Planning for College in High School

Parent Q&A

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  • My husband and stepdaughter are from Brazil. She is currently a freshman in high school. She definitely wants to go to college and she’s expressed interest in a few different careers. My husband is not familiar with how the path to college works here and frankly my knowledge of it is severely lacking. I want to help her with finding resources for exploring different professions and resources for support with becoming college-bound. She attends high school in the north bay. Does anyone have suggestions on how I can find these types of resources or programs? 

    High school counselors are the gateway for this information. I would start by looking in detail at her high school's website, which may have some info posted about the UC system's A-G requirements as a starting point, then look at her schedule and compare it to the desired track. (It is not expected that everyone would go to UC, just that is the standard for the above and beyond graduation requirements.) If it's all Greek to you three, email the counselor and ask for an appointment for the three of you. It is good to get on the counselor's radar anyway so they can be aware of your stepdaughter's special concerns/needs as an immigrant student.

    I have a freshman in high school as well.  I keep hearing college admissions have changed since I applied to college (30+ years ago), so I'm starting to find out more details about what that really means.  The colleges that were shoo-ins back in the day are now reach schools.  In my research, I stumbled across this podcasts: I have no affiliation.  I started listening to the podcasts and it's been very informative.

    She should start with her high school’s college and career center. That is an excellent resource. 

    If her high school has an AVID program she might want to look into taking that as an elective - the program is designed for students who need help with the college process - especially immigrant and first generation in Is college  students. I teach in their program (in the north bay too). It’s a wonderful and students get a ton of college and career support. 

    Career One Stop is free and has a well-organized collection of videos on very specific careers in all different areas. See o

    If you want to spend the money (it's not cheap) you can also hire a career counselor for your teen. On My Way Consulting offers career counseling for teens as a distinct service from its college admission counseling. I hired them for this service for my teen, who is a high school junior, this past fall. The counselor taught my kid really useful skills for continuing to research careers even beyond the ones she suggested for my kid. It was very helpful, though maybe more so for a junior than it might be for a freshman. The free videos are probably enough for now. High school should still mostly be a time of open exploration. 

    Thanks, a counselor is a good starting point. I’m looking into Girls Who Code, other STEM programs, UC’s pre college scholar program, etc. I was hoping there were sources of consolidated information where one could find info for a number of different programs. 

  • Hello parents. 

    My daughter is a freshman who currently does not have any particular liking for any subject/topic/career (by career I mean "what do I want to be when I grow up" type broad career choice).  She is a smart child with good grades, but her interests are more in socializing than studies.  I am fine with it for now, but eventually, it will be good for her to find a pathway to major(s) and career(s); and also, accordingly, choose high school classes, extracurricular etc. My son is a senior who just went through the college application process-  he was pretty much set on one subject from early years - so for him, this wasn't an issue.  A friend suggested hiring a college guidance counselor from 9th grade who will be able to guide her.  I wanted to know if anyone has experience with hiring a  counselor from freshman year; and could share their experience.  Also, does anyone have any recommendation for a counselor; or another service who helped their child go through this kind of journey to understand themselves and find their interest?   Thank you.

    Hey there — I hear your concern & want to assure you that your daughter will find her way. id advise keep supporting her exploration and curiosities. Our kids are individuals who are different from each other. Your son did it one way, it sounds like your daughter is going to do it very differently. Try not to compare & find her lacking. 

    I am wondering why you feel the need for a 14-15 year old to have a career path? Yes some like your son find something early on but it’s really not the norm. Supporting her in exploring different activities and nurturing her social interactions is the best way to help her be a stable, thinking adult. She will find a path when she is ready. Many dont until after they start College. If you push her there is the very real possibility of creating anxiety, stress and discord. 

    A counselor can't tell your daughter what she's interested in. Let your daughter find her passion by getting many different kids of experiences while she is still a kid. For example, teen internships that may be offered thru your HS or city; joining a team or trying a new activity; part time jobs and summer jobs; youth activism. By 11th grade she may or may not have more of a sense of what she wants to study in college (or other post-HS path); or it may take until she's 25, but this has to come from her.

    I agree with the other posters - this is completely normal and many kids don’t yet know what they want to be when they grow up at this age, and it’s not a problem at all. But in terms of helping your daughter understand herself better, you might want to look into the Johnson O’Connor Foundation ( They do aptitude testing - assessing your abilities in a variety of areas to identify innate abilities. Based on the results they suggest different career paths that would build on your strengths, and hence would likely be more enjoyable and rewarding. This was super helpful for my son, who, like your daughter, didn’t have a clear direction. I highly recommend them.

