test. Read The Overachievers to get a good perspective on APs. It is by Alexandra Robbins. also, if you can, watch the Race to Nowhere. Also, maybe you both should check out some other schools. Cal is really big and you can get as good an undergrad education at other, smaller schools. 3 teenagers

Hi Anon, For 16 years I was the Director of College Counseling at Head-Royce.I may have been asked that question at least twice every week of my tenure there.It's a good and logical question, and the answer is never really satisfying. The truth is that it differs by student. What works for one applicant will often not work for the other. Any college counselor can tell you about the kid who had 8or more AP's and a 4.2 gpa who was denied admission while another with far more modest credentials, but awesome leadership and writing was admitted. And, affirmative action has nothing to do with it (unless it's for athletes). Most admissions officers at selective colleges/universities will tell you that your child is expected to challenge herself by taking some of the most challenging classes available at her school.Thus,if a student is attending a school that offers several AP/IB/Honors courses,she should certainly take some.She is not expected to take all or 10! And, as I am sure you know, just taking AP\xc3\xa2\xe2\x82\xac\xe2\x84\xa2s will not help at all. If she takes them, with the aim of being admitted to Cal or other highly selective colleges, she needs to do well in them. She also needs to show that this is not all she did in high school. I would argue that most students admitted to Cal do not have 10 AP courses. What colleges want is a student who is academically successful,intellectually curious,a good writer and, most want leaders. I recently worked with a student who was admitted to Cal and other ''big named'' colleges. She took 4 AP courses at a school that offers many more, but she has been involved in issues pertaining to Global Warming. She took classes through the Cal Extended Learning program and participated in any relevant conference a high school student could be admitted to.Her writing about the issue was passionate, and she knew that she was going to concentrate on some aspect of the subject in college. So, while certainly being concerned about grades and standardized test scores, I would suggest that you urge your daughter to continue being academically curious and to find a path that excites her. Best wishes. Sharon C.

Unfortunately, UCB does encourage this manic behavior by virtue of its admissions process, and I agree that it is unhealthy for kids. It is extremely competitive to get into UCB (check the website for the freshman profile) because you not only have to have that 4.1 GPA, you also have to have outstanding extra-curriculars. If you are a low-income, first generation college student, they take that into account, but otherwise you must have very high test scores, a stellar GPA, and impressive extra-curriculars (not just played sports but were All-League, not just joined clubs but founded organizations, not just wrote for the school newspaper but were Editor-in-Chief, etc). Lots of kids apply to Berkeley and something like 9 out of 10 will get rejected. There are MANY colleges that are more diverse than Orinda and I would encourage you to take your daughter around to see some. This state, and even just the Bay Area, is full of options. Even more if she is willing to go out of state.

I teach high school, and graduated from UCB, but I always tell students (and parents) it is better to follow your passions and go to a college that fits you rather than obsess about one college and try to change your interests and life to fit their demands. --Please expand her/your vision

My daughter (23 now and in Grad school) went to Berkeley High and also took as many AP classes as she could, probably around 8-10. She got into UC Berkeley (but chose to go elsewhere), and the load was not at all too much - she had plenty of free time for social life and went abroad with her AP German class for one month after Junior year. The APs can be spread over the entire 4 years of High School, so your daughter can balance her class load. It is important to take the most advanced math AP offered at her school - if she is applying to any of the science or math related majors. By the way - for many of the private schools - I was told that they don't necessarily want the students to take so many AP classes, if any, because that will mean that the student will take less of their university-offered classes and thus a loss of revenue for them.. A friend of mine's child got into Colombia with only one AP class taken (Spanish!), but for the UCs - definitely important. anon

