- Intro & Master Calendar
- The College Search
- Applying to College
- Standardized Testing
- Special Categories
- Financial Aid
- Tips & Resources
Intro & Master Calendar
Welcome to the beginning of the college search process. The Pulsifer College Counseling Center is looking forward to guiding you through this exciting journey. We encourage you to embrace this opportunity to explore your values, make important adult decisions, and become more independent. You are bound to learn a lot about yourself, and you will discover that there are a wide range of options available to you after Thayer. But you won’t take these steps alone. This is a partnership between your family and Thayer. We are here to advise and support you, to help you make sense of the process while keeping you on task.
We have designed this College Counseling Handbook to assist you in the college search and application process. It covers everything from developing a college list to completing an application to applying for financial aid. It includes important dates to remember, sample forms, various worksheets, as well as countless tips and insights. For each step of the process, there will be parts of this book that you will find useful. We hope you will share it with your parents, bring it to meetings with your college counselor, and refer to it when necessary as you make your way through the year.
Of course, the Handbook is only a resource guide, and often you cannot navigate your way through the options and the contingencies and the strategies without talking through the issues with someone who has experience with this process. That is why we expect you and your parents to be active participants, and we hope to sustain steady contact with you through email, phone, and visits. In our experience, consistent communication is essential to making this process positive and productive.
Please contact us whenever you have questions or need assistance. We look forward to working with you!
Thayer Academy College Counseling Staff
Thad Robey, Cicily Shaw, Christine Woods & Selene Eymer
College Admissions Calendar
- Research colleges on your list and keep SCOIR updated regarding preferences.
- Visit college campuses if possible.
- Draft your main college essay and submit to your college counselor for feedback.
- Register for Aug, Sept, Oct. or Nov. standardized tests.
July 12/16 & July 16/23: College Essay Workshops at Thayer
July 15: ACT Test Day
July 28: Registration deadline for August SAT
July 31: College essay draft due to your college counselor via email
- Visit college campuses if possible.
- Edit your college essay after your counselor sends feedback.
- Begin work on the Common Application and supplemental essay writing when the new version launches on August 1.
- Register for Sept, Oct, Nov, or Dec. standardized tests (SAT or ACT).
- Complete the Senior Questionnaire in SCOIR for your college counselor.
August 1: Common Application launches for this application cycle (commonapp.org)
August 4: Registration deadline for September ACT
August 26: SAT Test Day
- Meet with college counselor.
- Move towards finalizing college list; organize your application deadlines.
- In SCOIR, move colleges over to the “Applying” column (due two weeks before app. deadline). Complete FERPA waiver on Common App.
- Work on college applications.
- Register for Oct, Nov, or Dec. standardized tests (SAT, ACT).
- Attend college representative visits at Thayer (register in advance in SCOIR).
- Complete the Senior Questionnaire in SCOIR for your college counselor.
- Arrange for Family Questionnaire to be completed (access via a link).
- Ask teachers to write letters of recommendation at least one month prior to application deadline. Add them to your SCOIR account and provide them with any necessary paperwork.
September 7: Registration deadline for October SAT
September 9: ACT Test Day
September 14: College Counseling meeting for Grade 12 parents/guardians
September 22: Registration deadline for October ACT
- Work on college applications. Submit to any colleges with mid-October deadlines.
- In SCOIR, move colleges over to the “Applying” column (due two weeks before an app. deadline). Complete FERPA waiver on Common App.
- Ask teachers to write letters of recommendation one month prior to application deadline. Add them to your SCOIR account and give them the necessary paperwork.
- Take SAT or ACT Tests.
- Register for Nov. and/or Dec. standardized tests (SAT or ACT).
- Send SAT/ACT score reports via testing company to colleges requiring them.
- Attend college representative visits at Thayer. Register in advance on SCOIR.
- Complete Senior Questionnaire in SCOIR for your college counselor.
- Arrange for Family Questionnaire to be completed (access via link).
October 5: Registration deadline for November SAT
October 7: SAT Test Day
October 9: Indigenous Peoples' Day. Consider visiting a college campus today.
October 11: No school for seniors. Visit a college campus or work on applications at home or at the application workshop in the Brickyard (10:30-1:30).
October 28: ACT Exam Day
- Submit Early Decision / Early Action applications.
- Send SAT/ACT score reports via testing company to colleges requiring them.
- Take SAT
- Attend college representative visits at Thayer. Register in advance on SCOIR.
- Ask teachers to write letters of recommendation one month prior to application deadline. Add them to your SCOIR account and get them the necessary paperwork.
- In SCOIR, move colleges over to the “Applying” column (due two weeks before app. deadline. Complete FERPA waiver on Common App. For deadlines over winter break, forms must be logged in by December 9.
- Complete Senior Questionnaire in SCOIR for your college counselor.
- Arrange for Family Questionnaire to be completed (access via link).
November 2: Registration deadline for December SAT
November 3: Registration deadline for December ACT
November 4: SAT Test Day
November 11: Veteran’s Day Holiday. Consider visiting a college on this day.
- Decisions arrive for Early Decision and some Early Action applicants.
- Take SAT or ACT.
- Complete all applications and submit.
- Ask teachers to write letters of recommendation one month prior to application deadline. Add them to your SCOIR account and give them the necessary paperwork. For deadlines over winter break, forms must be logged in by Dec 9.
- In SCOIR, move colleges to the “Applying” column (due two weeks before app. deadline). Complete FERPA waiver on Common App.
- Send SAT/ACT score reports via testing company to colleges requiring them.
December 2: SAT Test Day
December 9: College applications due over break must be logged in by this date
- Submit remaining applications.
- In SCOIR, move colleges on your final list over to the “Applying” column (due 2 weeks before app. deadline). Complete FERPA waiver on Common App.
- Send SAT/ACT score reports to any remaining colleges requiring them.
- Respond to an Early Decision acceptance if applicable.
- Contact colleges (via internet or phone) to make sure your applications are complete and that online applications have been received.
February / March 2024
- Provide additional information to colleges as requested.
- Receive admission decisions and communicate them to your college counselor.
- Wait patiently and research/think about options.
- Visit colleges as necessary.
March 9-26: Spring Break. Visit colleges if necessary.
- Receive admission decisions and communicate with your college counselor.
- Think through options.
- Visit colleges if necessary.
- Make final decision.
April 15: Patriots Day Holiday. Consider visiting a college campus today.
May 1: Acceptance / deposit due at the college of your choice.
June 9: Thayer Commencement. Congratulations!
- Many of the dates above represent the deadline (last possible date). Plan ahead and act early!
- It is the responsibility of the student to understand the test requirements of the colleges to which they are applying.
- Thayer is not a testing site for the SAT or ACT.
- Meetings with college counselors begin in classes and individually.
- Register for spring SAT/ACT.
January 6: Registration deadline for February 11 ACT exam
January 9: Meeting for Junior parents with Admissions Officer Panel - 6 p.m. Thompson Hall (Middle School)
- Meet individually with your college counselor.
- Register for spring standardized tests (SAT, ACT).
- Make arrangements to visit colleges over spring break if desired.
February 10: Registration deadline for March 11 SAT
February 11: ACT Testing Day (Not at Thayer)
- Meet individually with your college counselor.
- Register for spring standardized tests (SAT, ACT).
- Continue to learn more about the colleges on your preliminary college list.
- Visit colleges over spring break if possible.
March 10: Registration deadline for April 15 ACT
March 11: SAT Testing Day
- Attend all college counseling classes.
- Meet individually with your college counselor as needed.
- Register for spring standardized tests (SAT, ACT).
- Continue to learn more about the colleges on your preliminary college list.
April 7: Registration deadline for May 6 SAT exam
April 15: ACT exam date (Not at Thayer)
April 30: BISCCA College Fair @ Babson College (more details to come)
- Meet individually with your college counselor as needed.
- Register for spring standardized tests (SAT, ACT).
- Think about making plans for summer college visits.
- Continue to learn more about the colleges on your preliminary college list.
- Update prospective college list on Scoir.
- Sign up for College Essay workshops and/or mock interviews if desired.
May 4: Registration deadline for June 3 SAT exam
May 5: Registration deadline for June 10 ACT exam
May 6: SAT exam day (Not at Thayer)
- Meet individually with your college counselor as needed.
- Plan summer college visits.
- Continue to learn more about the colleges on your preliminary college list.
- Update prospective college list on Scoir.
- Watch for Pulsifer College Counseling Office summer mailing.
June 3: SAT exam day (Not at Thayer)
June 10: ACT exam day (Not at Thayer), Thayer Academy Commencement
June 16: Registration deadline for July 15 ACT exam
- Visit colleges.
- Register for fall standardized testing (SAT, ACT).
- Continue to learn more about the colleges on your preliminary college list.
- Complete first draft of college essay.
June, July, August: College Essay Workshops (dates TBD)
July 15: ACT exam day
August 1: First draft of college essay due to college counselor by email
August 26: SAT exam day (Not at Thayer)
The College Search
You reflect on your life, evaluating what is meaningful and important to your continued academic and personal growth; and you define which college environments will best accommodate these needs. We encourage you to keep an open mind and listen to all of the (sometimes conflicting) suggestions from friends, family, counselors, teachers, and college admission officers. You need to take the time to reflect on the advice and put it into a perspective that is meaningful to you. There are over 3,000 colleges in the country, and many are appropriate for each student.
Choosing your college is an interesting and exciting experience. If you begin early and follow the schedule outlined in this website, the process will be manageable and successful. Ask questions whenever they arise and adhere to the deadlines. The students who follow through early and consistently with their college research will have good choices and will make a wise decision for their future.
- Checklists of Considerations
- College Comparisons
- College Visits & Campus Tours
- All About College Interviews
- College Fairs
- Why Colleges Visit
- The Final List of Colleges
Checklists of Considerations
Here are three checklists of considerations as you start the College Search process. One covers the basics in selecting a school, the next covers academic considerations, and the third covers extracurriculars. Click on the tabs below to read the checklists or click here to download the full PDF.
- Distance from home
- Small, medium, large
- Urban, suburban, small town, rural
- New England, Mid-Atlantic, Mid-West, Southeast, West, International
- School’s Selectivity
- College’s admission rate; typical profile of admitted student; average test scores; estimate your chances
- % that live on-campus, off-campus, number of years guaranteed
- Religious Affiliation
- Student Population
- Co-ed; all female; historically black college, etc.
- Liberal Arts Curriculum
- A general, broad education in humanities and sciences
- Specialized Curriculum
- Focused preparation for a specific profession - i.e. business, engineering, architecture, nursing
- Academic Major/Areas of Study
- Does the college offer strong programs in your areas of interest? What classes are offered within those programs?
- Academic Requirements
- Flexibility in choosing classes; core curriculum; distribution requirements; foreign language
- Average Class Size
- Quality of professors; accessibility; are classes taught by full-time professors?
- Classroom Learning
- Lecture, seminar, independent study, field trips, labs
- Academic Facilities
- Laboratories, classrooms, libraries, computers, etc.
- Academic Reputation
- Strength of overall school; strength of major; graduate success in careers/grad school admission
- Academic support services
- Tutoring, writing center, faculty office hours, learning disability support, study skills, computer skills
- Special programs
- Study abroad, internships, co-op, college exchange
- Academic Calendar
- Trimester, semester, quarter, block
- Advising Program
- Campus Culture
- Relaxed/competitive; liberal/conservative; school spirit; diversity; fraternities & sororities; party atmosphere; artsy; etc.
- Varsity, club, intramural; facilities for athletes and for non-varsity athletes
- Visual & Performing Arts
- Available to only Arts majors or all students?
- Colleges are required to supply you with crime statistics
- Options; meal plan flexibility; cost; quality
- Community Service Opportunities
Sometimes, choosing your schools comes down to a “feeling” you get from the college – a gut instinct that emerges from walking around a campus and talking to students. But before you can reach that point with any confidence, you should take a methodical approach to your research, comparing colleges based on criteria that best match your interests and needs.
To help you in this area, we provide a downloadable worksheet below that will allow you to compare a variety of essential characteristics at each of the colleges you are considering. While we list the most common factors that students should consider, you will likely have a few other preferences that do not appear on this worksheet; make sure you add other categories that pertain particularly to you, modifying this worksheet to suit your needs.
Use the worksheet to observe the similarities and differences between each college; it should provide you with a foundation from which you can realistically assess each school and feel confident that you are making a wise decision about where to apply and ultimately where to attend.
There are multiple ways in which you can gather information about colleges and determine if they suit your needs. Your research should be as exhaustive as possible, using as many of the following resources as possible:
- Discussions with college counselors and Thayer students
- General college guidebooks
- General college websites, including Scoir
- The colleges’ websites
- Publications from colleges
- College visits
- Meetings with admission representatives who visit Thayer
- Discussions with college students, alumni, faculty, and administrators
The College Counseling Office at Thayer Academy uses a program called Scoir - an internet-based database that helps students manage their individual college process, communicate regularly with their college counselor, and facilitate the sending of academic credentials to colleges electronically. Students have their own password-protected account that will enable them to use many of the web site’s functions, including:
- Comprehensive college search capabilities
- Access to data on every college, with links to college websites, admission office email addresses, virtual college tours, and specialized areas of interest
- College list development and maintenance
- Registration for meetings with college representatives visiting Thayer
- Direct communication with college counselor
- Thayer student admission results at colleges and a GPA/Standardized Testing comparison of each student to those results
- Capability to request letters of recommendation from teachers
- Resume creation
- Career exploration and information
College counselors will require students to access this account at different stages of the college process. Students will log on at https://app.scoir.com/signin with the login and password supplied by their college counselor. An orientation to the website will be given during College Counseling seminars that take place in the winter and spring as part of the Decisions course curriculum. Students can add parent information to their accounts which enables parents to access all of the same information.