    I agree as the parent of a freshman myself, that finding someone to help them 'understand themself and find their interest' is a tall order for their tender age - but re-reading your post I think I get what you are going for. First let me say I agree with other posters that it's best not to compare her to her brother, all kids are different. I'm guessing you don't really do that with her or put pressure on her to 'figure it out.' That said, there are some interesting exercises I've read about lately that can help kids' kind of figure out what their interests might be, etc. One in particular I read about was the "Strong Interest Inventory' which is owned by Meyers-Briggs. I cannot attest to it myself, but it seems like this might be the kind of thing you are looking for. I would just caution you to be patient and maybe wait until late sophomore or early junior year to find someone to work with your daughter (and possibly administer these kinds of assessments) as she has a lot of growing to do between now and then, and it is best left to happen organically. Deep breaths mama! Good luck!

  • I'm hoping parents who recently went through the college application process with their kids can give me some advice. My daughter is a BHS sophomore. She gets very good grades but is not particularly academically-oriented. She does her work and she finds some of it mildly interesting but - so far - school isn't where she wants to put her time and energy. Then again, she barely had a half year of high school before distance learning started so maybe that's part of the issue. She isn't super challenged by her classes and that was true at King as well. She dislikes Math and Science and says she barely knows what's going on sometimes, but she still gets A's. This worries me in terms of the potential difference between "regular" classes and AP classes. My main question is about AP classes for next year in 11th grade. She's in AC (Academic Choice) and plans to take: #1. the 3rd year of a language, #2. Math 3 (not Advanced Math), #3. Biology (not AP). For those whose kids graduated before U9 started, Bio or AP Bio are her only choices for 11th grade now. #4. AP English Lang & Comp, #5. AP US History. The question is what she takes for class # 6. Are AP English and History going to be a rude awakening for her in terms of the level and amount of work compared to what she's experienced so far? She wants her 6th class to be an art elective, not an academic class. I've been told that she should really be taking 3 APs her Junior year if she wants to get into a UC. Is that true? The only other AP she's remotely interested in is AP Art History but she's very nervous that 3 APs will be way more than she can handle. She's involved in some great extracurricular activities so my question isn't about "the whole package" of what's important on college applications - I'm really just wanting to understand specifically about the APs at this point. I would be very grateful to hear your thoughts!  TIA

    Well, I will say at BHS, many of the science classes are not great, and she can easily get an A without knowing the material (this was my daughter in 9th grade Physics). If your daughter did not take AP Chemistry in 10th grade, she might want to take 3 AP classes Junior yr. My 11 grader opted to take only 2 APs this year (plus AP Chem last yr) and she's taking a class at Berkeley City College. She decided on AP Art History instead of AP US History because she plans to go into design. It's a great class. One of the best APs at BHS. I think you should reach out to the College and Career Counselors at BHS with your questions. They're really knowledgeable and helpful. Jennifer Hammond is the counselor for AC: jenniferhammond [at]

    I have a junior right now. I’m sure it partly depends on teacher, and of course my junior has only had these classes as Distance Learning, but given all that— the AP Eng Lang and Comp requires very little work. I think he worked harder in his regular freshman English class. The AP US History is a little more work, but it’s not huge. His biggest work load by far is in AP Bio, where he routinely has an hour or two of homework. I don’t know much about UC and AP’s, but wanted to reassure you that AP Eng Comp and AP US History have not been overwhelming for my son at all. 

  • My daughter is a junior in HS and is currently taking AP Calc BC. Her HS offers AP Stat so technically, she doesn’t max out with math offered at her school after this year. Her HS counselor also told her she isn’t maxed out because she could take linear algebra or differential equations at our local JC. But she would rather take AP Psych (a very popular class with good teacher but an elective) than AP Stat (which she’s not very interested in with mediocre teachers). The HS counselor strongly recommends she takes AP Stat next year to show 4 years of math to keep her competitive edge since many colleges state “4 years recommended” for math.

    I would think that with AP Calc BC that already shows she is capable of higher level math, colleges wouldn’t really care if she didn’t take math her senior year. She is not interested in CS, engineering, or hard sciences and is thinking of pre-Med. Am I being naive or is there another matrix that colleges work with that I am not aware? 

    Aside from the fact that I’ve been weary of the AP labeling of rigorous classes and the idea of putting together a perfect portfolio for the colleges, I would rather my daughter takes classes that she enjoys, especially during her senior year. She thought she would enjoy math and was thinking about taking linear algebra during her senior year. Now, after a year of calc, she thinks math is not in her future. Would she really be limiting her college selection by taking this opportunity to explore her interests rather than trying to meet college expectations?

