Hey Freshmen! Welcome to your one stop shop for all your college needs. There are many events and resources that will help educate and prepare you for your college search and application process. This page will be up all year for you to take advantage of!
Freshmen College Prep Check List:
College Admissions Resources
The SM Counseling Team supports and prepares each student to feel confident about their individualized college goals and aspirations. This database of resources gives our families a comprehensive overview of college admissions, specialized tools and insight from industry insiders.
- College Application Portals and Organizational Tools
- SAT/ACT Testing
- Essays, Activities List and Additional Information
- Researching & Building a College List
- Financial Aid
- College Athletic Recruiting
- Researching Majors & Career Options
- Recommended Books, Podcasts, and Blogs
College Application Portals and Organizational Tools
Start the college application process by starting an account the summer prior to your senior year. Colleges have different applications but most will primarily use the Common Application.
- Common App - deadlines vary by college
- UC Application- due November 30th
- Cal State Application - due November 30th
- Coalition Application - deadlines vary by college. Some schools, like the University of Washington, require this application.
- Some schools, Boise State or Loyola Chicago, for example, have their own online application process.
- College Planning and Decision Spreadsheet - Use the 2 tabs on this spreadsheet to track all the details involved in your college application process.
- College Planner and Research Spreadsheet - Using the prompts, research each schools specific requirements.
- College Cost Estimator - Once college decisions, financial aid packages and scholarships are offered, this tool enables you to compare and contrast the cost of each school.
- Common App - Workshops, Toolkit and Resources
- Testing Information - SM testing plan and overview
- Test Prep Information - SM/CC Prep Class and Other Resources
- Exam Registration and Dates - Links to College Board and the ACT
- Test Optional Colleges & Universities
When applying to certain schools, please double check the testing requirements. Some may allow you to self-report your scores (the score is inputted in the Common App OR you may have to email a screen shot of the scores) while others will required the testing agency to send the scores. You will need to plan ahead to insure you meeting the deadlines.
Essays, Activities List and Additional Information
For most applications, colleges will ask for an essay, a list of activities and awards, and give you an option of including additional information.
Personal Statement - 650 Words
The main college application essay is commonly known as the "Personal Statement" or the "Common App Essay." Using the Common App, students select 1 of 7 prompts. The essay topic is your chance to be creative. During the college application process, most students will write a few essays on different topics. The ideal recommended writing style is personal, creative, authentic, and narrative with the student's voice and personality shining through. Writing samples should indicate the character of an applicant, as if you were speaking to them in person or getting a chance to know how they really think, believe, and act. This is the chance to show who you are outside of your grades, accomplishments, and awards.
Supplemental Essay Questions - Word Count Varies
Some colleges will ask questions in addition to the personal statement. Examples include "Why Do You Want to Attend This School" "Describe a Person You Admire," or "What Extracurricular Activity is the Most Meaningful to You?" Colleges release these questions between June-August 15th each summer.
UC Personal Interest Questions (PIQs) - 350 Words
The UC application does not require for a personal statement or main essay. Instead, they ask students to answer four shorter questions and give eight options to choose from. The preferred writing style is very direct and students should give complete answers to the questions without using "creativity" that other applications reward. The PIQs are designed to mimic an interview experience. They look for detailed information, impact you had on other people or an organization, lessons learned, and how the experience will shape your university goals. This is a great opportunity to "brag" and let the reader know what you have accomplished and learned.
Activities & Awards
The Common App allows you list 10 activities (150 characters) and 5 awards (100 characters) while the UC application allows 20 total activities/awards (500 characters). You should list them in the order that are the most meaningful to you.
This optional section can be used to explain information that may not be found on the application that you feel is important for the reader to know. Examples include a semester of low grades (reason why), an injury or illness, IB extended essay, details surrounding an unusual extracurricular, an obstacle, learning challenge, moving schools, etc. It is not a place to include an extra essay or another list of activities. Talk with your SM counselor about ideas.
- The College Essay Guy
- Essays That Worked - Johns Hopkins and Tufts
- Essay Examples
- UC Application Tips
- Prompt.com - Free planning and topic exercises and tools to organize your writing. If you want to use the paid service for essay edits and coaching, SM gives you a discount if you use this link.
Researching & Building a College List
Here is a list of sites and tools you can access to begin research colleges and building your college list. At any point in high school, add the schools to your "Colleges I Am Thinking About" list on Naviance.
- Naviance - Under the Colleges Tab, use the "Find Your Fit" and "Research Colleges" tools.
- CCAA -Catholic Colleges and Universities
- Jesuit Colleges - Offers access to all the Jesuit schools in the U.S.
- Colleges That Change Lives - List of schools known for student academic outcomes rather than rankings.
- University of California schools
- The Cal State University system
- California Colleges - list of 2 year and 4 year public and private schools in California
- Creative College Lists
- Big Future - College Board search engine.
- Unigo - Students provide college reviews and insight.
- Virtual Tours - Campus Tours, Campus Reel, or YouVisit.
- College Connect - Through your profile, you will be connected with a similar student at colleges you are interested in. Get the chance to ask them questions and learn more.