The internet provides seemingly limitless ways for students to research colleges. Every college has its own website where you can explore everything from academic majors, sports teams, tuition costs, career services, student clubs, and housing arrangements. There is also an abundance of virtual opportunities, from tours to panels to information sessions.
In addition, there are an abundance of websites devoted to guiding you through the college search process. You will find search engines that scan their databases for schools matching your stated preferences. You will find chat rooms where students share their impressions of colleges. You will find sites that will help you understand what it means, educationally, to prepare for a career in such fields as architecture, engineering, nursing, physical therapy, and business. Some of these sites may charge a fee or at least ask you to register, but there are plenty of useful sites that are free and easy to access.
While it would be impossible for us to list all the college-oriented sites, we have provided a list of the ones that Thayer students and students in general tend to use the most as they conduct their search for colleges that match their preferences. Use this list as a starting point, but if you have specific needs that don’t seem to be served by the sites listed here, please consult with your counselor for more direction.
This is a selected list of internet sites that offer college search engines and other college information.
College Visits & Campus Tours
Colleges offer many options for prospective students and their families who are traveling, sometimes very long distances, to their campuses.
Many of these options will be revealed on the college’s admissions website or in a phone conversation with the admission office. You may or may not need to make a formal reservation for a visit, depending on the college. When you arrange to visit a college, remember that this may be your only opportunity to see the college first hand before you make your final decision. You should take advantage of everything available to you while you are there.
The standard visit usually includes attending an information session (a presentation given by an admissions professional) and taking a campus tour (usually with a current student). Some colleges have opportunities to sit in on a class, have lunch with current students, stay overnight with a current student, or sit for an interview, but could also include less structured activities if you plan ahead.
Some of those are described in the tabs below.
- College Visit Activities & Tips
- Campus Tours & Questions to Ask
- Virtual Campus Visits During a Pandemic
College Visit Activities & Tips
Spend some time in the student center, one of the dining areas, the lobby of a dorm, the athletic fields, or another place that might be important to you. Sit, observe, and talk to students as they walk by.
- Attend an “Open House” event where you can spend the night in a dorm and sit in on several classes. You may have more access to faculty during these types of programs.
- Pick up a copy of the latest campus newspaper to see what is going on around campus.
- Prior to your arrival, set up any appointments you can with members of the community that may be of specific interest to you (learning support office, financial aid office, career services, a department chair, a coach if you are interested in a sport). Come prepared with questions, and then get their business card in the event you have additional questions. Send thank you notes in appreciation of their time.
- Talk to everyone you happen to meet on campus about his or her experiences at the college.
- Try to avoid scheduling more than two schools per day.
- Make every effort to take pictures and write thoughts down as you go about your visit so you can capture your initial impressions of the school. Five months from now you may not recall the visit as clearly.
- Remember that you might meet a few students who have negative stories to tell. While these stories may be worth some attention, remember that one person’s experience is not necessarily the only experience. Talking to many people and asking many questions is the best way to a good understanding of the college.
- Sometimes students return from a campus visit with negative feelings towards a school as a result of factors beyond their control. For example, the student did not like the tour guide, or it was a cold, rainy day and your umbrella broke. Do your best to look beyond such factors and focus on the school itself. Keep in mind that had you visited the next day (sunny, warm, and with a different tour guide), your opinion of the school might have been completely the opposite.
Campus Tours & Questions to Ask
On most college campuses, the tour guide is a student selected and trained by the Admissions Office to project a positive image of the institution. Some student guides may be hesitant to contradict the official information provided by the Admissions Office, but most student tour guides are very honest and open about their own experiences at the college. Student tour guides are much more likely to be forthcoming if you, as the visitor, ask good questions. If you are silent throughout a campus tour, you can count on hearing only the information that the student has been trained to provide. So take advantage of the opportunity to communicate in a friendly fashion with the student tour guide and to ask some good questions, such as:
- What are the largest and the smallest classes you have taken?
- Who teaches your courses (professors or graduate assistants)?
- How many courses are required for graduation? Does the college have a core curriculum or is there flexibility in terms of what I can take to fulfill requirements?
- When do you have to declare a major? What are the most popular majors?
- Do many students live off-campus? If so, why?
- What is the food like? What options do students have for dining?
- Do students work hard here or is there little studying taking place?
- What has been your experience with faculty? How accessible are your professors?
- Can you tell me anything about the (insert department name) department?
- What’s the biggest issue right now in local campus politics?
- Are students politically active and aware? Are most students politically liberal, conservative or somewhere in between? How active is the student government?
- What percentage of students study abroad at some point?
- What role do fraternities/sororities play here?
- Is there a good deal of school spirit centered around athletics?
- Where do students come from? Is this a diverse community? Are different student groups well integrated into the college community?
- What are the weekends like?
- What student activities are most popular?
- Can someone who is not an art/music/theater major get involved in the arts in some way?
- What do you think is the greatest problem or negative factor about the college?
- What do you like best about your time here?
- Why did you select this school? What other colleges did you apply to?
Virtual Campus Visits During a Pandemic
When the pandemic emerged, it fundamentally changed the way that students were able to learn about colleges. Gone (or extremely limited!) were the opportunities to visit and learn more about a school by experiencing its campus and culture first hand. Luckily, colleges got creative and were able to put into place some new and innovative resources for students looking to learn as much as they can about their schools without ever setting foot on campus. These resources have been so successful that many colleges plan to create additional online and virtual research opportunities while maintaining the resources they’ve developed for future use.
Virtual Campus Tours: Every college offers a virtual tour, although some are more engaging than others. Options range from a 360-degree self-directed tour based off a campus map to a current student tour guide walking around campus in real time with their phone to simulate an actual campus tour. Some colleges have even put together virtual tours of specific academic buildings, athletic facilities, or dormitories. In addition to being available on college websites, there may be versions accessible on Scoir as well as websites like CampusReel.org and Campustour.com. These options vary from college to college, so check each school’s website in advance to see what they offer.
Virtual Information Sessions: A typical in-person visit to a college campus usually starts with a 30-60 minute information session led by an admissions professional who touches on the major characteristics of the college and its nuances, and then provides an overview of academics, student life, and the admissions and financial aid process. Many colleges have now made this session available virtually, either live or recorded. In addition, universities that are composed of several colleges, may have information sessions specific to each division or discipline available as well.
Larger Campus Community Events: Saturdays and Sundays have historically been set aside for open house events that bring together faculty, staff, and current students representing all of the pockets of a college. Some colleges have been able to convert Junior and Senior Open Houses to virtual experiences. Components might include faculty panels, student panels, student performances, presentations on financial aid, a closer look at housing, student life presentations, etc.
Virtual Classroom visits: In the past, some colleges would allow prospective students to attend an actual class with a host student. Given that the pandemic has forced many colleges to operate at least a portion of their courses remotely, admissions offices have tapped into the opportunity to allow prospective students to jump into classes and experience what academic life as a student at that school would be like.
Virtual College Fairs: College fairs are great for accessing a large number of college representatives all in one short time frame. The traditional college fair, however, has been put on hold during the pandemic and replaced with a virtual opportunity that has its perks. Usually, along with the typical brief info sessions and presentations with colleges, there are additional sessions that touch on specialized areas of the college process -- financial aid, performing arts, the benefits of a liberal arts education, etc.
One-on-One Connections: This might be one of the more valuable opportunities available throughout the process. This could be a conversation with the admissions representative who works with Thayer applicants, it could be a meeting with an alumni interviewer, or it could be picking the brain of a faculty member within a department of interest to you.
Although faced with different resources, try to take advantage of all that you can as you begin your research. A combination of the options above, some old fashioned printed resources like The Fiske Guide or Colleges That Change Lives, and maybe the occasional opportunity to do an in person tour or even just a drive through campus and the surrounding area with your family might do the trick. Also, independent online resources like Niche.com ( "the Yelp of researching colleges") and Unigo.com provide students with user-friendly interfaces and reviews from actual students. We also recommend that you sign up for the mailing list at colleges that interest you. Once you are in their system as a prospective student, you will be contacted whenever they hold any of these virtual events or offer online opportunities.
Hopefully, by the time you are making your final college list or deciding where to enroll, things will be back to some sort of normal and you will be able to physically be on campus.
All About College Interviews
Colleges have different policies when it comes to college interviews. Usually the policy will fall into one of the following categories:
- Interviews are not available. Only group information sessions are an option.
- Interviews may be arranged but are optional and for informational purposes only.
- Interviews are encouraged or recommended and become part of the application.
- Interviews are required (only a small percentage of schools).
- Interviews with alumni are available. These are typically off-campus and close to home. Sometimes these can only be arranged after a student has applied.
Be sure you have questions to ask about the college. Try not to ask basic questions about the size of the school or if they have a particular major. If you’re interviewing, you should already have a certain level of interest in the college and know the basics.
Research the college using brochures you have received in the mail, the college’s web site, resources in the Pulsifer College Counseling Center, etc. Take notes so you can read through them before you go to your interview.
Find out what type of interview you should prepare for. Will you be meeting with a student or an admissions officer? This could impact the questions you ask.
Practice answering typical interview questions. This will make you feel more confident when you sit down with the interviewer. One of the college counselors can facilitate a “mock interview” if you want to practice.
Select appropriate attire so as to make a good first impression. Make sure you are comfortable with what you are wearing.The night before, make sure you print out the directions. Do everything in your power to avoid being late.
Interview Questions Colleges Ask
During the interview, try to relax as much as you can. This is a chance to highlight your personality. Be prepared to talk about yourself and allow your passions and interests to come out. There’s nothing more frustrating to an interviewer than a student who barely utters a word when asked a question. They are there to learn more about you, so let them! Here are some questions that you may encounter:
- How did you become interested in ________ college?
- Why do you think you are a good match for this college?
- What are some of your goals for the future?
- Tell me something about your school? How do you like Thayer Academy? What have you gained from your time there, educationally or otherwise?
- What would your teachers say about you as a person? As a student?
- What is the most significant contribution you’ve made to your school? In what ways do you plan to contribute to a college community?
- Why do you participate in athletics (or student government, or community service, etc.)?
- Discuss a class, assignment, or teacher that provided you with a significant learning experience?
- What has been your favorite subject in high school? Why?
- What might you study in college?
- What books or authors have made an impression on you? Why?
- How have you spent your summers?
- What is your reaction to a particular current event?
- How would you describe yourself? How would your friends describe you?
- Have you ever thought about not going to college? What would you do?
- How do you spend your free time?
- What characteristics single you out from other qualified applicants?
- What is the single most important thing in life for you?
In addition, have questions of your own to ask the interviewer. You are interviewing the college for “fit” as much as it is interviewing you. Prepare questions in advance and bring a notebook with you to refresh your memory if need be. This shows that you are well-prepared. Ideally your questions will reflect the research you have done about the college beforehand. Here are some suggestions:
- What do you like the most about the college or your experience there?
- If you could change one thing about this school, what would it be?
- Why did you decide to attend this school (or work here if it’s a staff member who did not attend the college)?
- How does the admission process work here? What part of the application is the most important?
- Are there opportunities for independent work with faculty?
- What is your policy regarding AP Exam scores?
- Are there any new buildings being planned?
- How does the student advising system work?
- What is your system for course selection?
- How does the housing selection process work?
- How will my roommate freshman year be determined?
Other questions may arise based on your particular interests. For example, you may have questions about learning support services, career services, financial assistance, how undecided students select courses, how competitive the music department is, etc. If you need help generating questions, consult with your college counselor.
Due to busy schedules and financial constraints, students often can’t visit all of the schools in which they are interested prior to applying, especially if many schools on their college list are outside of the New England area. As a result, the college fair is a great tool for students as they move through the college search process.
College fairs are large gatherings of college representatives in one central location (often a school gymnasium or a convention center). The representatives could be admissions deans or alumni, and they typically have a myriad of publications to distribute to interested students. It is a wonderful opportunity to ask questions and to take a risk and learn about colleges perhaps you have never heard of before without a significant investment of time or money.
The BISCCA group (Boston Independent School College Counseling Association) provides a college fair in the spring for all independent school students in the Boston area. About 150 colleges and organizations are in attendance, but the only colleges permitted are those outside of New England. Many Thayer students attend each year and find it very helpful.
Tips for the Fair
Whether you attend the BISCCA Fair or another fair in the area, below are some tips as composed by Brennan Barnard for the Concord Monitor and posted on his blog.
- Plan ahead. Meet with your guidance counselor prior to the college fair season. Ask your counselor for a list of the colleges that will be present so that you can create a list of schools about which you want to gather more information.
- No flybys. Take the time to stop and speak with the representative at the table. Do not just grab a view-book or free pencil and run for the door. With the surge in applications that many colleges are now experiencing, more and more institutions are factoring “demonstrated interest” into their admissions decisions. They track contact with the admissions office and often prefer students who have shown interest in the college. By filling out the contact cards at the fair tables, your name will be added to the mailing list and the formal relationship with the college has begun.
- Save time and avoid writer’s cramp. Before you attend the fair, print out a sheet or two of self-adhesive labels with your name, address, phone number, e-mail address, high school and birth date. These can be applied to the contact cards, ensuring that your information will be legible and saving you from writing the information over and over again.
- Know who you are talking to. Representatives behind each table vary depending on the institution. Often the individual is the regional dean of admissions who will likely be reading your application in a few months. Other times, an alumnus of the college, current student, parent or faculty member will be assisting the admissions office by attending. It is in your interest to understand with whom you are talking and what their relative influence in the process is. Collect business cards so that you can write to the representative and thank him or her for taking the time to speak with you.
- Arrive fashionably late. Often the crowds are the thickest at the beginning of the fair, and it is difficult to have a meaningful conversation with the admissions counselors. While you do not want to wait to catch them as they are packing up, you will likely stand out more if you can have an in-depth conversation rather than elbow your way through the crowd.