You didn't say how far along in high school your daughter is, but wherever she is I strongly recommend you get some solid counseling and begin educating yourself and your daughter about the college admission process. Admission to UC Berkeley is highly competitive--the majority of applicants have GPAs over 4.0 (this includes extra grade points for honors and AP classes) and only about one in four is admitted. Berkeley, like all UC campuses, looks at the full student: achievement in academic as well as non-academic areas, volunteer and public service activities, special talents, and personal qualities like self-awareness, persistence, creativity, and ''spark'' (these are judged primarily through responses to the essay questions the application asks). That said, UC also evaluates students ''in context'' -- which means looking not only at what a student achieves but how far she has come. This includes careful consideration of challenges and hardships and many admitted students come from backgrounds where college attendance is not a given. UC places high value on students who challenge themselves academically, and taking higher-level courses is one way this can be demonstrated (not to mention that doing well in these courses can raise your GPA)--which is probably why people are advising you to have her take lots of AP. Generally a student who attends a school that offers a lot of AP but chooses not to take those courses may not fit the Berkeley profile, but there are always exceptions. Tens of thousands of students every year manage to take a rigorous course load, engage in lots of extra-curriculars, and still have a life. But for others it's too much or not worth the stress. If your daughter is one of those, relax: there are many, many wonderful colleges out there that are not as difficult to get into as UC where she can have a great experience. Good luck! former admissions officer

Greetings Anon, Sitting down with a Cal counselor might be a good idea, but yes Berkeley is a toughie because of the amount of applicants. Ten AP classes is absurd. My son wanted UC so badly that he killed himself at Campo. He took 3 APs and got in fine with a 4.2

I do want to say though in hindsight, financially speaking these days, its different then it was for you and I. Many kids are finding doing the ''shoo in'' route; two years at city college and you are automatically accepted, can be an okay route. My daughter alternately, did adequately in highschool and went to Sonoma State. Her road has been smooth and is now moving to UCSC. Reenie

Dear Anon, 10 AP classes is ridiculous. And you are right she is only 16 once. It is an important social growing time. We have a friend whose son took 5 AP classes and she thought it that was crazy - he got into Stanford - so I guess 5 AP was enough for that. The pressure is ridiculous and there are a lot of great Colleges out there that don't require all that. My son had a very diverse High School experience including fun things like recreational soccer and Dance Production. That looks good too. He had only 2 AP classes and got into lots of good Colleges. Have you seen a private College councilor? that was very helpful for us! Hope this helps

HS junior feeling pressured, how to help?

August 2010

My son will be a junior at BHS in the Fall. His grades are OK, about a 3.3, and he is in the Intl. Baccalaureate program. His PSATs were awful and we will hire a tutor to prepare for hte SATs. HEre's my question: he has talked about taking a gap year which we completely support since it makes more sense to go to university with a little more maturity under his belt. He feels a lot of pressure and anxiety about college from BHS already and tends not to want to talk about it. Does it make sense for him to meet w/ a college counselor not to push him to apply but just to get a sense of things? Can someone recommend a college counselor who will respect his desire to wait an extra year for college (which of course may change) and not add to his anxiety but instead just help him understand the choices he may have (or not have)? I am a helicopter mama in general but am trying to give him space on this one because i know that added anxiety is not what he needs. Would appreciate advice

To reply to the ''helicopter mama'' who is wondering about a college counselor, I would definitely suggest looking into it to take the pressure off both you and your teen. My daughter was in a similar situation - very bright but not great grades, thinking about a gap year. We worked with Ethan Ris who was not overly intense but very helpful both with finding the right colleges for her and going through the application processes. We also worked with his partner, who really helped with essay writing. They really helped her - and me! His website is . Good luck! Anon.

I conduct SAT and ACT preparation workshops for East Bay high schools, and so I've met some of the advisors at Berkeley High, including Elisabeth Sandberg and Angela Price at the College Career Center. I recommend that your son talk with one of them.

Taking a one-year break in between high school and college is quite common these days. Such a break can contribute to a student's maturity and sense of purpose, making it much more likely that he or she will succeed in college. It's essential, though, that the gap year be used well. It's of course not advisable for a student to quit school and then flounder for a year. So your son should develop a clear plan for what he is going to do during that year.