Students can begin applying for scholarships as early as their freshman year. By filling out a profile on these sites, you can match up with opportunities based on a variety of criteria.
Local Scholarship Resources
- Naviance - Under the Colleges tab, use list Scholarship List and Scholarship Match tools. All local scholarships in Orange County are added to this list.
- Orange County Local Scholarships
- Orange County Community Foundation Scholarships
National Scholarship Search Engines
- Go College
- Fast Web
- Going Merry
- Scholarship Scams - Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information
It is highly recommended that ALL families apply for financial aid regardless of qualification predictions. College financial aid is reviewed based on tax statements covering the student's spring sophomore and fall junior semesters. Families can use prior year tax statements to get an estimate of the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) using the net price calculator found on college websites. Some schools will also factor in the student's academic record to predict merit awards.
Financial Aid Resources
- Net Price Calculator - Connect to the specific calculator on college websites.
- My Intuition - College cost estimator used by many colleges.
- Federal Student Aid Information Center
- Financial Aid Guide and Overview
- FAFSA - Free Application for Federal Student Aid (Opens 10/1 each year).
- CSS Profile - Supplemental Financial Aid Application. Some private schools required this form in addition to the FAFSA.
- Federal Loan Basics
- California State Aid Commission - Information about Cal Grants and other state aid programs.
- California Community College Financial Aid Site
- ECMC - Federal loans for students and parents
- FinAid - Comprehensive site explaining loans, scholarships and the financial aid process
- College Planning America - Local financial planner specializing in helping family's plan, save and apply for college financial aid.
- College Board Guide to Getting Financial Aid by The College Board
- Meeting College Costs by The College Board
- Paying For College by Peterson’s
- The Best Way to Save for College: A Complete Guide to 529 Plans by Joseph F. Hurley
College Athletic Recruiting
If you are interested in playing sports in college as a recruited athlete, speak with your SM or club coach to help determine your skill level and the reality of playing sports at the college level. Keep your SM counselor informed to ensure that you have a well-rounded college list with a wide range of college options.
It is important to understand that the lifestyle of a college athlete can be very different from a typical college student which also depends on the athletic division of your sport. Make sure you are aware of the expectations placed by specific colleges on recruited athletes.
- NCAA - National Collegiate Athletic Recruiting
- NAIA - National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes
- NACDA - National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics
- The Student Athlete’s Handbook by Perry Bromwell and Howard Gensler
- Advising Student Athletes Through the Recruitment Process by Michael Koehler
Researching Majors & Career Options
Use your current interests to begin to explore how to pursue a meaningful and exciting vocational centered career. The first step is to go on Naviance and take the assessments under the "About Me" section. Using this data that is personalized to you will provide a foundation to begin to further explore post-high school opportunities.
Recommended Books, Podcasts, and Blogs
Long list of resources to use for exploring the college preparation and admissions process.
- Where You Go is Not Who You'll Be by Frank Bruni
- The Truth About College Admission: A Family Guide by Brennan Barnard and Rick Clark
- The Years That Matter Most by Paul Tough
- The Enlightened College Applicant by Andrew Belasco and Dave Bergman
- How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims
- Countdown to College by Monique Rinere
- The Happiest Kid on Campus by Harlan Cohen
- Excellent Sheep by William Deresiewicz
- The Gatekeepers by Jacques Steinberg
- Creating a Class by Mitchell L. Stevens
- The Neurotic Parent's Guide to College Admissions by J.D. Rothman
- CrazyU: One Dad's Crash Course Into Getting His Kid Into College by Andrew Ferguson
College Research: Guidebooks (Many, but not all, are updated annually/periodically)
- Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges by Barron’s Educational Series
- The College Handbook by The College Board
- Peterson’s Four Year Colleges by Fern Oram
- The Fiske Guide to Colleges by Edward Fiske
- The College Finder by Steven R. Antonoff, Ph.D.
- Ruggs’s Recommendations on the Colleges by Frederick Rugg
- Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges by Loren Pope
- The Best 368 Colleges by The Princeton Review
College Search Guidebooks for Students with Learning Disabilities
- Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities or ADHD by Peterson’s
- K&W Guide to College for Students with Learning Disabilities by The Princeton Review
- Peterson’s Colleges with Programs for Students with Learning Disabilities or Attention Deficit Disorders by Charles T. Mangrum and Stephen S. Strichart
- Georgia Tech Admissions Blog - Known for its honest, authentic, and humorous look at the college admissions process. Great perspective and insight for parents and students with very timely and relevant posts throughout the cycle.
- Tulane Admissions Blog - Posts give insight into the selective school process, what to do while in high school as well as Tulane specific information.
- College Kickstart - If you like data, you will like this site! Posts outline acceptance rates, waitlist information, and offers lists based on a variety of topics.
- College Essay Guy Blog - Posts that give you detailed strategies, organizational tools and "how to" ideas for all aspects of college admissions.
- Grown and Flown Blog - Advice ranges from parenting teens, packing for college, mental health for families, and surviving the college application process successfully!
- The University of Pennsylvania offers a free 4 week course called "How to Apply to College." It is offered every 4 weeks. Experts in the field walk you through the application process through coursework, exercises, videos and the ability to engage in Q&A.