- Highlight your interests. The flow of information goes both ways at fairs. It is an excellent opportunity for you to gather literature and materials from colleges, but admissions counselors are eager to learn more about you. If you have specific interests in terms of a major, sports team, or other activity, be sure to discuss these with the representative. Chances are, they will make a note on your contact card, and you might be invited to special events on campus or connected with a coach or faculty member.
- Ask thoughtful questions. Questions such as “Do you have a biology major?” or “Where are you located?” can easily be answered by glancing at the view-book. Instead, think of more probing questions such as “What makes your institution different from your peers schools?” or “How accessible are opportunities for research with faculty?” These thoughtful inquiries will distinguish you among the other students wandering through the fair.
Why Colleges Visit
Over 140 colleges visit Thayer between the months of September and November. The person representing the college is, in most cases, the admissions officer who is familiar with Thayer and will advocate for Thayer students during the application review process. On occasion the representative is a regional representative who may not play a role in the decision-making.
How do these visits benefit students?
- Students unfamiliar with the college will have the opportunity to learn more about it. Students more familiar with the college have the opportunity to ask more specific questions about the institution.
- Connecting with this person opens the door for communication further into the year when other questions may surface. Students have someone they know they can contact.
- Students meet face to face with the person who is most likely to handle their file during the application review process.
- By attending, the student is showing interest in the college, which for some colleges is a factor in their review process.
How do these visits benefit the admission representatives?
- Admissions representatives have the opportunity to convey information about their college to students who are interested in learning.
- The admissions representative will be able to associate a face with an application when it comes across their desk later in the year.
- In discussions with the college counselors, the admission representative learns more about the Thayer Academy community and the rigorous curriculum available to students. They can bring that information back to the committee when admissions decisions are being made.
In addition to all the benefits listed above, these visits allow the Pulsifer College Counseling Center at Thayer to maintain strong relationships with the colleges in which our students are interested. Communication continues with these colleges as the year progresses.
The schedule of visits is posted on some of the digital signs around campus, on Scoir, on the Thayer Academy website, and in homeroom announcements. You are encouraged to meet with these representatives whenever interested as long as it does not interfere with a pressing academic responsibility. Sign up for college meetings via your Scoir account. If the meeting takes place during one of your classes, get permission from your teacher at least one day in advance of the meeting. If you are unable to attend one of the meetings that interest you, let your college counselor know so that he or she may convey your interest to the representative and gather materials for you.
The Final List of Colleges
Ideally, you should settle on your final list of colleges by October, although schools may drop off or be added in after results of any early applications are received. Your final list should have about eight colleges that range in selectivity from reach to likely. Balance is critical in developing your list if you want to ensure a variety of choices by the end of the admissions process.
You should give yourself the opportunity to reach and challenge yourself (don’t sell yourself short!), but also protect yourself with some safer choices because admission to college has its uncertainties. Consult with your college counselor about the selectivity categories into which your colleges fall. We have data and experience that allow us to anticipate how different colleges may respond to your transcript, test scores, and application.
You should plan to have a balanced number of schools in the three selectivity categories: reach, possible, and likely.
IMPORTANT: PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU REVIEW YOUR FINAL LIST OF COLLEGES WITH YOUR COLLEGE COUNSELOR. IF YOU DECIDE TO ALTER YOUR LIST AT ANY TIME, YOU SHOULD ALSO DISCUSS THE CHANGES WITH YOUR COLLEGE COUNSELOR. Once you have decided on your college list, you can use this chart to keep all of your applications organized.
These are the schools where your academic record places you below the college’s average admitted student. We generally estimate that a student’s chances of admission at a reach school are around 25% or lower.
We encourage you to choose a few schools in this category that truly excite you, and then give it your best shot. Remember, though, that more applications to reach colleges do not as a rule generate more acceptances. Put in a strong effort on your application to a few colleges, but do not dilute that effort by spreading yourself thin with applications at a wide span of schools where the odds are not in your favor. You will put more stress on yourself in the fall and, very possibly, set yourself up for broader disappointment in the spring.
You should apply to at least three mid-range colleges because these are potentially the most appropriate match for you. We classify mid-range schools as places where your chances of admission are around 50%. These are typically colleges where your academic profile puts you in the range of their average student.
While your prospects for admission are good, selective colleges are never able to take all the students that fit their “average” academic profile, so never think of these schools as guarantees. The decision will often ride on what you offer beyond academics, the quality of your application effort, and the general competitiveness of the applicants in that particular year.
If you apply to schools primarily in the possible category, you enhance the possibility of receiving several admission letters from schools where you will feel comfortable and challenged academically.
You also need to include at least two colleges where your chances for admission are more likely (75% or better). These are schools where your academic background clearly places you among the top applicants at the college, all but ensuring that a college will admit you for your academic ability alone.
You want to have confidence that you will have choices when spring of your senior year rolls around, and identifying a few likely schools that you believe match your main criteria will give you a peace of mind as you wait for admission decisions.
Applying to College
But while we see admission offices make a few unusual choices every year, we more commonly see admission officers working hard to understand each of the accomplished candidates in their pool, and an admission committee’s decisions typically make sense, given the selectivity and priorities of each school. The burden that rests on you – the applicant – is to give the admission readers an accurate and vivid account of yourself.
- How Colleges Make Decisions
- Admissions Options
- How Colleges Evaluate You
- The Common Application
- The Personal Statement
How Colleges Make Decisions
With the exception of some large universities, most colleges make admission decisions by committee. Selective colleges do not use a simple formula to determine which applicants get admitted and which do not. Admission representatives know they cannot grant admission to all the students that they see as qualified or interesting; as a result, many colleges employ a multi-step process that allows them to weigh their priorities and evaluate each student individually as well as in the context of the larger pool of applicants. Admission representatives read the application folders closely, record their impressions, make recommendations, and then discuss the candidates in committee meetings where final decisions are rendered.
While colleges may differ slightly in their institutional priorities – the types of students they seek and the elements of the application that they emphasize – most of them share fundamental values in their assessment of an applicant’s caliber and potential.
It is important for you to understand the various admission plans and deadlines; discuss with your college counselor which one is appropriate for you. With each college on your list, pay attention to the application options and deadlines it provides.
Navigating these many choices can be a chore and you may face conflicting pressures when attempting to determine which avenues to take. Please consult with your college counselor to evaluate which admission options are the best for you at each college you are considering.
Most schools offer this option. Typically, students will apply to a college sometime before a regular decision deadline, which usually falls between January 1 and March 1. After the deadline the college reviews all the applications and sends decision letters in March or April. Admitted students have until May 1 to reply to an offer of admission.
Early Action (EA)
This plan enables the strongest students to apply to a college early. The deadlines are usually in November, although some may occur in October (large state schools down south) or December. Decisions are typically rendered any time between December 1st and January 31st, but admitted students do not need to make a commitment to attend until the May 1 common reply date. This option is often competitive, and some colleges deny admission to students who they foresee as being too weak given their applicant pool. In many cases, colleges may also defer students to the regular admission pool before making a final decision. In that case, students are considered again as if they were applying during the regular admission deadline. You would not have to submit a new application in that situation, though you would be advised to send new material to keep your file current and to notify the school of your continuing interest.
Please note: most colleges with the Early Action option permit students to apply to multiple schools with an Early Action program, but a few Early Action schools will prohibit you from applying to any other colleges through an Early Program (either EA or ED). This is often referred to as Single Choice Early Action or Restrictive Early Action. Do not assume that every college’s program is the same; carefully read each school’s application policies and procedures.
Early Decision (ED)
This is a plan for the student who has a first choice college and is a reasonable candidate for that institution. Students admitted under this program are REQUIRED to attend the college and must withdraw all other applications upon notification of admission and the determination that a financial aid award makes attending that institution feasible. Like Early Action, the deadlines are typically in the fall, during November and December, with decisions rendered before January 1. Some colleges that employ Early Decision have two rounds of deadlines, called ED I & ED II. Applying Early Decision can offer some competitive advantage for a qualified student. If you choose to apply to a college Early Decision, you must understand that it's a binding contract. You must sign a statement of intent, and both your parents and college counselor must sign as well.
You should not use Early Decision simply as a means to complete the process early or as a strategy to get into a more competitive college. You need to be certain that you will be happy to attend the college, with no regrets about the collegiate options you will be required to forgo (including financial aid awards or possible scholarships from other colleges). Early Decision schools will send you one of three decisions: Admit, Deny, or Deferral. If the college defers you, you are no longer obligated to attend if admitted; you are permitted to apply to other colleges and wait until May 1st to choose which school you wish to attend.
This is the practice of processing an application as soon as the candidate’s file is complete and notifying the student as soon as the admission decision is made. It is to your advantage to submit applications early to colleges with rolling admission as they often fill their class early. Ordinarily it takes at least two weeks to process a completed file and notify the applicant. However, colleges will sometimes take longer to evaluate more of the applicant pool if a candidate is marginal or their applicant pool looks particularly competitive.
How Colleges Evaluate You
In essence, colleges will be evaluating you in two major categories:
The focus is on your high school transcript. Colleges look at all four years of courses and the grades in core subjects. They evaluate the strength of your curriculum: how many years of each subject have you taken? What level are the courses you have taken? Have you maintained or even increased the challenge of your courses through the years? Colleges examine your cumulative GPA but also look for trends in your grades – i.e., steady performance, gradual improvement, drastic drop-off, etc. Finally, in determining the overall strength of your academic profile, colleges may look at your standardized testing, using your SAT, ACT or AP scores as a common denominator that you share with all other applicants.
If your academic record is significantly stronger than the average student admitted at the college, then there is a strong likelihood that you will be admitted on the basis of your academic ability alone; we generally consider these colleges to be likely schools. If your academic background is similar to that of the typical student at the college, then the decision may hinge on what you offer outside the classroom as well as some specific elements within your academic record; we generally consider these colleges to be possible schools. If your academic rating falls below the typical admitted student, then admission will be unlikely and dependent on some special talent or contribution you might make beyond the numbers; we generally consider these colleges to be reaches.
For most schools, what you do outside the classroom and who you are as a person matter significantly in determining your competitiveness as an applicant. Indeed, if your academic record makes you a solid applicant for admission, but by no means an automatic admit, then the decision very likely could come down to the other elements of your application. Colleges are interested in what makes you tick, and ultimately they want to know what you will contribute to their campus. Colleges use the application materials as an opportunity to understand and define you. They will seek answers to questions such as:
- What are your defining characteristics?
- What are your biggest commitments? What are your major passions?
- What are your talents?
- Have you risen to leadership positions in any areas?
- Do you demonstrate intellectual curiosity?
Keep these questions in mind as you work on the presentation of your application – responding to essay questions, listing and explaining extracurricular activities, choosing recommendation writers, etc. The admission directors need to see cohesion in your application. Without much effort, they should be able to identify what you might contribute to their community. To a degree, the admission office should be able to identify with ease and clarity the essential qualities that you offer.
Think carefully about your life and what has defined it:
- The accomplishments
- The commitments
- The challenges
- The successes and failures
- Your family situation and background
- The adjectives that best describe your personality
The details within these categories will shape who you are, and through the admission application process you need to articulate those details to the admission committee. Don’t make it difficult for the committee to understand you and your potential. Let your prominent strengths rise to the surface in all of your documenting materials. The rest of this section in the handbook will outline the areas that you need to address in the application. These are the areas where you will bring your personality to life for the admission committee.
The Common Application
The Common Application is a form used by over 900 public and private colleges and universities for admission to their undergraduate programs. It is given equal consideration with the schools’ institutional forms, and many of the institutions use the Common Application exclusively. The information requested on this form is very similar to the questions asked by colleges that don’t use the Common Application.
The Common Application is designed to simplify the admission process for students, counselors, and teachers by reducing the number of forms a student needs to complete. Students complete one Common Application form and send it to all participating colleges where they are applying. Students, therefore, need to write only one essay and ask each teacher to complete only one recommendation form.
- How to Use
- What's Included
- Supplemental Writing
- Disciplinary History
- Secondary School & Mid-Year Reports
- Teacher Recommendations
How to Use
- Go to www.commonapp.org and create an account.
- Complete the requested information (you can save and return to as needed).
- Complete supplemental questions for each college that requires them, which may include short answer questions or an additional essay.
- Submit the application and supplemental essays to colleges via the website. Note: Once you submit your application online to one school, you should not need to alter it (although that option is available).
- Pay application fees electronically as required.
- Personal Data
- Family Information
- Academic Information
- Standardized Testing Data
- Extracurricular and work experience lists
- Writing: Personal Statement (main essay) and supplemental essays/short answers if Required (see below for more detail)
- Discipline History
- Secondary School Report (includes a recommendation from your college counselor)
- Teacher recommendations
- Early Decision Agreement (only required if applying ED to a college)
Many schools that accept the Common Application will ask for supplemental information. Often, such requests come in the form of short answer or longer essay questions that focus on what you hope to take away from the college and how you may contribute to the community. In general, colleges use this supplemental information to develop a better understanding of your match with the institution, and, in some cases, assess your interest level.
You should take supplemental documents very seriously. If you answer them haphazardly, admission readers will interpret it as a sign of indifference to their school. Furthermore, if you do not fulfill requests for supplemental information, it may result in an automatic rejection. Here are some examples of supplemental essay questions:
- “How did you first learn of our college and why did you decide to apply?”
- “Describe what you expect your academic journey at College X to include.”
- “Please explain why you have chosen your major, department, or program.”
- "Describe one of your communities and how it has shaped you."
- “Make a rational argument for a position you do not personally support.”