    I think you answered your question":  "I would rather my daughter takes classes that she enjoys" and "she would rather take AP Psych".  Gaining a better understanding of what your interests are is priceless.  Good luck to her!

    If your student as a junior is currently taking AP Calc BC, that assumes that she completed high school level math, like algebra in middle school. Colleges will consider that middle school class as one year of a high school math level course. You can open a test account of a UC application and see that there is a place to enter middle school math or language other than English courses. I agree that your daughter should pursue classes of most interest to her. 

    One thing you and your daughter could ask yourselves... if a college would eliminate her from consideration based on that one thing (4 years of math vs. 3), is it the right college for her? What kind of college experience is she hoping to have?

    My impression is that one huge thing colleges are looking for is evidence that a student has agency in their own learning and will be prepared for the independence that comes with college. (i.e., taking responsibility for their own learning, directing their own studies/scholarship to a greater extent than in K-12, etc.) So if this is reflected elsewhere in her essays/application, I wouldn't worry too much about taking a 4th year of math, especially (as you say) when she has already completed the course that is kind of widely regarded as the capstone of a successful high school math experience.

    Keep encouraging your daughter to do what she loves and explore what she's curious about! That will prepare her for college better than anything else.

    No, that's silly, she's already taken the equivalent of more than 4 years of HS math and does not need any additional math for pre-med. She should take classes she's interested in. Good idea to take a community college class though.

    Your daughter should take classes she enjoys. Think of it as a life lesson- she should follow her interests and not a prescribed path by the counselor. I promise you, she will have plenty of choices for college. 

    What a great attitude for you & your daughter to have!

    Whenmy daughter didn’t get the “best” score she “could” have on the ACT, her tutor & I encouraged her to take it again. She pushed back and said “I’ll get into a college commensurate with my grades & this score & my application.” (AND there’s NO WAY I’m sitting for another 7 hours -with accommodations- for a stupid test again!) She got into 1 of her reach schools and has been super happy there! Seems like a happy secure girl wrote a happy secure application!

    I agree with the prior post. If your daughter wants to take AP Psych, she should take it. Learning to go with your interests is so important in today's cookie cutter, competitive culture. Besides, it will probably reflect on her as a well-rounded person. And it's always good to have a great professor! They are valuable and rare. All the best for her and you!

    The question is what kind of college she is aiming for.  If she wants MIT, Caltech, UC Berkeley EECS, etc., with admission rates of approximately 5% or less, many students have taken math beyond AP Calc BC. These students often take a class at a community college, though some elite high schools offer these classes. Colleges will be more impressed by a year of linear algebra at a community college than AP Psych.  Ask the admissions departments of the colleges she wishes to attend.  How committed is she to pre-med?  Pursuing advanced math at college would make her application stand out, and starting early will help that.  (You might think I'm getting ahead of myself, but I know an excellent student from Berkeley High who did well as bio major at a very selective UC, had a decent MCAT score, etc., and was turned down by every medical school.)  It's good to know the hard facts of admissions.

    I can't advise on the college admissions questions, but as a computer scientist who hated calculus and enjoyed linear algebra, I wouldn't write off linear algebra as an option. Maybe she could check it out during the summer before senior year? In general, I am inclined to agree with your outlook about exploring interests, but I hope that at some point in the future she takes a stat class, hopefully from a better teacher. I pushed my kids to take college statistics courses because statistical literacy is so helpful to becoming an engaged and informed citizen, and it's also important for understanding studies in many professions including health sciences.

    My son is in somewhat the same boat. He took BC as a 10th grader and wound up taking Multivariable Calculus this year as an 11th grader. We have a (paid) college counselor for him and she said that he should take math as a 12th grader since colleges want to see that kids are challenging themselves. He is taking it through CTY starting right after AP tests so he can get a bunch of it done over the summer and have a chill senior year.

    MVC was hard and it was a pretty painful experience doing it in lockdown when motivation is already low. At least linear algebra isn't such a hard class. (I remember MVC as one of my least favorite classes and linear algebra as not very hard.) I would think Statistics is also a good bet if she wants to do medicine, though maybe it is better to wait to take it in college.

  • 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!