As an SAT and ACT tutor myself, I'm very familiar with students' anxieties about taking college entrance tests and about the whole college application process. That process can be very challenging, for students at any achievement level. One remedy is effective test preparation. I can assure you that if your son was unprepared when he took the PSAT, and if he diligently prepares to take the SAT or ACT, his score will improve considerably. Most important, he'll gain confidence that he is indeed well prepared to begin his college years. Raymond

College guidance for 11th grader

August 2010

My son is heading into the 11th grade at Oakland Tech. I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions as he and the family prepare for the college application craziness in the following year. He is smart and athletic (varsity), but does not have a straight 4.0 and did not break 65 on the PSAT's last year in 10th grade. Specifically:
* Does it make sense to take the SAT's in the fall of Junior Year. * When is the best time to take and what are the best methods of prepping for the SAT's? * How important are the SAT's these days? * How do you get on the radar of a smaller school's athletic department? And does this help getting in? * What are the tricks for getting into the more selective colleges? * What are the best books on the whole process? * What are the best ways to get Financial Aid? * And last but not least, how do you stay sane?
Concerned (but not a helicopter) parent

It worked well for my son to take the PSAT in October and the SAT in November while he was still fresh. Your son can then take the SAT again later if he likes. Dana

As the owner of James Eno Tutorials, a personal SAT/ACT test preparation service, I believe I can answer some of your questions and, hopefully allay some of your fear.

Does it make sense to take the SATs in the fall of junior year? I would suggest that your son prepare for the test during the fall and winter of 2010/11 in anticipation of taking the SAT in the spring of 2011. He could take the test in March, and if he wishes, retake it in June. It is also offered in May, but taking it again in June would give him a chance to concentrate his preparation on areas where he might need improvement.

What are the best methods of prepping for the SATs? I would recommend intense SAT tutoring with emphasis on both content and strategy. Your son could take a class, such as those offered by the big tutoring companies, or sign up for a program of personal tutoring, where the sessions can be tailored to fit his needs and learning style.

How important are the SATs these days? While the Princeton Review notes that the ACT is being recognized as an alternative, the SAT is still the test most widely accepted for admission to U.S. colleges. The admissions board considers a number of factors in their selection process: overall GPA, SAT/ACT scores, participation in sports and extra-curricular activities, and leadership skills. However, the admissions process is becoming more competitive every year, and adequate preparation for the SAT/ACT may give your son the edge he needs to secure a place in the college of his choice.

I would seek advice from a college counselor on the next few questions. Your son's school should have a counselor who is designated to guide students through the admissions process. If you would like to retain the services of a private counselor, I can recommend several who operate in the East Bay.

How do you stay sane? This is a trying time for both you and your student, but staying calm (outwardly at least) is the best way to help your son. You can also help him by:
1. Making sure that he is fully prepared for important tests. 2. Paying attention to deadlines. 3. Recognizing where he needs help.
If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. James

I am an SAT and ACT tutor, and I've taught SAT and ACT preparation classes and workshops at Oakland Tech and at other high schools here in the East Bay.

I take it that you and your son have already decided to take the SAT rather than the ACT. Just about every college will accept either test as qualification for admission. These two tests are quite different from one another, however. Some students, given their abilities and skills, can expect to do better on the SAT, others on the ACT. If you are uncertain about which test your son should take, he or you might contact me and we can discuss that matter.

Most colleges will give about as much weight to a student's SAT or ACT test score as to his or her GPA, so it is important to do well on the test. An organization out of UC Berkeley, People's Test Preparation Service, has offered a free SAT prep class at Oakland Tech in past years. I assume they will repeat the class this fall.

Another preparation method is self-study. The ''Official SAT Study Guide'' has good practice tests. This book, however, does not provide effective review for the reading, writing, and math sections of the test. For that purpose, you're better off with the McGraw-Hill or Barron's SAT prep guides.

I recommend against Kaplan, Princeton Review, and the other preparation agencies. The classes they offer are expensive, but typically do not provide students with the individual attention and guidance they need to prepare effectively. The problem, in a nutshell, is this: each student has an individual profile of knowledge and test- taking skills that he or she brings into a preparation class. An SAT preparation instructor, no matter how skilled, cannot effectively address the diversity of needs that is typical in a class of 10-20 students.