- “Respond to one of the following quotations…
Some colleges, in an attempt to keep up with advances in technology and help students better capture who they are as applicants, incorporate an optional section on the application which allows students to create a ZeeMee account. ZeeMee is a free online service (think of it as Instagram meets LinkedIn). Through your ZeeMee account you can post pictures, text, and short videos to highlight your personal story - your interests and passions. You can create your personal ZeeMee page showcasing any aspects of your personality and resume that you wish. The ZeeMee site shows you different examples of how students use it if you want to familiarize yourself with the possibilities, but there really are no expectations - you can use it in whatever manner you see fit, sharing information, photographs, and videos that you think will help the admission office see you in action. These are meant to be brief and enlightening views of you, which a busy admission director can quickly review. Some colleges have a ZeeMee option in the Common Application where you can add your ZeeMee link, giving the college access to your ZeeMee page. Or you can link to a college directly within your ZeeMee account. We encourage you to open an account and explore the ways you can use this platform at zeemee.com.
In the supplemental questions required by colleges, you may be asked to provide information regarding disciplinary infractions during high school that resulted in probation, suspension, dismissal, or expulsion. This question should be answered honestly based on the policies outlined in our Student Handbook. If you answered yes to the question, you must include an explanation of the incident and reflect on what you learned. The college counselors are able to help you compose such a letter. Colleges are often forgiving of students who show true remorse and have clearly learned from their mistake. In our professional experience, we have found that honesty is always the best policy.
If an infraction resulting in probation, suspension, dismissal, or expulsion takes place during a student’s 11th or 12th grade year, that student is expected to self-report that incident to the college. If an incident takes place after applications have been filed, the student should contact the colleges to which they have already applied or in which they have already enrolled and alert them to the situation within two weeks of the incident. Colleges often request notification be in the form of a letter explaining the circumstances and how the student has learned from the experience. Again, the college counselors can assist a student with this letter.
Thayer college counselors will typically share the facts of disciplinary matters if requested by colleges/universities only after Thayer receives written consent to do so from the student and/or parents/guardians. However, Thayer reserves the right to share information about disciplinary matters with a college/university/institution, including when Thayer has a reasonable concern about safety.
Secondary School & Mid-Year Reports
The Secondary School Report
This is the form that will accompany your transcript when we send it off to colleges.
Due to the high volume of applications we process, you must turn in school reports and requests for transcripts at least two weeks before the college’s deadline. Forms with an early January deadline must be in the office by the end of the second week after Thanksgiving, as the Pulsifer College Counseling Center is closed during winter vacation.
Included with every School Report is a letter of recommendation written by the college counselor. The counselor recommendation presents the student in a holistic manner within the school community. In addition to discussing personality traits, interests, hobbies, contributions to the school, and other topics that would help a college get to know an applicant better, the counselor will comment on the student’s overall academic experience within the context of the academic rigor that exists at Thayer Academy. Topics such as course selection, trends (or anomalies) in academic performance, unusual circumstances that may have impacted a student’s grades, and how a student is viewed among the faculty, are discussed as needed. To help the college counselor write the best letter possible, students are asked to complete a questionnaire early in their senior year. The questionnaire is located in the student’s Scoir account.
The counselor recommendation exists as a way for counselors to advocate for their students. Although considered a confidential document and not shared with the applicant, students can feel confident that the counselor is portraying the student in a positive light.
Mid-Semester Senior Grades
Most colleges need senior grades for applicants in their early decision and early action pools. Thayer does not have a marking period in the fall, so we created a mid-semester progress report only for seniors. Right around November 1st, all senior-year teachers must submit the current grades (no comments) for their students. These grades are only sent to colleges where students have applied within one of the early rounds (deadlines are 12/1 or prior). A new cumulative GPA is not calculated at this point.
The Mid-Year Report
In late January, the Pulsifer College Counseling Center will send a report and transcript including first semester grades to all the schools to which you have applied. No form is necessary. At that time, the college counselor can update the college on anything new as it applies to your application (academic or non-academic).
The Common Application may require one teacher recommendation, although some schools may ask for two. Typically, recommendations need to be from a teacher in an academic subject (i.e. not music, theatre, or art). Admission offices use recommendations to provide them with answers to questions that may help them predict how you will perform in the college classroom and the impact you will have on the community. Specifically:
- How did you arrive at the grades you have?
- What is your role in the classroom?
- How do you interact with other students and teachers?
- How do you approach assignments?
- What are you like beyond your grades?
Which teachers should you choose to write for you?
It goes without saying that you want to choose teachers who will be the best advocates for you. But which teachers are the best candidates for this task? Undoubtedly, you will have your gut instincts on who will work. But when in doubt, or if you are choosing between several good candidates, try to choose teachers that fit as many of the following criteria:
- Teacher with whom you have a good relationship
- Teacher who taught classes in which you were successful
- Teacher you had recently (junior or senior year preferably)
- Teacher you have had more than once or also worked with in a club or activity
- Teacher who teaches subjects related to one of your future fields of study
- Teachers from different departments (please note that while it’s not the norm, there are a handful of colleges that specify they want a letter from a humanities teacher and a STEM teacher. Even if it’s not required, we still advise this approach so colleges can get to know you through very different skill-sets.)
How does the recommendation writing process work?
- With your college counselor, discuss the teachers you are considering and make a mental note of which teacher you would consider your “primary” recommender (some colleges only allow submission of one letter).
- When you have settled on your teachers, approach them as soon as possible and ask if they are willing to write a letter of recommendation on your behalf. Most teachers will gladly agree, though there are circumstances when a teacher may decline your request (they already have too many requests or they feel as though they are not the best person to write the recommendation).
- Complete the Activities and Achievements section of your Scoir account which will provide your teachers with information about your involvement and interests. Teachers may ask to have a conversation with you or want answers to particular questions.
- The majority of Thayer teachers submit letters through Scoir. Instructions regarding this process are shared with students in September.
In some cases, you may seek recommendations beyond what is required by the college. Most colleges are willing to accept them, but always check to make sure. Usually, it is best if the extra recommendation provides new insight into your personality. Applications from non-academic sources (i.e. coaches, religious mentors, job supervisors, etc.) often offer a fresh perspective not found in the required recommendations. In general, steer clear of requesting recommendations from politicians, celebrities, famous alumni, etc., unless the figure knows you very well and is willing to write a substantive letter that demonstrates as much.
Invite the recommendation writer to email their letter to your college counselor, who can then submit to all your colleges through Scoir.
The Personal Statement
The college essay, also known as the Personal Statement, plays an important role in admissions decisions. It is one of the few opportunities for an admission office to hear your voice and to see your personality come to life. The essay will also give admission readers a glimpse at your writing skills. The impression a college draws from the main essay can have a direct impact on the admission decision. Your essay is an expression of yourself; it is the chance to emphasize what makes you distinct and even unique. The admission office can use the essay as a window into your intellectual vitality and personal passion.
The personal essayist must above all be a reliable narrator; we must trust his or her core of sincerity. We must also feel secure that the essayist has done a fair amount of introspective homework already, is grounded in reality, and is trying to give us the maximum understanding and intelligence of which he or she is capable. A dunderhead and a psychotic killer may be sincere, but that would not sufficiently recommend them for the genre...
How the world comes at another person, the irritations, jubilations, aches and pains, humorous flashes--these are the classic building materials of the personal essay. We learn the rhythm by which the essayist receives, digests, and spits out the world, and we learn the shape of his or her privacy.
The essay is a notoriously flexible and adaptable form. It possesses the freedom to move anywhere, in all directions. It acts as if all objects were equally near the center and as if ‘all subjects are linked to each other’ (Montaigne) by free association. This freedom can be daunting, not only for the novice essayist confronting such latitude but for the critic attempting to pin down its formal properties...
The essayist attempts to surround a something--a subject, a mood, a problematic irritation--by coming at it from all angles, wheeling and diving like a hawk, each seemingly digressive spiral actually taking us closer to the heart of the matter.Philip Lopate, The Art of the Personal Essay
What makes a good Personal Statement
- It has a point (a theme, a thesis, an argument, an insight).
- It reveals the writer’s personality (values, passions, ideas, goals).
- It is interesting, perhaps even entertaining.
- It shows depth of thought (reflective, analytical, insightful).
- It has a distinct, personal voice – use your own!
- It refers to people other than you; you don’t want to come across as too self-centered and we can learn a lot about you from how you see others and interact with them.
- It has an engaging beginning; it grabs our attention!
- It has colorful and relevant examples; provide details and examples, steering clear of broad generalizations.
- It ends on a satisfying, appropriate note.
- It uses standard English and is grammatically correct. Be sure to proofread meticulously.
- It answers the essay question.
- It satisfies the length requirement (not too short, not too long).
Choosing a Topic
Most colleges give you several essay questions to consider. If you answer one of the Common Application essay questions, you will probably be able to use your essay with most of the other colleges to which you apply. Although the questions will be different from year to year, the Common Application essay questions from 2015-2016 are:
- Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
- The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
- Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
- Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
- Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
Find Your Voice
When choosing a topic, you should be aware that the majority of students tend to draw their essay topics from a similar pot of ideas. As a result, a core group of essay topics have become common, even clichéd, including:
- Athletic adversity/triumph (especially injuries)
- Trips (international or in the U.S.)
- Community service experiences – often a sub-topic of “Trips”
- Deaths of friends or family members
- Near-death experiences of the student or the student’s friends or family
While we don’t want to discourage you from choosing one of these subjects if it truly represents you, you should work diligently to ensure that the individuality of your experience comes through in the essay. After all, the primary goal of the personal statement is to reveal your personality. The more an essay sounds like every other essay, the less the reader will be able to discern a distinctive personality.
Also keep in mind that the personal statement is not a cover letter for a job, in which you must demonstrate all your strengths and skills. Rather, it is a chance to show the admission committee what makes you human – your values and interests. It is a slice of your life. You do not need to show yourself as flawless; indeed, the more you try to cast yourself as a saint, the less honest and revealing the essay will seem. Let the colleges catch you in the act of thinking and feeling and expressing, so that they can get a glimpse at your depth.
Topics to Avoid
There is no template for writing an impressive college essay, no format that will guarantee that your personal statement will have a positive impact on an admission committee’s review of your application. The key, though, is to let your voice and perspective emerge clearly, to stand out among the crowd of other applicants. While it is difficult to advise you on how to write, for you must find the approach that best suits you, we can point out some approaches that are overdone and, as such, often undercut an essay’s effectiveness.
Perhaps the biggest drawback to choosing one of the topics listed in the previous section is predictability. The stories tend to have similar plots and conclusions. The athletic essays often reflect on intense challenges, hard work, victory, personal accomplishment, or team bonding. Trips are always written about as “eye-opening” ventures. Either the experience allows the student to gain something he/she did not have (i.e. confidence, culture, knowledge, etc.) or appreciate what he/she already has (i.e. money, freedom, education, etc.). In the community service essays, it is typical for a student to write about how impoverished the people are in terms of material wealth, but these people almost always have generosity of heart and are wealthy in other ways. Essays about death often focus on the deceased person’s wonderful traits and how hard it was for the student to say goodbye, while the near-death-experience essays almost always follow the same structure: describe the event (a car accident, a life-threatening disease) and discuss how the student’s perspective on life is changed forever – an inevitable “Carpe Diem” conclusion.
If you fall into predictable patterns, you are immediately restricting your ability to be unique. While your essay does not need to be spectacularly original, you should still try to give a conventional narrative your own unique expression.
Not surprisingly, students often struggle with finding depth and complexity in a one-to-two page essay. Even the best writers have difficulty moving beyond simple insights that masquerade as serious thoughts. Too often, students depend on what we can call “motto thinking” – short conclusions meant to be pithy lessons, but passing only as empty clichés. Some popular examples:
- Through hard work you can achieve anything.
- I have learned that life is precious; I must live life to its fullest every day.
- It is important to treat everyone equally, because every individual is unique.
- After seeing how others live, I now appreciate what I have.
The above morals, and others like them, may not impress an application reader, nor will they provide evidence of your enlightenment, wisdom or good will. Instead, they will register as ordinary and indicative of your unwillingness or inability to push the analysis of your experience beyond the obvious.
Overplaying the drama of an experience to give it more significance than it deserves. This tendency occurs commonly in athletic stories of glory, in which the student overcomes an injury or an opponent. It also appears in outdoors adventure tales, when students climb mountains or canoe oceans with organized groups. The story told in the Personal Statement should speak for itself without an over-hyped description. The essay will be powerful if you thoughtfully reflect on what you have learned and demonstrate how you responded to the situation, without exaggeration, excessive “atmosphere,” or a sense of inflated significance.
Personal Statements also can lose their appeal if the story is told in a blatantly sentimental manner. This approach often comes across as anti-intellectual and may even cheapen an emotional event. Too often, the sentimental approach prevents you from really grappling with interesting ideas. You should aim to keep the descriptions of your emotions in check and work to confront the most interesting details and subtleties of the experience. If you provide your readers with the compelling details, then the proper emotions will emerge on their own.
Writing Dos and Don'ts
DO write from your experience with interesting, colorful detail;
DON'T speak in generalities, especially outside your realm of knowledge.
DO use your own voice;
DON'T manufacture a voice with a language and tone that you think admission readers want to hear but doesn’t sound like you.
DO accentuate the positive, even in a difficult situation;
DON’T wallow in self-pity or come across as cynical and difficult.
DO catch the reader’s attention with a funny, shocking, unusual, or intriguing introduction;
DON’T begin with a dictionary definition or a bland lesson learned.
DO Share your essay with various people whose judgment you respect (teacher, college counselor, friend, parent);
DON’T Let someone else write or significantly edit your essay.
DO proofread and make sure your grammar is correct;
DON'T write a quick draft and send it to the college without close scrutiny.
DO write with conviction and passion;
DON’T overdo it to the point where you cast yourself as too perfect, too smart, or too pompous.
DO focus on a special interest or event or characteristic;
DON'T repeat a list of activities or try to cover to much.
DO write crisply and concisely, with precise imagery;
DON’T use flowery or pretentious language.
This section exists to show students and their families the documents they are likely to encounter throughout the college admission process. Below is a description of each sample.