    It sounds like you care about your daughter a lot and want to be supportive. For full disclosure my teen is going to community college next fall, so I am far from an expert regarding college admissions. It's also hard to give specific advice without knowing more about your daughter. However, based on my recent experiences parenting a high school student in a competitive academic environment, I can't help but think there is far too much emphasis on college prep. High school is no longer about what is being learned. It's all about getting into college and getting the best grades and taking AP classes. Same thing with things like jobs and sports/clubs, which are encouraged less because our teens enjoy and benefit from them and more because they look good on a college application, As I thought of your daughter's summer, I couldn't help but think she might benefit from a reprieve from school/college prep. It sounds like vacation and work will offer her some interesting and positive life experiences this summer. Junior year is pressure packed - there will be plenty of time to focus on college applications and SAT prep. If you think she might need extra academic support, maybe start a "game" of daily vocabulary words that she can try and stump you with. Whatever you do, I would emphasize the joy of learning rather than prepping for the end goal of college. With that said if she has a goal of getting in to a competitive school (although make sure it's her goal and truly important to her, rather than your goal for her or because she thinks she has no value if she doesn't go to a great school), there may be some advantages to starting early. I think the pressure teens are under these days regarding college admissions is terrible, but it does seem to be the current situation in the high achieving Bay Area. As an aside, my community college bound teen is happy. He's got great friends, enjoys traveling and outdoor activities. He is physically active. He works and is responsible with money. He may not be going to an Ivy League school, or even a four year school, but he's really happy and well adjusted - and as the parent of a teen, I'm more than happy about that.

    My son is a junior now and started with his college counselor in sophomore year. He’ll be prepping for essay writing this summer. He took the SAT twice this school year and had tutoring before his first go at it. I’d recommend SAT prep just before your daughter is scheduled to take it. I believe there’s one in August. If I were to have my son do it differently, I wouldn’t have had him take it the second time the week prior to AP testing. 

    As far as summer plans, having a job is a great thing to put on college applications. If she has a particular field of interest yet, she would benefit from pursuing that in the way of work, volunteering, precollege programs, etc. 

    Following. Our daughter is the same age and stage. We’re also looking for something structured for her to do this summer. You? 

    You will undoubtedly get a lot of different opinions, but you know your daughter better than anyone (and your daughter knows herself even better than you!) College admissions is not a one size fits all process. It's important to discuss with your daughter what HER college goals are -- to aim for an elite university, to get merit scholarships, to get into a CSU, to major in engineering, etc. This should help frame her process. I suggest she spend this summer exploring what she likes to do and what her interests are (if she doesn't already know) and do research on how she can learn more about those things and how to get involved locally. The beauty of the Bay Area is there are so many opportunities and most professionals embrace enthusiastic, hard-working, responsible youth. She should wait until she has done more, knows more about herself and is more mature (yes, a year makes a huge difference) to write her college essays. If she is really motivated, I suggest that she take a practice ACT and SAT early this summer and see which one she prefers. Then she could study/take a prep class for the SAT or ACT and take the test for the first time Fall/Winter junior year. (Many students take them once in the Spring junior year and again Fall senior year, but that's the busiest time of their high school career.) Finally she can start doing online research about colleges (and majors) and see which ones appeal to her and start building a spreadsheet of her list of dream schools, targets and safeties. My daughter started with a list of about 50 schools (gulp!) and now has it down to her final 15. Good luck to your daughter and to you, the parents! BTW, I'm an application reader for a highly competitive university, so I'm mostly speaking from that perspective.

    I'd advise against taking the sat or act until doing some prep. Some places want all the scores. Many test prep companies will give you a practice test and I think there are some online too. But I would advise against doing a practice that goes on your permanent record.

    Most schools my kid applied to wanted him to be really into the things he loved. Maybe she should just do what she wants to do- work hard at something or play hard or chill!

    My son is finishing his junior year and if there's one thing I wish we had done the summer before junior year, it's start SAT prep. Junior year was really insane for him (though he did take 5 AP classes, which is crazy but unfortunately common for most motivated kids at his school). He crammed in SAT tutoring/prep from December through February to take the early March SAT. With so much homework from his classes, plus studying for 5 AP tests and 2 SAT subject tests taking place in May, plus getting started on the college app process, it was very difficult to find time do the SAT practice tests, which take 5-6 hours each to complete. I'm going to make sure my younger son starts on SAT prep the summer between sophomore and junior year to help relieve some of the stress of junior year. Good luck with junior year, it's nuts! 

    I will echo what a couple of other posters said.

    1) The college counselors at my child's independent, college-prep high school gave us this advice for the summer after sophomore year:  have an intentional summer.  That means, you can do anything you want as long as it isn't sitting around on the couch all summer.  Examples:  volunteer for an organization that you care about; read 10 books on a subject you're interested in; get a job; do a summer program in a subject/area/sport that you're excited about.  I will vouch for the excitement and sense of accomplishment that getting a paid job gives a teenager--sounds like your daughter is already on top of that.  It's probably enough for her just to do that.  The flip side of this advice is that she shouldn't do any activity just so that it looks good for college apps.