Tutoring is a better alternative. You can find a tutor who specializes in the test, SAT or ACT, that your son is going to take. There are specific reading, writing, and math skills that are tested by the SAT and ACT, and there are specific strategies for achieving a high score on these tests. You'll want a tutor who knows how to teach those specific skills and strategies. Good luck! Raymond

Timeline & strategy for high schoolers

May 2010

Hi - I'd really love some advice from the veterans in this group about the college preparation/selection/application process. Our daughter is completing her sophomore year at BHS, and we know it will soon be time to ramp up. I could really use a timeline. When are the SATs? When do kids start to work with tutors to prepare for the SAT? How do we begin to narrow down her choices of colleges? When to visit? Which to visit? I am completely in the dark here. I think my daughter would benefit from some discussion about what to even look for in a college and which colleges might be a good fit for her. Are those counselors out there? Berkeley High is too vast to rely on for these types of questions. My daughter is introverted and bookish and Berkeley High has been a bad fit for her and her confidence has suffered as a result. So I want to make sure she has all the resources necessary to make good, informed, timely decisions about college. Really could use some help learning how to jump start this whole daunting process. Thanks!!

for our BHS senior we used a college councelor who I highly reccomend- he does the SAT/ACT prep, essay prep, college selection guidance, checks the applications and even help with deferring for a GAP year. Fees are mostly 1X set fees and I thought he was amazing: Terry MacClure 510-898-8040 terrence_macclure [at] We started at the end of 10th grade. mm

BPN is a great source for leads on tutors and counselors to help with the college application process. I just wanted to add my experience where my family didn't get extra help. My 2 kids went to BHS and neither had test prep tutors or classes and they both did fine on the SAT. Neither had college counselors and both got in to college (one to a UC, the other to a CSU). My kids took the SAT in the spring of their junior year, and then if they wanted to try to improve their score they took it again in the fall of their senior year. For the SAT, the has alot of practice test material. For applying to colleges, that is in the fall of their senior year, mostly by the end of November. Most colleges have online applications that are not hard to do. Good luck!

Hi, there It is an exciting time and it is a time to reach out for help if you or your daughter feel the need so it's good that you are planning ahead.

My daughter took charge of her college selection and application process and that was highly encouraged by the college counselors at Berkeley High but that's not to say she didn't have their help along the way. The College Center at Berkeley High was very responsive to her needs, had plenty of good advice, were very supportive, and among many other services had practical ways of helping her figure out what schools might be a good fit for her.

The College Center at Berkeley High has a website that links to handbooks they've compiled that lists and explains all of the steps you and your daughter will need to take, from things like information about SATs, when to visit colleges, when to apply for financial aid, to the final step when you need to notify the college of your choice that you will be attending.

I know it may not seem like it right now but Berkeley High can be a wonderful resource for your daughter and for you, and of all the administrative departments at Berkeley High I found the College Center to be one of the most accessible when my daughter needed help. Here's a link to their website:

The school will notify you when there are college presentations, SAT prep classes, financial aid workshops, etc., that are available. These were tremendously helpful to us.

Besides this great resource the internet is a treasure trove of information about colleges. I found sites like UNIGO, College Confidential, College Prowler which provide reviews written by current and former students to be very helpful. Since many of the reviews are anonymous students are free to express exactly what they think about everything from their professors, to the the dorms, the surrounding town or city, etc, etc. Although these reviews are very subjective after reading a few you begin to get a consensus pretty quickly about a variety of topics. And of course there are a lot of books out there that you can buy that do the same but I found everything I needed on the internet for free. Good Luck!!!

If BHS doesn't give you any college-search resources, look at the Albany High website. There's LOTS of free info there for juniors, seniors, and parents, all about tests and deadlines, financial aid, etc. You might also look at the College Board website, which has schedules, as well as a free ''find a college'' search function that's fun to play with and can help you identify schools where your kid will likely fit by GPA/SAT numbers.

It is more difficult to get into ''top'' colleges now than 30 years ago (partly due to inflated numbers of applications). However, there is a place for everyone, so refrain from agonizing and over-emphasizing college trips, essays for private schools, etc! Top educations are widely available at less prestigious schools, and in the long run the prestige of the school doesn't matter to your student's happiness in life.

Many juniors take the SAT or ACT test in fall of their junior year or the following spring; some re-take tests in spring of their junior year or fall of their senior year. AP tests are usually May of junior year. College applications aren't due until November of the senior year for the following fall.

Your student only need apply to one or two ''safety'' schools (ones he/she's overqualified for), a couple of middle-range schools, and one or two ''reach'' schools. Students usually hear about admissions/rejections in March or April, and commit to one college by May 1 of their senior year. Been There, Going Again

Hi There! I work at Kaplan, but this isn't a pure sales message, I promise! We have a pretty cool College Admissions Timeline (literally) on our website, as well as individual sites that freshmen, sophomores, and juniors can check out for even more targeted information. If you have any questions about the process, please feel free to reach out to me! (I've been with Kaplan for four years, teaching and managing our SAT programs for the past two.)