Thayer Academy School Profile
This document is mailed to colleges along with high school transcripts. It helps colleges to understand the academic and social environment at Thayer Academy by highlighting the curriculum, requirements for graduation, and describing the varied backgrounds our students represent.
Parent Response Form
This document is sent to parents (and available on Scoir) in the hopes that they will take advantage of the opportunity to shed some new light on their child for the benefit of the College Counselor. This additional perspective will be a tremendous help when the College Counselor writes the counselor recommendation.
College Essay Writing Workshop
Every summer, as a special service to rising seniors, Thayer Academy will offer College Essay Writing Workshops to give students the opportunity to formulate an essay early, allowing them to focus on academics and the rest of the college application process during the busy Fall term. We hope to offer several workshops over the course of the summer of 2023. Families will receive more information in the spring when the dates and times are finalized.
Colleges require standardized tests as a means to see how students compare to other college-bound seniors in the country. Most colleges that use test scores for admission purposes realize that different students and groups of students have different testing profiles and will take those into account. It is rare that a test score will make or break a student’s chances, but instead it will be folded into the larger assessment of a student’s academic ability and potential.
Please note that all students are responsible for determining the testing required by the colleges on their final list. Students are also responsible for submitting their test scores to colleges as necessary. Colleges have different policies regarding score submission, so be sure to look into the options (i.e. officially or self-reported).
College Entrance Examination Board (CEEB) Code and ACT Code
Thayer Academy’s CEEB code is 220-425. This number is needed for all test registrations and college applications. When you provide this number as requested during test registration, your scores will be sent to Thayer Academy.
- The Current State of Standardized Testing
- Testing Requirements
- SAT Overview & Testing Schedule
- ACT Overview
- Comparing the SAT and ACT
- Advanced Placement (AP) Testing
- TOEFL: Test of English as a Foreign Language
- Test Preparation
The Current State of Standardized Testing
The pandemic has forever altered the standardized testing landscape in college admissions. Faced with test center closures and limited opportunities to sit for both ACT and SAT exams, colleges had to re-evaluate their testing policies. In the end, the majority of colleges moved to a test-optional review of their applicants for the class of 2021 and 2022. This meant that students who were able to sit for an SAT or ACT could decide if they wanted to submit their results along with their application. If an applicant wasn’t able to sit for a test, or the scores they received weren’t going to help their application, that student would not be disadvantaged by withholding the scores.
As is usually the case with college applications, different colleges have different approaches. Here’s the range of paths colleges took:
- Some larger state schools down south continued to require testing, as do some highly selective institutions (MIT, Georgetown)
- Colleges that were already in the throes of test-optional discussions amidst this already growing trend used the health crisis to take the leap and commit to making a permanent change.
- Schools intrigued by the idea of a test-optional application review announced a trial period, often three years in length. Many have extended that trial period or have made it a permanent policy.
- A small but growing group of colleges announced they were going to be test-blind, meaning no one can submit standardized testing with their application. The University of California system, for example, has instituted a “test blind” policy until at least 2024, excluding the SAT and ACT from being a factor at all in admission decisions.
Given the variations out there, it is now more critical than ever for students to keep track of which college needs what in terms of testing.
In the winter of 2021, The College Board announced they were discontinuing the optional SAT Essay as well as Subject Tests, thus streamlining the testing landscape.
Test scores have always been less important than other parts of an application, but without testing to consider among all of the components of a complete application, teacher recommendations, counselor recommendations, supplemental essays, graded writing samples, or whatever else a college might ask for, will increase in importance.
Keep track of the testing requirements at each college where you are applying. In addition, students should be aware of score submission options at each of their schools. If colleges require official test scores, it is the student's responsibility to have test scores sent directly from the testing service either via their ACT or College Board account (or over the phone). If self-reporting of test scores is permitted, colleges are usually clear about the ways in which a student can do that (it can differ among schools). If a student self-reports their test scores and ultimately enrolls at that college, official test scores must be submitted after May 1 as a point of verification.
Although the number of schools requiring testing has dwindled, for the schools that do, most will take your best scores, even if it means mixing different scores (i.e. SAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score from one test date and the SAT Math score from another test date). The ACT follows a similar protocol (called super-scoring), although it is not as common as with the SAT. Schools don’t have a preference between the ACT and the SAT and will take either one.
Score Choice: Students taking the SAT have the option of sending scores from select test dates while not revealing others. Students cannot isolate specific sections from different SAT dates. If students do not exercise this option, then all scores on the student’s record will be sent to the college. It is important to note that a small number of colleges do not participate in Score Choice and will require that students submit all of their test scores regardless. Most colleges will select a student’s best scores from all of their score reports anyway and use those when making their admission decisions. Students will need to refer to the specific policies of the colleges on their list.
For a list of colleges that do not require standardized tests as a part of a completed application, go to www.fairtest.org.
SAT Overview & Testing Schedule
The redesigned SAT, which was offered for the first time in March 2016, focuses on the knowledge and skills that current research shows are most essential for college and career readiness and success. It is a three-hour test and a student can receive a total score on the SAT of 400-1600. The redesigned SAT has four required test sections, and will be scored in two broad areas: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (composed of the Reading Test and a Writing and Language Test) and Math (composed of the calculator section and no-calculator section). The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Section and the Math Section are both scored between 200 and 800.
READING TEST: The SAT Reading Test lasts 65 minutes and is comprised of 4 individual passages and 1 pair of passages. All passages will come from previously published sources and will be related to four different topics: Literature, History and Social Studies, Founding Document or Great Global Conversation, and Science. The pair of passages will be two shorter passages by different authors that address a similar topic or theme. Each passage will have 10 or 11 questions, for a total of 52 questions. In every SAT Reading Test there will be 2 passages which are accompanied by graphics (1 or 2 graphics for each) as well as questions about how the graphics relate to the passage. The New SAT does not feature any sentence-completion questions, vocabulary specific test items, or short passages, as previously seen in the SAT.
WRITING AND LANGUAGE TEST: The SAT Writing Test is made up of 4 passages and 44 multiple choice questions. Students will have 35 minutes to read the passages and answer the questions in this section. The questions will test knowledge of grammar rules and the elements of effective writing as integrated in the passages. Students will correct errors in sentence structure, usage, and punctuation. Other parts of the passages need to be revised to better express the ideas of the author. This will involve improving the development and organization of the passage as well as correcting errors in language use.
The passages will be 400-450 words in length, broken up into paragraphs. At least one passage will contain an informational graphic. The graphic may be a table, graph, or chart that conveys information related to the passage topic. The topics of the passages always include careers, social studies, the humanities, and science.
MATH TEST: The SAT Math Test contains certain topics in math as well as the ability to use reasoning and critical thinking to solve real-world problems. The SAT groups these concepts into four major areas: Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, Passport to Advanced Math, and Additional Topics in Math. There's a deep emphasis on algebra 1 and 2. The SAT Math Test includes two sections and a total of 58 questions. In the first math section, a total of 20 questions, calculators are not permitted. The no-calculator section will be 25 minutes in length and consist of 20 questions.
Both sections on the Math Test have two types of questions: multiple choice questions and student-produced responses. Some of the questions include real-world contexts in areas such as science and social studies. These questions require the application of reasoning and critical thinking skills to analyze situations, create mathematical models, and find relevant solutions. There will be graphs, charts, and diagrams in some of the problems and answer choices.
Sources: College Board, Ivy Global New SAT (http://sat.ivyglobal.com/essay), and College Admission Testing Guide, Summit Educational Group
Thayer's Suggested SAT Testing Schedule
We encourage juniors to take the SAT at least once during the school year (March, May, or June). Some students prefer to take it twice before the summer. We also encourage students to take it once in the fall of their senior year. Here are some things to consider when deciding which spring date is best:
- If currently in Geometry, you may wish to wait until the May or June dates.
- The May test usually falls around A.P. exams, so it can be an especially busy time for students in A.P. courses. In this case, they take the SAT in June.
- The October and May dates are the only exam days that permit families to order the SAT Question-and-Answer Service (QAS). The QAS gives students a chance to review a copy of the SAT they took, a record of their answers, the correct answers, and scoring instructions. The service also includes information about the types of questions and the level of difficulty of each question.
2022-23 SAT Dates
This is a testing program used mostly by colleges in the South and Midwest, but accepted at most colleges in the country in place of the SAT. It is a battery of multiple-choice tests that covers four areas: English, math, reading, and science. There is also an optional writing section that assesses your ability to plan and write a short essay (Thayer students should always register for the essay section). The ACT is scored on a scale of 1-36, and students receive a composite score as well as sub-scores for each subject.
In the past few years, more students have taken the ACT. In some cases, the material on the ACT may be more suitable to a student’s knowledge and style of learning than the SAT is. For those students who are struggling with the SAT or feeling that the SAT scores do not reflect their ability or success in high school classes, the ACT may be a good alternative. We have seen, however, that students who walk into the ACT without becoming accustomed to it in advance will rarely score significantly better than on the SAT. If students want to explore the option of the ACT, it is recommended that they prepare for it as they would the SAT, at the very least reviewing the material and taking several practice tests.
For more detailed information on the ACT Assessment test, go to www.act.org.
Comparing the SAT and ACT
Advanced Placement (AP) Testing
The Advanced Placement program enables students to challenge themselves with college-level work and, perhaps, achieve advanced standing when they enroll in college. The A.P. examinations are administered in early May. Scores range from one to five, and each college has its own criteria for granting college credit, typically a score of three of better.
For most colleges, A.P. scores do not factor into an admission decision. However, colleges acknowledge that A.P. certified courses are typically very rigorous, and you will get credit for challenging yourself.
If you have taken A.P. exams or expect to take them at the end of your senior year, you should plan to have your scores sent to the college you will attend. In May, when you make a deposit to the college of your choice, you can contact the College Board to forward your A.P. scores to that college to see if you qualify for college credit or placement in a higher-level course. You are not required to send A.P. scores to your college of choice if you do not wish to.
TOEFL: Test of English as a Foreign Language
The TOEFL is designed for students for whom English is not a native language; it is used to determine the student’s facility with English. The test is four hours long and uses a multiple-choice format in three sections: listening, comprehension, and vocabulary. There are two formats: Internet-based and paperbased testing. Students who have resided in the United States for longer than five years should probably not take the test. Colleges do take a student’s bilingual background into consideration during admission deliberation. If you have questions about whether the TOEFL makes sense for you, speak with your college counselor as well as the admission offices at the schools where you hope to apply.
For more detailed information on the TOEFL, go to www.ets.org/toefl.
We cannot discuss testing without being aware of the variety of test preparation programs for all the different tests. Some students take test preparation courses or work with tutors and find them helpful. SAT scores generally go up, tutored or not, 20 to 30 points with each repeat test. However, studies have shown that the average score increase after a preparation program generally does not exceed 50 points, and sometimes students even show declines. The math and writing scores respond more readily to specific tutoring than the reading score because the reading score is more a measure of acquired language background and reading completed over a long period of time. If you plan to take a test preparation course, it should be with a tutor or program that understands and adjusts to your learning style and academic level. To be effective, the student must invest a good deal of time and effort, which can create additional stress by taking away from course work, application preparation, and extracurricular activities. Remember that college admission officers see classroom performance as much more important than a test score from one Saturday morning.
Thayer does not endorse any test preparation tutors or services, although we do provide facilities for a Summit SAT course in the winter/spring and we make arrangements for online classes for Thayer students through Revolution Prep. However, if you are interested in pursuing a particular tutor or class, the college counseling section of the Thayer website lists some of the most common choices.
In addition, we recommend that you consider linking your PSAT and SAT results to khanacademy.org for free, personalized test prep based on your actual PSAT or SAT results. The link is in your collegeboard.com account.
Remember that standardized tests do not pretend to measure motivation, creativity, kindness, decency, sense of humor, and other human qualities that colleges take into account when considering applicants. These qualities will have more of an impact than 50 points on the SAT.
However, some categories of students - athletics, artists, musicians, interim year students, etc. - warrant a separate section, as they have specific requirements, issues, and instructions in addition to the standard college application.
This section will help students in those particular categories to navigate these often complicated waters.
- Student Athletes
- Students with Learning Disabilities
- Students in the Arts
- Service Academies
- Interim Year / Gap Year
- International Schools
- Mental Health Considerations
Are intercollegiate athletics the right path for you?
Being part of an NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) sanctioned athletic program in college will have a tremendous impact on your college experience, so it is imperative that students think carefully about whether or not it is something they want to pursue. For some students, the time and dedication they have invested into their primary sport(s), coupled with a high level of talent, make playing in college a natural step. For others, this decision is less clear. It is important to be honest with yourself about your athletic ability, potential, and commitment to the sport all throughout the process of making a decision.
There are many different levels at which you can stay involved in athletics while in college: Intramural (competition among teams within the same college) and club sports, for example, are great ways to incorporate athletic competition, but due to their competitiveness and how the process impacts college applications, we will focus on NCAA Division I, II, and III.
Division I: the highest level of intercollegiate athletics sanctioned by the NCAA in the United States. The expectations are very high for Division I student athletes. Sometimes a student can be granted a full and partial athletic scholarship. However, many recruited Division I student athletes are not on an athletic scholarship, but may receive other need-based aid. The typical day for a student athlete is often very structured and inclusive of work-outs, practices, games, as well as study halls, both in and out of season. To be considered, students must have standardized testing and a high school GPA that reach a certain standard.
Division II: Division II student-athletes may be just as skilled and competitive as those in Division I, but universities in Division II have fewer financial resources to devote to their athletics programs. Division II offers a partial scholarship for financial aid-- students can cover their tuition through a mixture of athletic scholarships, need-based grants, academic aid and employment. Again, students must meet standardized testing and high school GPA requirements to be considered.
Division III: This division does not allow athletic scholarships. Although a high level of commitment is still required for Division III participation, these student-athletes have fewer demands on their time, so the student experience is closer to that of a non-student athlete.