    2) Way too early to practice filling out applications or writing essays.  She will be a lot more mature one year from now, will have more to say about herself, and she will have plenty of time the summer after junior year to do that.

    3) Our school advised us to take the SAT/ACT in spring of junior year, but they also said that some kids do it earlier, some later.  I kind of wish my child had done it in late summer before junior year, and done the associated prep just before that time.  In junior year he was so busy with classwork, sports, and other in-school college prep and college visits that doing SAT prep became kind of difficult.  They say kids do better the later they take it, but if your child had a strong PSAT score, taking the test when he/she the most time to prep beforehand is the best, in my opinion.  That could be in August before junior year starts.  If you're waiting until later but she still wants to do some prep, have her buy the official SAT or ACT prep book and work through some of the practice tests. 

    I held off on responding before, but decided to share. My daughter has just finished her first year of college, so we have been through all of this recently.

    First, I want to acknowledge that you are acting out of love and a desire to help ease your daughter's stress during her junior year, which is a very good place to start. I agree with many other posters: it is way too early to be writing essays. Let her enjoy her summer, work, take her vacation. Instead of giving you advice on how to help her with the college application process, my advice is how to help her prepare for college itself: the things you help her do now will help her build the skills and resiliency to be happy and healthy in high school, and happy, healthy, and successful in college.  And of course, college is not the goal here - college is just another step in preparing for life as an adult.

    1. Do everything in your power to protect her mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Junior year tends to be very stressful; make sure she hasn't taken on too many AP classes.Some teachers give too much homework: too much homework does not enhance learning. If any of her teachers assign more than 1 hour of homework a night, help her push back to set limits. She should get at least 8-9 hours of sleep per night - enforce this. Make sure she has time to have fun built in to every week. Help her master good time management skills: too many students wind up trying to do all-nighters studying or doing projects - this is no way to learn. Students who get into this habit in high school struggle even more when they get to college. Work with her on how to use a planner: many high schools give planners to students for free. If necessary, make sure that her phone and computer are charging in your room at night. 

    2. Do everything in your power to protect her love of learning. Do not encourage resume-filling busy-work. Aside from necessary coursework, she should take classes because she is interested in them. She should sign up for clubs only because she is interested in what they are doing, or because she wants to spend time with the members or make new friends. She should do athletics because she enjoys them, they are healthy for her, and they promote emotional, physical and mental well-being. Nothing should be simply because anyone thinks it will "look good" on a college application.

    3. Resist the urge to prod her to do more. Anxiety, depression and stress are so prevalent among teens these days - do your best to help prevent this.

    4. Remember that there are literally thousands and thousands of colleges out there; don't get hung up on the idea of the "perfect" one, or on prestige. Don't forget that 2 years of community college are an excellent way to prepare for a four year college, and a great way to save money.

    Best of luck to you all during this process!

    I have two sons who now are done with college.  Both went to College Prep, so I know a bit about the intense pressure faced by kids in academically competitive environments.  I share the dominant view that this is way too early to start college prep, and that your best-intentioned efforts to help your child could have the unintended effect of adding to the pressure that too many kids already feel in high school. Your highest and best use may be to chill, and to help your child to chill.  

    Re SATs:  Believe it or not, in this crazy world of competitive parenting and packaging kids for college admissions, there is no rule that a kid must do test prep. Kids can do great without it, especially if they test well. Have your child sign up for the SAT question of the day on the College Board website.  If she is motivated, she can do one question a day and by the time the test comes around, she'll be very familiar with all the kinds of questions they ask. Sign her up in junior year for SAT and ACT.  Before the SAT, she can get a book and do a couple of time practice tests in the week or two before. See how she does. If she does great, she's done. Hooray! If she doesn't, lather rinse repeat with each test. If she still doesn't have a score she is happy to use, then she can consider retaking and doing test prep on the test she is most comfortable with. My younger son was a good test-taker, good PSATs, motivated to do well. We sweetened it with bribery:  If he did well enough the first time out, we'd give him the money a prep class would take.  Talk about motivation!  He did exactly the above -- did the question of the day for months before, did a couple of timed practice SATs out of a used book he got from a senior, ate a good high-protein breakfast and took the SAT. Nailed it and was done. No need to take the ACT.  Everyone was happy, and no one was stressed.   

    I would say this for almost any student of any age, but I think it especially applies to someone who is thinking about college. My suggestion is to write everyday. Maybe choose a theme like fashion or sports. Or maybe write something different each day. But fill a page everyday. Hopefully about something they are interested in. Just practicing every day improves writing skill, even with no help or corrections. It will ready a student for essays in a less pressured way. Good luck!

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