In response to the SAT/ACT portion of this query: Students need to have completed Algebra II before beginning test preparation for the math section of these tests. There is really no limiting factor for the other sections. Since most students have completed Algebra II by the end of Sophomore year, the summer between Sophomore and Junior year is a perfect time to begin tutoring. The PSAT is administered in October of both the Sophomore and Junior years. The Sophomore PSAT should be considered as practice for the SAT. For those students hoping to be considered for National Merit Scholarship, test prep. during the summer before the Junior year PSAT is recommended. If you are interested in learning more about the National Merit Scholarship, you can visit their website: Generally, for those students preparing for the Junior year SAT/ACT, I recommend summer/fall tutoring for the October, November or December tests and fall/winter tutoring to prepare for the January or March tests. Tests are given again in May and June of each year, but most students concentrate on SAT IIs at this time. However, if a student needs to retake the SAT/ACT, this is a good opportunity. Finally, it is possible to take the test in October, November or December of Senior year, but November and December may be too late for those students considering early application to colleges. This is a lot of information to process, but please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. James

Here's what ended my anxiety and endless wheel-spinning: finally making some DECISIONS! BHS offered good resources, yes, and some families were able to navigate without additional help (and had students who didn't need a lot of extra help), but for US, finding someone to distill our kid's situation along with all our options, and make some clear recommendations (especially about what to do by when, in what order) was exactly what we needed. This may not work for you, but here's what ended up working for us: meeting with a private college advisor several times beginning in the spring of junior year (we used Wendy Morrison), and working with an essay coach in the summer between junior and senior years to get all the essays out of the way BEFORE the beginning of senior year (we worked with Leslie Quinn). We didn't hire out for test prep, but kind of wished we had. But anyway, once we had this plan and these people in place, we started to relax about the whole process. No nagging about the essays, very little hand-wringing about the applications. We all felt good about the acceptances-something we did right! For us, it was all about taking action and not waiting until the last possible minute, our usual MO. Best of luck. BHS Parent

Senior's depression is hampering college decision

March 2010

Our son is a senior in high school, with college admissions decisions due soon. He has been difficult for a long time, very smart but academics have been up and down. We've recently determined that he has been suffering from undiagnosed depression and anxiety disorder and is starting treatment for that, including cognitive behavior therapy and medication. The timing is horrible with college decision pressures coming up and uncertainty about his condition (on top of this, his condition caused his performance at school to deteriorate last semester to the point of hurting his college admissions chances). We would like some referrals for the right type of professional to give us some advice based on experience. Concerned parent

Dear parent whose high school son is depressed,

There are a lot of pressures on high school students seeking admission to a good 4-year college. You seem to be taking effective measures to help your son deal with his situation. Here are some additional suggestions:

First, you might consider delaying college entrance for a year. Sometimes the extra time can do wonders for a young person's state of mind.

Second, you might consider finding someone to help your son prepare for college. Could be a counselor/advisor at the high school, if you can find someone who will give your son some sustained personal attention. You might take a look at the ''College Admissions Consultants'' page of BPN to get recommendations for specific persons who help students ''get their act together'' to apply to college.

You might consider as well obtaining tutoring for your son to improve his work in school and/or do well on the college admissions exams: SAT, ACT, subject tests and AP tests. Usually tutors offer a free first-time consultation -- your son and you can meet with a tutor and decide whether he/she will provide the help you're looking for.

Finally. you may find interesting an article in the March 1 issue of the New Yorker on the subject of medical approaches to depression: The author, Louis Menand, is a very thoughtful English professor and journalist. Good luck!

Time line for college apps.

Sept 2008

My 17 yo hs senior is bright, talented, social, disorganized and know the type....friends more important than school, does ''well enough'' in school but could do better with a little more effort. So, he's taking his time in his college investigation. He'll only accept ''just so much'' of our help (and nagging). He has a list of places he's really interested in. We've visited a few, but can't visit all.