To get a sense for which level to target, speak with your Thayer coach, your club team coach, and former players (especially those with similar ability to yourself). Ask them for their perspective on your chances of success in collegiate sports and what areas need improvement. It is also beneficial to seek their advice on what to expect from college athletics participation to assess if the commitment required is something you really want to take on.
If you decide to pursue participation in collegiate athletics, the rest of this section will give you a sense of the recruiting process. If not, there are many ways to participate in athletics without being on an intercollegiate team. Research club sports or colleges with strong intramural programs that could be a better fit. Many club teams, for example, are highly competitive. If you still feel that intercollegiate athletics are the best fit for you, it is sometimes possible to “walk on” to a varsity sport once enrolled at the school.
I’ve decided to play NCAA athletics in college. What now?
It is critical that Athletics should only be one of your considerations when creating a college list. You should be investigating all of the other criteria like any other student would (size, location, major, etc). If you get injured, don’t make a team, lose interest in the sport, don’t like the coach, etc., you might be left with a school that doesn’t match any of your interests. You also want to insure that you have a reasonable chance of admission. While athletic ability can increase your chances of admission, only a few students are able to get admitted almost entirely on the basis of their athletic contribution.
The recruiting timeline will differ based on sport and on NCAA division. While some students will begin this process as early as sophomore year, others will find that they do not commit to a school until mid-way through their senior year. Work with the people around you to help generate a list of colleges. Your coach (who can weigh in on which teams would be an appropriate fit for your talents) and your college counselor (who can address whether or not you would be competitive for admission) will be able to provide you with a starting point. Once a college list is established, you should begin building relationships with teams and coaches. Contact the coaches at the colleges directly, informing them of your interest and your background. It is usually best to do this through an inquiry letter or email. Some colleges have inquiry forms on the athletics section of their websites. You should also create an athletics resume that is easy to submit to a coach and send that as appropriate. In addition, your coach may be willing to contact schools on your behalf. There are many rules regarding contacts between athletes and coaches of Division I and Division II schools. Click here for a better understanding based on individual sports.
If a coach is responsive to your inquiries, he or she will often ask for film or come see you play. The coach might be present at one of your clinics or camps over the summer. Some coaches will maintain contact with you via text, email, and/or phone. A coach that maintains contact has continuing interest in your ability to play on his or her team. However, just as you are choosing between many schools, the coach is choosing among a wide pool of student-athletes. At some point, if you are looking like someone this coach has interest in, a transcript and test scores (PSAT, SAT, or ACT) will be requested to assess academic fit. If your academic background does not meet admissions expectations, you will be told to pursue other options.
If a student and coach make verbal commitments to one another, often the coach will ask the student to apply Early Decision or Early Action. It is important to keep in contact with your college counselor about these developments to help you determine if this is the best option for you. Sometimes Division I schools are less focused on the timing of the application, as a letter of intent can be signed either in November or February of senior year.
Remember that your college counselor is always available to help you navigate the ins and outs of this process, as well as interpret what you are hearing from a coach or admission office. Additionally, the NCAA has published a great resource for students and families called “The Guide for the College-Bound Student- Athlete.” It can be found at the following link:
Note: If you are considering Division I or II athletics, be sure to have a conversation with the Director of Studies regarding your academic eligibility based on NCAA standards.
- Tips for Dealing with College Coaches
- NCAA Eligibility Center
- Athletic Inquiry Letter
- Athletic Resume
Tips for Dealing with College Coaches
- Remember that a coach’s interests don’t always coincide with your interests. A coach wants to put together the best team he can within the parameters of his or her school’s admission standards. A coach has no assurances that all the students on his or her list will be admitted, as the admission office cannot admit everyone. As a result, coaches recruit students with a balance between athletic and academic ability, while also assessing a student’s interest in the college.
- Though you may trust and like a coach, receive a coach’s promises with a degree of skepticism. Coaches are not supposed to guarantee admission; admission offices make the decisions. A coach may lead you to believe that you are assured admission or are at the top of the recruitment list, but the coach does not have the final say and, in some cases, the coach may actually be hedging bets (saying the same thing to several players). We have seen our share of students receive a lot of attention from a coach, only to see their name moved down the coach’s list at the last hour or their application denied by the admission office.
- Most college coaches will want you to declare which college is your first choice. Coaches do not want to waste time, energy, and money pursuing a student-athlete who is unlikely to enroll. Many coaches will even encourage (or pressure) you to apply Early Decision, which ensures that you will attend if admitted. These are big decisions, and you should not rush into a decision. Before making any declarations of interest with a college coach, make sure you discuss your situation with your parents, your Thayer coach, and your college counselor.
NCAA Eligibility Center
The NCAA Eligibility Center was established to determine athletic eligibility for student-athletes in Division I or II sports. Using a formula that includes GPA and SAT/ACT scores, the Eligibility Center identifies whether you meet the requirements necessary to play for an NCAA team. While Thayer students rarely have difficulty meeting the requirements, it is essential to complete the process as early as possible, especially if you are planning to make official visits.
To register for the Eligibility Center, you must complete your registration on the NCAA Eligibility Center web site and pay the requested fee. Contact the Pulsifer College Counseling Center so that we may submit your official transcript.
The Eligibility Center also requires you to submit SAT or ACT scores directly from the testing agencies. Please arrange to have your scores sent directly to the Eligibility Center by going to collegeboard.com or act.org and selecting “Send Scores.” The NCAA code is 9999.
Athletic Inquiry Letter
It is essential that you take the initiative in contacting coaches and getting on their recruiting radar, rather than waiting for them to find you. The best way to get the process started is by sending an interest letter to the coaches at the schools that interest you. It can be a relatively simple piece that announces who you are, what you’ve done academically and athletically, and why you’re interested in the specific school and athletic team. Here is a sample outline for an inquiry letter:
Paragraph 1: Declare your interest in the school and the team. Identify that you attend Thayer. State your position, your number of years on varsity, years as a starter, and any significant accomplishments.
Paragraph 2: Identify your club team involvement, summer commitments, and any other athletic accolades.
Paragraph 3: Describe your academic credentials including overall GPA and SAT or ACT scores. Mention your academic interests and why you are considering this college.
Paragraph 4: List any upcoming games or tournaments in which you will be playing where the coach may be able to see you.
Paragraph 5: Thank coach and request further information. State that you’ve included your resume. Write that you’ll plan to get in touch in the near future.
The athletic resume should be sent with the inquiry letter. The resume is a more detailed version of your inquiry letter. Though there is no standard format for the design and content of an athletic resume, you should make sure your resume includes information on all of the following areas:
- Your name, address, email address, phone number
- Academic credentials: GPA, summary of classes, standardized test scores
- Thayer teams for which you play and have played (varsity, junior varsity)
- Club teams for which you play
- Number of years as starter and as a player
- Awards (team, league, state, regional, national)
- Leadership credentials
- Summer and off-season commitments in your sport
- References – high school and club sports coaches with contact information
- College counselor – contact information
Students with Learning Disabilities
Many, if not most, colleges today provide academic support services for qualified students. The student, with support of family and members of the high school community, should determine which option is the best given his or her specific needs. Learning support offices at colleges are available to speak to and meet with families to discuss whether that college can fully support the student. Colleges typically offer one of three different levels of support as listed below:
Comprehensive/structured programs - Colleges with comprehensive support programs usually require a separate admissions procedure along with the regular college admissions procedure. For these programs, an updated psycho-educational testing report (no more than three years old), including at minimum a WAIS or WISC test and educational testing, will be required. Early contact and application for these programs is strongly recommended. The good programs are small in size and will accept only as many candidates as they can accommodate. These colleges typically provide a structured program with required elements, such as a pre-college summer session and regularly scheduled sessions with college learning specialists. They assist students with course selection and in negotiating the various demands of college life. They provide assistance with academic tasks such as writing papers and studying for exams. They assist students in gaining access to needed accommodations, such as books on tape, note-takers, extended time for tests, or petitioning for reduced course loads or waivers of requirements. They provide tutoring and content-based assistance in specific course areas. While responsible use of the program is expected from a college student, these programs do provide a level of structure that can assist a student in making a transition to college.
Coordinated services - The most common among colleges. Participation is voluntary and students use what they need, when they need it. There is usually a specialized staff that oversees a wide variety of available services. They also work with faculty and the community at large to insure students get what they need.
Services - meets the minimum requirements for compliance with governmental regulations. Typically, colleges that fall into this category do not have a staff member on hand who is trained to work with students requiring additional support. Students need to be prepared to advocate for themselves.
Parents and students should be aware that all colleges and universities today are required to provide supportive services and appropriate accommodations for students with learning disabilities who attend the college. However, the existence of such services does not mean that any specific college or university is a good match for an individual student. The type of services and the college or university personnel who provide these services vary considerably from college to college. In addition, general admissions selectivity remains a factor to be considered. For example, Brown University provides good academic support services for students with learning disabilities, but these students must also meet the extremely high general standards for admission at Brown University.
Many colleges have academic support services that are available to all students. Typical resources are Math labs and Writing labs, often staffed by student peer tutors and drop-in tutorial sessions of study groups. Students are expected to initiate requests for assistance, make and keep appointments with tutors, and take responsibility for seeking help when needed.
Here are several suggestions when searching for college programs for a student with learning disabilities:
- Start your search early.
- Have a comprehensive, up-to-date (within the last 2 – 3 years) learning disability evaluation.
- Be able to demonstrate good understanding of your learning strengths and weaknesses.
- Be able to show that you are a responsible self-advocate.
- Visit the colleges, the learning support programs, and ask lots of questions.
Students in the Arts
If the arts are a large part of your life, then you probably want to consider what role you want this talent to have in your life, and even more specifically, in college. Some students want to continue their involvement in the arts but are not interested in making that a main focus in college. But for others, their passion for their craft propels them to consider a more formalized education and even a career in their area of specialization. This section explores the options tied to both of those paths. If you aren’t sure where you land, consider the differences in educational options at the college level:
Different School Settings
Four Year Colleges/Universities: Attending a college or university means a student will be required to take liberal arts courses outside of their major. There is a diversity of majors in the event a student wishes to be in a setting where he or she could easily make a change in concentration without transferring colleges. Auditions/portfolios may or may not be required. Some universities have professional conservatories or art school programs within their institutions. Auditions/portfolios are required for such specialized programs.
Examples include: Boston Univ., Carnegie Mellon Univ., Florida State Univ., New York Univ., Oberlin College, Syracuse University, University of Hartford, Goucher College, Sarah Lawrence College.
Four Year Performing and Visual Art Schools: These colleges only offer degrees in arts-related areas, but typically require some liberal arts courses to graduate. Small and comprised of students with similar interests, there is less flexibility if students lose interest in his or her major.
Examples include: Fashion Institute of Technology, Maine College of Art, Otis College of Art and Design, School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Conservatories: Conservatories are professional schools that focus solely on the teaching of the performing arts. Typically, this is done with very little, if any, liberal arts coursework. Students who take this route are already far advanced in their craft and have often worked with private instructors for several years.
Examples include: American Conservatory Theater, Berklee College of Music, Boston Conservatory, Julliard.
Vocational/Technical Colleges: These institutions exist as a way for a student to gain job-training in a specific field. The end result of these programs tends to be associates degrees, certificates, or diplomas. Some students will go on to acquire a four year degree, but often will use the career-focused education to get right out in the work force.
Examples include: The Art Institutes, Community Colleges.
Different Degree Options
Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)
This degree option is perfect for students who wish to pursue a broad range of liberal arts coursework in addition to an in depth study of their art concentration. Close to half of the coursework will be in the arts, and the other half, if not more, will be in the liberal arts and sciences. This option works well for students who may wish to double major in another field. Often times B.A. art majors do not need to sit for an audition or submit a portfolio to be admitted to that major.
Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.)
This degree option is for those students who want to train as to be professional artists. 70% of the coursework will be in the fine arts whereas 30% will be in the liberal arts. An audition or portfolio is usually required and plays a significant part in the admission decision. Many colleges discourage a double major because of the large amount of time that will need to be devoted to practicing the craft (art studio, music practice room, etc).
Within the different areas of the arts, you may find different labels for the B.F.A degree. For example, music has the Bachelor of Music (BM), and Architecture has the Bachelor of Architecture (B. Arch). The B. Arch degree 5 years, to complete.
Remember that art schools vary in selectivity as much as any other colleges. Some art schools are highly selective, and expect to see top level academic credentials as well as significant artistic talent and experience. Other art schools put an emphasis on demonstrated artistic ability, but are less concerned with academic achievement level and test scores. Other art schools are career and vocationally oriented, offering certificate or two-year degree programs on an open-admission basis for any high school graduate.
Have you done a significant amount of visual art work while at Thayer Academy? Whether you plan to major in art or not, we encourage you to create a portfolio of your best work as part of your college application. Colleges view serious work in the arts as a positive accomplishment, even for a student who plans to major in English or Biology. That being said, it is important to check with each college to make sure this type of additional submission is welcome. What you have done in the arts may set you apart from other applicants, demonstrating your unique talents and skills. It is important, however, to present your work in a professional manner.
If you plan to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree (BFA), pay close attention to the details of the portfolio as outlined by the college, as your portfolio will be a significant factor in the admission decision. Generally, the art department will require pieces that fall into specific categories. Work with a member of the Visual Arts Department at Thayer to determine which of your pieces best match what the colleges are looking for. Thayer provides additional support in the form of photographing your work and helping you to organize it in an appropriate manner.
If you plan to earn a Bachelor of Art Degree (BA) in the Visual Arts or in another academic area, your portfolio will not be weighed heavily in your admission decision. It may or may not be formally evaluated by the art department faculty at a college, but it can help you to distinguish yourself within the applicant pool.
Thoughts on Portfolio Submission
Most colleges will be looking for a selection of slides or digital images documenting your work, usually about 5 - 20 examples of your work. Keep in mind that colleges have different specifications. For example, some colleges may require original work while others may require digital submission of your work.
Other thoughts for art majors
- Each fall, there is a National Portfolio Review Day at an art college in Boston. This is a free event for any interested student who wants to bring a selection of up to 15 works to be informally reviewed by representatives from major art and design schools. We recommend that you attend this event, but be prepared for long lines.
- Attend a summer program at a college level art school prior to your senior year. This may help you decide whether an art school environment, or a liberal arts college with some arts courses, would be the better choice for you.
- In this electronic age, there are opportunities to create and submit a portfolio electronically. More and more colleges are linking up with www.slideroom.com through the Common Application to allow for submission of portfolios. Always check with the colleges to which you plan to apply to identify the method that is preferable to them.
- Keep in mind that even if you are going to major in art, your academic coursework is still very important to a college. You should take five academic courses your senior year and study hard.
The following suggestions are intended as guidelines for any student who has excelled in music (vocal or instrumental) while at Thayer Academy. Not all colleges will have the time to listen to or review additional submissions. Check with each college individually to see if they welcome this extra information.
If you plan to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree (BFA), most schools will require an audition and perhaps an interview. Keep in mind that appearance and attitude matter. Pay close attention to the components of the audition as outlined by the college, as each college may want something different. Some colleges will be very specific in terms of the piece they want you to prepare, while others will only provide guidelines. Work with your private instructor or a member of the music faculty at Thayer to prepare. In the event you cannot audition in person, some colleges may allow you to submit a recording.
If you plan to earn a Bachelor of Art Degree (BA) in music or in another academic area, auditions will most likely not be a part of your application. Although a formal evaluation by the music department faculty may or may not take place, exhibiting your talent in the form of a recording can help you to distinguish yourself within the applicant pool.
Regardless of your intended major, follow the guidelines below in preparing your recording:
What Colleges Want:
- Ideally, a college would prefer a professionally recording. If this is not possible, do what you can to use high quality equipment and record in an acoustically appropriate location. If you are not majoring in music, your own recording will be sufficient.
- If your recording is in lieu of a live audition, limit the number of pieces you record to what the college requests. As a non-music major, also limit the number of pieces, but try to include some variety so you can reveal your versatility and talent. Be careful not to make it too long.
- The most common way to submit a recording is through the slideroom website which is linked to the Common Application. Also, some students will create a youtube page and include the link in their application or in an email to the admissions representative working with applicants from Thayer.
- Create a music resume which includes the following: private instruction, musical accomplishments (both at Thayer and outside of the Thayer community), awards won, etc.
The following suggestions are intended as guidelines for any student who has excelled in theatre while at Thayer Academy and plans to major in theatre (acting, musical theatre, technical theatre, costume design, etc.). Not all colleges will have the time to review additional submissions. Check with each college individually to see if they welcome this extra information.
If you plan to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree (BFA), most schools will require an audition, interview, or a portfolio, depending on your focus. Pay close attention to the components of the audition or portfolio as outlined by the college, as each college may want something different. Some colleges will be very specific in terms of the monologue they want you to prepare, while others will only provide guidelines. Work with your instructors to prepare. You should also plan to submit an 8x10 photograph (head shot) along with your application. Not all colleges require it, but it may help your evaluators to remember your face. This picture should be taken by a professional if possible.
If you plan to earn a Bachelor of Art Degree (BA) in theatre or in another academic area, auditions will most likely not be a part of your application. Although a formal evaluation by the theatre department faculty won’t take place, exhibiting your talent in the form of a resume can help you to distinguish yourself within the applicant pool.
Thoughts for acting majors:
Auditions are conducted either on the college’s campus or regionally along with a number of other colleges in locations such as New York, Boston, and Los Angeles. They usually take place during the winter months. Some colleges don’t allow you to set up an audition until your application has been received by the Office of Admission, so we suggest you apply to colleges that require an audition by the end of November. That way you can secure an audition date and location that works best for you. Check with each college for their individual policies.
Punctuality, appearance, and demeanor are all a big part of the audition. Be on time, look the part, and be prepared.
Always be prepared to articulate your passion and desire to major in the dramatic arts. Brief interviews may take place after an audition.
The following suggestions are intended as guidelines for any student who has excelled in architecture while at Thayer Academy and plans to major in it.
If you plan to earn a Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch), prepare to spend at least 5 years in pursuit of the degree and an additional 3 years or so completing the required internship. Upon completion, students must sit for the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) and apply for licensure.
If you plan to earn a Bachelor of Art Degree (BA) or Bachelor of Science Degree (BS) in architecture, that’s a great foundation for graduate study in a variety of fields, including architecture, business, interior design, etc.
About half of all architecture programs require a portfolio with an application for admission. At Thayer, we are fortunate to offer architecture classes and therefore have faculty in place to support the development of an appropriate portfolio. Colleges may have different requirements, so be sure to check the specifics of each school’s portfolio requirements about a year in advance.
Generally speaking, colleges will be looking for about 12-16 pieces in a digital format or in their original form. There will probably be a mix of freehand drawings (landscapes, figure drawings, architectural structures, etc) and three-dimensional pieces (sculpture, architectural models, etc) required. If photographs are required, be sure to use a high quality camera so your work can be represented as well as possible. Overall presentation is very important, so be sure to work with an adult on this.
Each fall, usually in November, there is a National Portfolio Review Day at an art college in Boston. This is a free event for any interested student who wants to bring a selection of up to 15 works to be informally reviewed by representatives from major art and design schools. We recommend that you attend this event, but be prepared for long lines.
There are five federal service academies, all of which offer an outstanding education and full four-year scholarships. Upon graduating, students receive Bachelor’s degrees and are also commissioned as military officers (with certain exceptions). In return, students will accept an appointment and serve as a commissioned officer for at least eight years after graduation, five of which must be active duty, and the remainder can be served as inactive reserve. The five federal service academies are:
- U.S. Military Academy (Army) in West Point, New York
- U.S. Naval Academy (Navy/Marine Corps) in Annapolis, Maryland
- U.S. Air Force Academy (Air Force) in Colorado Springs, Colorado
- U.S. Coast Guard Academy (Coast Guard) in New London, Connecticut
- U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y
Is this the right fit for you? The life of a student at a service academy will, of course, challenge the student academically, but also require physical and mental challenges on a regular basis to help prepare graduates for the demands of active military duty. Candidates need to be able to handle a regimented environment with high expectations for success, lots of rules, and tolerance for a strong sense of hierarchy. Moral character will also be under a microscope. Students at service academies have significantly less freedom than those at colleges for civilians, but many students thrive in such a setting.
From the start of their high school career, students interested in the service academies should aim to achieve A and B level grades in advanced courses when possible (AP courses are strongly recommended, with particular emphasis on English and Math). The service academies are very selective in their admission selection process.
How applying for the academies is different
1) Unlike admission for other colleges and universities, the military academies require a fitness assessment during which students must prove strength and endurance through challenges including running, sit-ups, push-ups, and pull-ups, among others. A failing score will disqualify an applicant from admission. Students should check with each academy for specific requirements for the Candidate Fitness Assessment.
2) Another difference that exists within the admissions process for the academies is the need for a nomination from an elected official (the Coast Guard Academy does not require this). Most often these come from a member of Congress (US Representatives, US Senators, or the Vice President). The process of securing a nomination is competitive and lengthy so most students begin the process at the same time that they are completing their Pre-Candidate Questionnaire (Spring/summer junior year). The deadlines for the nominating sources vary and could be as soon as early September of your senior year. Because the nomination and appointment process is competitive students should seek all the nominations for which they are eligible. Every candidate from Massachusetts is eligible for the four congressional nominations – one from the Vice-President Mike Pence, one from U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, one from U.S. Senator Ed Markey, and one from the Congressional Representative from your District. To see who is the Congressional Representative for your District visit https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members/MA#representatives.
Freshman and Sophomore Year
- Your focus should be on academics. Service Academies are looking for students who have earned A’s and B’s throughout high school.
- Participate in clubs or organizations in your school, community, or church with the hopes of becoming a leader in the organization by 11th grade.
- Begin to improve your physical strength and endurance by participating in your school’s athletic teams, running, and practicing for the Candidate Fitness Assessment.
Start early! Applying to Service Academies takes more time than applying to other colleges.
- Continue to challenge yourself academically.
- Assume leadership positions in the clubs or organizations in which you are involved.
- Get fit! Continue to improve your physical conditioning through cross-country running and swimming, joining a strenuous team sport, and practicing for the Candidate Fitness Assessment (a requirement for admission).
- Apply to a Summer Leaders Experience in order to be a more highly competitive applicant. These are week-long Summer Programs during the summer before your senior year. You will experience firsthand what it means to be a cadet. It is possible to do multiple summer programs. Currently the Army, Air Force, and Navy have them.
- Complete your “Pre-Candidate Questionnaire” as early as March 1st of your junior year.
- Begin the nomination process in the spring.
- After preliminary screening by the academy, you will receive information about scheduling a medical exam with the Department of Defense Medical Review Board. Schedule your appointment early in case you need time to file for a medical waiver. All candidates must be found medically qualified before admittance to the academies.
- Secure your nominations and interviews. The application due dates can vary office to office, year to year, so be sure to carefully keep track of these dates. Notifications are distributed in the winter months.
- Take the Candidate Fitness Assessment.
- Spend a day with a cadet and schedule an overnight visit if possible.
- Submit your application by early January.
- The academies will offer the majority of appointments to candidates from March to May. You will receive a letter directly from the academies notifying you of your offer of appointment.
Interim Year / Gap Year
Occasionally, students embark on the college search process and realize that they are not quite ready to take that next step. Perhaps they need to take a break to recharge (i.e. spend a year working), sometimes they want to broaden their horizons before committing to college for four years (i.e. travel), or some aren’t happy with their college options and want another year to improve their academic record (i.e. a Post Graduate year at a boarding school). Regardless of the reason, this can be a wonderful and sometimes life changing opportunity for students. Because this trend has become more popular over the past several years, there are more viable choices for students than in the past. And contrary to what you might think, colleges are very accepting of students who take this alternative route. When the students do ultimately matriculate, they tend to be more mature, focused, and energized about their studies. They also offer a different perspective in the classroom.
Below is a short list of resources to help you and your family explore this option. If you are interested in following this path to college, please speak with your college counselor.
Companies or individuals who help families explore the options:
Gilpin and Associates Educational Consulting
Martha’s Vineyard, MA
Center for Interim Programs
Holly Bull & Joanna Lazarek
195 Nassau Street
2nd Floor, Suite #6
Princeton, NJ 08542
PO Box 1471, Stowe, VT 05672
A sampling of programs (your college counselor can give you more if interested):
- The Dynamy Internship Year
- National Outdoor Leadership School
- AFS Intercultural Programs
- City Year Boston
- Institute for Experiential Learning
- Global Quest
- Semester at Sea
Applying to Colleges Abroad
Do you enjoy other cultures? Are you energized when you find yourself outside of your comfort zone working your way through a frenzy of new experiences? Do you enjoy taking risks? Answering yes to these questions could mean that you are a good fit for college in another country. Whether you are looking just north at Canadian schools or you are looking half way across the globe, students who travel abroad for college tend to be independent spirits who relish new adventures.
There are some distinct differences between studying internationally and in the US, some of which we will highlight below.
Admissions Process: The US system of colleges and universities has a tendency to look at the whole person, so essays and recommendations are often required along with an emphasis on extracurricular activities. Most colleges abroad focus on GPA’s and test scores (SAT’s, SAT Subject Tests, AP exams, etc.). Some of the more selective universities will ask for essays, but the focus is almost always going to be on the student’s academic inclination and motivation. It is actually commonplace for colleges and universities overseas to admit a student conditionally, requiring that the student take a subject test or AP exam in the spring with the goal of achieving a specific score in order to pave the way for official acceptance. Some international colleges even have entrance exams of their own.
The academic experience: US colleges typically expect you to take four years to graduate unless a student has significant AP credit resulting in advanced standing. Colleges and universities abroad often only require three years to earn a diploma because they tend not to require as many general, liberal arts courses in order to graduate. In other words, the course work is focused on academic major requirements as opposed to electives. Colleges abroad work best for students who have a specific major in mind (or at least a small family of majors).
Finances: Colleges abroad might be more economical than US colleges. According to the College Board, the average tuition rates in the U.S. for 2016-17 are $9,650 for in-state tuition at a public university, $24,930 for out-of- state tuition at a public university and $33,480 for a private university. In continental Europe, some colleges charge less than $7,000 a year for a bachelor’s program in English. Not only are annual tuition costs less, but if you can also graduate in three years as opposed to four, that is a significant savings, even with travel costs taken into consideration.
Career implications: In this competitive job market, global awareness and experience can give you an edge with hiring depending on the industry. While the norm is to study abroad for a semester to gain global experience, a job applicant with multiple years in another country, exposure to many different cultures, and possibly some foreign language skills, might set themselves apart.
Regardless of where you go to college, the experience can be life-changing. Perhaps a study abroad program or two at a U.S. college is enough to fulfill your sense of adventure. But if not, going to college abroad could be the right fit for you.
Resources for Students Considering International Colleges and Universities
“A Guide to Getting a Bachelor’s Abroad,” The New York Times, November 2, 2016.
UCAS: association dedicated to higher education information and admission to universities in the United Kingdom.
London Times: information about studying in the United Kingdom, including rankings of universities and academic programs.
Top Universities Guide (Europe)
Mental Health Considerations
The ongoing pandemic has increased mental health needs while simultaneously creating barriers to access. At Thayer, we’re seeing a record high number of students receiving school counseling support. We recognize the importance of these services and are actively working to overcome the stigma of mental illness.