I'd like to know what is the time line for applications. When do they have to be IN THE MAILBOX (or Fax), Can you write one essay and pretty much use them for all apps? Does he REALLY NEED a college consultant? I''m a really organized person and a pretty good writer so I think I can help him...what are they looking for in these essays? Any theatre majors out there? What kind of portfolio is necessary? He wants to study stage management. How competitive is this field? How many colleges are reasonable to apply to (we have 2 safety colleges). Thanks for any info....are we running late already? mom of teens

Are are describing my son to a t! ( He is starting college at UC San Diego next week). He had to get motivated by his peer group finally talking about college. I think he was overwhelmed with the prospect. Private schools have different time lines. You need to look them up individually.The on their web sites or you can get a college book that sumerizes each school in many ways There are many to choose from.Pricey but we found it helpful. UC's are have the same dates . Many schools now use a common application. His HS counselor may have some info for you. My kids' school has stuff we could acess on a web site. If he definetly wants a certain school he can apply early admission. Again each school is different. Good luck About to start again with #2

Hi, I recommend two books to support your process: ''Admission Matters,'' by Sally P. Springer and Marion R. Frank, and ''The Ultimate College Acceptance System'' by Danny Ruderman. Both will help you understand the process and timeline. I'm a college advisor now, but got into the field after enjoying the process of assisting my 2 sons. We did not hire a consultant. I would urge you and your son to create some momentum pretty quickly, but you are not too late already, assuming he's taken or registered for his tests. Most students need more than one essay. Good luck! Susan

Your son sounds a lot more together than mine was! My son was in total denial. I wanted to let him take the responsibility, and he said he wanted that, but he kept putting it off. On the rare occasions that I brought it up, he'd say I worried too much, that he had it under control, leave him alone, etc. etc. Finally in a panic I researched the deadlines myself. The dates are easy to find on the college websites. Once I had the actual dates, we made some progress. BTW I also looked up the GPA cut-offs because he was wildly overestimating his chances at UC admittance, and had not really researched other possibilities.

Here we are 8 years later, and I can still remember that painful Sunday afternoon when I had to insist that my son sit down with me at the dining room table and look at the numbers I had. There was a lot of resistance. I had to make an appointment with him since he was always ''busy''. Raised voices were involved. It was not easy. But, faced with the facts, he finally recognized that in fact he wasn't going to any of the UCs, and if he didn't do something in the next week or two, he wouldn't be going to college at all in the fall. Together we came up with a list of other colleges that interested him, and to his credit, he followed up himself and did the online applications. It all worked out! Whew. That was a hard one though. Good luck - hang in there. Mom of a college grad

You'll probably get lots of responses to this from other parents who've been there. My daughter is a college freshman this year, so the experience is fresh in my mind! First of all, your son isn't too late in getting started on applications. The first ones due are for the UCs, around Thanksgiving, as I remember, and those don't require teacher recommendations, so they're a bit easier to complete than the private school ones. The UC application should already be available online, as well as the ''prompts'' (essay questions) for this year. Everything gets submitted online.

Maybe looking at that application would help get your son moving? If you're thinking about some private schools, and not considering ''early decision'' or ''early action'', then most of those deadlines are around the 1st of January. Many of them also take the same application and essays (the ''common application''), though it's NOT the same application/essays that UCs take and each private school usually has its own ''supplement''--additional forms or essays that have to be done.

Like you, I'm a pretty organized person, and though I talked to a couple of college consultants, I really felt (and they agreed) that we could do everything ourselves. There are cases where having a consultant helps, and if your son needs a fire lit under him to get started on the process, that may be one of those cases. If the whole process seems completely overwhelming to both of you, that may also be a reason to hire someone, but you sound like you can handle it! We did hire someone to read through my daughter's essay and make suggestions, and I think that was worthwhile. It can be hard for a parent to judge how their child's writing will be perceived.

My advice to you: buy a few different kinds of college books (if you haven't already). Then, sit down with your son and come up with a calendar to cover deadlines for schools he already thinks he's interested in (by looking at each school's WEB site), including deadlines with his high school, for asking for teacher recommendations and transcripts. My daughter and I did that for a couple of intense weekends in a row. Then she pasted the calendar up on her bedroom wall and it served her very well. Good luck! Freshman Mom