For students that experience severe mental health challenges, the college process may exacerbate existing symptoms. If you are concerned about your mental health, and/or curious about addressing mental illness throughout the college application process, below are some tips to help you navigate and feel empowered to access support services:
- Talk with your College Counselor
- Discussing your unique situation with your college counselor will provide them with insight into your struggles and strengths, and help them better explain your circumstances in their letter of recommendation.
- Focus on your growth and improvement
- Your definition of success is going to be different than someone else’s, and that is okay! You don’t need to get straight A’s to show admissions counselors that you’ve worked hard, especially if you’ve faced major adversity. What is important to focus on is your steady growth and improvement throughout your time at Thayer.
- Utilize the “Additional Information” Section
- The “Additional Information” section is a great place to explain extenuating circumstances and extended absences. You can remain succinct and take a positive approach to explaining your experience to provide the admissions counselor with a wealth of insight to your unique situation.
- Remember that you are so much more than your grades and test scores
- Colleges are not lying when they say the review process is holistic. Admissions counselors look forward to reading your essay and learning about your extracurricular involvement. Yes, they will take into account your grades, but providing them with a landscape of context will allow them to see who you are as a whole student.
- Colleges are not lying when they say the review process is holistic. Admissions counselors look forward to reading your essay and learning about your extracurricular involvement. Yes, they will take into account your grades, but providing them with a landscape of context will allow them to see who you are as a whole student.
It is a major investment, and one that usually pays off down the road. But for many families, it is difficult – even impossible – to cover the full cost of college tuition and living expenses. As a rule, it is important not to dismiss a school solely because of its price tag; the “sticker price” of a school is not necessarily the amount that you will need to pay. All colleges provide some type of financial assistance to ease the burden for families that need it, and to reward some students who have earned it.
In general there are two categories of financial aid:
- Need based – grant money, loans, and work study awarded based on your family’s financial situation and the feasibility of paying for college.
- Merit based – scholarships awarded based on talent and ability in academics or extracurricular accomplishments.
- How to Apply for Financial Aid
- Calculating your Financial Aid Reward
- What's Included in a Need-Based Financial Aid Package?
- What Merit-Based Scholarships are Available & How do You Apply?
- Early Decision & Financial Aid
- Questions to Ask Colleges about Financial Aid
- Financial Aid Checklist & Tips
- Useful Financial Aid Websites
How to Apply for Financial Aid
FAFSA: The Free Application for Federal Aid. All colleges require this form. It determines your eligibility for federal financial assistance. Some colleges use it exclusively to determine your EFC (estimated family contribution). It determines “household” income only, which can include a step-parent and exclude a non-custodial parent. It does not ask for home equity data. Based on the data provided through the FAFSA, a Student Aid Report (SAR) is generated, and most colleges use the results of that form to help determine the financial assistance that you will receive.
File your FAFSA online at www.fafsa.ed.gov anytime after October 1st. Families will need their 2022 taxes to complete the form, and can download their tax information directly into the FAFSA form. Make sure you submit the FAFSA before the financial aid deadlines at the schools to which you are applying.
CSS/PROFILE: Some colleges (including many private colleges) require this form, which provides more detailed financial information than the FAFSA, including assets such as the value of your home. Check each college to see if it requires this form. Using the information you provide on the Profile form, the College Scholarship Service prepares a Need Analysis Report that colleges use to shape your Estimated Family Contribution and, thus, the college’s financial aid package.
Pre-register for this form at profileonline.collegeboard.com sometime in the fall of senior year and file the rest of the form before your financial aid deadlines.
Divorced-Separated Parent’s Statement: A supplement to the PROFILE for the non-custodial parent requested by many colleges. Copies of the completed form should be sent directly to the colleges’ financial aid offices.
Business/Farm Supplement: A supplement to the PROFILE required by some colleges if a parent is self-employed or a farmer. This form should be sent directly to the colleges’ financial aid offices.
Institutional Forms: a few schools still use their own forms to inquire about financial information. Check with each school to determine the appropriate forms to complete.
Calculating your Financial Aid Reward
- Cost of Attendance (COA): this total includes a college’s tuition, room and board, fees, books, and travel. It will vary, of course, with each college.
- Net-Price Calculator: All colleges must provide a net-price calculator on their website which allows families to estimate their COA using standardized inputs (i.e. savings, family size, etc) and the college’s financial aid and merit aid methodology. This tool can usually be found in the Financial Aid area of a college web site (although not always easy to find).
- Estimated Family Contribution (EFC): this is the amount that the college expects your family (the student and the parents) can pay for the upcoming school year. It is based on the data your family provides in the required forms.
- Parental Contribution: is determined by your family’s net worth, a sum of income and assets. Typically, parents are expected to contribute 5% of their income and assets towards college expenses. Allowances are made for the number of family members, children in college, debts, necessary expenses, taxes, and special circumstances (i.e. illness, older parents approaching retirement, special education needs, etc.). There is no standardized way for colleges to treat the income and assets of step-parents and non-custodial parents; check with each school to understand its expectation.
- Student Contribution: is determined by a review of the student’s earnings and assets. You are typically expected to contribute 35% of your personal savings and earnings. There is also an expectation that you will contribute a reasonable amount of money from summer work, whether you work or not.
What's Included in a Need-Based Financial Aid Package?
With your admission letter, or shortly after, colleges will send you a financial aid letter, which will outline the amount of financial aid the school is offering. Most colleges provide a financial aid package that consists of:
- Grant money: these are funds typically provided by the college (and sometimes by the government) which you do NOT need to pay back. Sometimes, merit-based grant money is also included in a predominantly need-based financial aid award.
- Loans: these are typically federally-funded loans (Perkins or Stafford), with low interest rates, which you don’t need to begin repaying until after you graduate. These loans are usually in the student’s name, though loans are also available for parents to assume as well, if desired.
- Work-study: students may also be expected to earn a portion of their college expenses through some form of work-study program on campus. These are designated jobs at the school (i.e., working in the library, food service, athletic center, etc.) that allow students to work part-time. The earnings from these jobs are expected to go toward the costs of college.
Inevitably you will find that colleges can arrive at different EFC totals, because they include different figures or make different allowances; likewise, colleges will probably offer different financial aid packages, either in its composition (the balance between grant and self-help money) or its total value. As you apply for financial aid, you should become knowledgeable about how each school calculates your financial need and how each school constructs a standard financial aid package.
Here’s some terminology to help you understand what colleges may tell you about their awarding procedure:
- Meeting 100% of demonstrated need: the college is able to provide enough funding to cover the difference between the COA and your EFC.
- Gapping: some colleges do not meet every student’s financial need. Instead, they will provide you partial funding to meet some of your family’s need. This is called “gapping” because there will be a gap left between your EFC and the COA that the college will not help you cover.
- Need blind: colleges that are need-blind make admission decisions without regard for the financial situation of the applicant’s family. The admission process is separate from the financial aid process. Your admission decision is based on your merit, while your financial aid is determined by your family’s financial need.
- Need aware: colleges that are need-aware may make admission decisions with some consideration of the family’s financial situation; financial aid decisions may also take into account the strength of the student (i.e., a stronger applicant may be awarded a better financial aid package than a weaker applicant – see “gapping” above for more information). In most cases, this will affect the last 10% of the class accepted, or any student placed on a wait list may learn that no funds are available.
What Merit-Based Scholarships are Available & How do You Apply?
Unlike need-based financial aid, merit-based aid is not awarded on the basis of your family’s financial status. Some merit scholarships are granted by foundations and can be used at any college. Some colleges offer scholarships that can only be used at their institution. The money can vary from a small amount to cover books to a medium-sized amount to full-ride scholarships. Merit awards typically target a certain type of student, depending on the types of students that a college wishes to attract. You may find competitive merit scholarships in the following areas:
- Academic excellence
- Specific academic fields
- Racial background
At some colleges, you need to apply for merit scholarships directly. Check with the college to determine the list of scholarships available, and determine what the application process requires.
Some colleges will also offer merit scholarship funds based on the quality of your candidacy. This is a way to discount the tuition and attract students that the college desires. You do not have to apply separately for these scholarships, as the admission office determines who is worthy based on the application for admission.
The other sources for merit-based scholarships are foundations or private companies, which require separate applications and essays. Identifying these types of scholarships is time-consuming, and the competition is usually tough. Do not count on outside scholarships to be your main ticket to college. The financial aid that colleges provide – whether need-based or merit-based – remains the most common means of supporting students. However, if you are interested in researching outside scholarships, here are the best ways to approach it:
- Check frequently with the college counseling office; we get mailings for scholarships and keep file folders of them. Many of these opportunities tend to be local ones. We post all scholarships (of which we are directly notified) on Naviance under Scholarships.
- Go to your local library, which should keep records of scholarship opportunities, both local and national. In addition, the basement of the Boston Public Library houses the Higher Education Information Center (HEIC), where electronic databases of thousands of local and national scholarships are open to the general public. You can input information about you and your family and be matched with scholarships for which you may qualify.
- Use a college scholarship search web site to filter your criteria and get a list of scholarships to which you can apply. These are generally national in scope. We list a few good sites at the end of this section. Naviance also has this resource under the Scholarships tab. The information comes from Sallie Mae. NEVER USE A SCHOLARSHIP SEARCH THAT REQUIRES YOU TO PAY.
Early Decision & Financial Aid
If you are applying to a school under a binding, Early Decision program and the financial aid package is important in determining you ability to attend, take a few things into consideration.
First, by applying Early Decision somewhere you are restricting your ability to compare financial packages from various schools.
On the other hand, we have found that most colleges offer adequate funding for families demonstrating need. In a worst-case scenario, if the college is unable to meet your demonstrated need, then that can be grounds for breaking the Early Decision contract, freeing you to follow through on applications to other schools. Please also note, however, that the college involved will typically rescind the offer of admission.
Questions to Ask Colleges about Financial Aid
- Which forms does the college require to determine financial aid eligibility?
- What percentage of students is on financial aid? Need based? Merit based?
- What percentage of students had their full need met?
- What does the typical financial aid package look like? What percentage of the package tends to be grant vs. self-help (loan and work-study)?
- What is a typical work-study commitment on campus?
- What is the average indebtedness for a graduating student?
- Does the financial aid process and packaging change with each year (i.e., does the grant award get reduced while loan is increased)?
- What is the policy towards non-custodial parents and step-parents? Are they expected to hand in any forms? What income and assets are considered? Are they expected to contribute?
- Can the financial aid award apply to study abroad?
- How does the financial aid office handle outside scholarships? Are they credited against the loan portion of your aid, the grant portion, or the family contribution?
- Is the financial aid contingent on a certain academic performance in college?
- What merit-based financial aid (scholarships) is available through the college?
- Does a student need to apply for specific merit-based scholarships, or are they automatically awarded using the admission application materials?
Financial Aid Checklist & Tips
- Speak with admission officers and, when possible, financial aid officers at the colleges where you plan to apply; inquire about the financial aid process and requirements.
- Gather the records you will need to complete financial aid forms (usually includes tax returns, W-2’s, etc.)
- Pre-register for the PROFILE in the fall of the senior year. This will open your account, which you can then complete. Go to collegeboard.com to register and complete the application.
- Begin completing the FAFSA after October 1st but before deadlines posted by each of the colleges (usually in late January or February).
- Keep a list of each college’s admission deadline and financial aid deadline. As with the admission deadlines, make sure you meet financial aid deadlines. If you miss them, you will likely be bumped to a lower-priority list, jeopardizing your chances of receiving financial assistance.
- Do not use scholarship searches that charge fees; they are often scams.
- Think about applying to a few “economic financial aid safety schools” – a school that meets your academic needs and is affordable. This is often a public university, or a college where you are assured strong merit-based financial assistance based on your academic record.
- Wait to receive financial aid awards from all your schools before making a final choice on which one to accept. If you have any questions about your financial aid package – if something is unclear or if it does not meet your needs – contact the financial aid office. Inquire about how they calculated your EFC and your final package. Discuss any special circumstances that they may have overlooked. Financial aid offices can adjust your award if there is new, justifying information. You will need to provide concrete information – not just a vague statement. Most colleges do not negotiate the financial aid offer, or match the offers from other schools, but they are generally willing to consider your situation and try to meet your needs.
Useful Financial Aid Websites
Complete the FAFSA form
A website created by the US Department of Education which helps families compare colleges from a financial standpoint, including which schools will provide the best value relative to cost.
Preregister for and complete the CSS Profile form
Fastweb.com, Collegeboard.com, Goingmerry.com, and Petersons.com
Search for and apply to scholarships matched to your profile
A good general site to guide you through financial aid process
How to pay for college, search for scholarships, and avoid scams
Tips & Resources
- I wish I had known...
- Independent College Counseling
- Final Words of Wisdom
- Top ten things students should know about the college admissions process (from NEACAC)
- Top ten things parents should remember about the college search process (from Middlebury College)
I wish I had known...
The following are thoughts from high school graduates in New England and beyond who completed the college admission process this past year. Their thoughts were compiled from the NACAC e-list. Here’s the advice they want to pass along to the students following in their footsteps:
- “Visit your college counselors and get to know them.”
- “Organization – You have no idea what a difference it makes. Schedules, folders… anything.”
- “Start early. Things can take longer than you think.”
- “To set aside time each week of your senior year to dedicate to college things. Don’t delay…Do it TODAY!”
- “There are a lot of colleges so take your time and be picky, chances are you’ll be able to find what you want. Also, there are a lot of unique colleges. Take the time to look around a lot.”
- “College visits!! Ask questions. Meet with faculty.”
- “VISIT. I went to my number one school and disliked it the minute I walked on campus. Campuses are the best way to get a feel for the school.”
- “Use the resources you have! If you can’t visit, look on the web site, talk to current students. Learn as much as you can.”
- “Start apps ASAP-get them done early no matter what the deadline is.”
- “Pay attention to deadlines and stuff. Put a lot of effort into your essay.”
- “You don’t have to apply anywhere ED! Only do it if you are totally sure.”
- “Double checking requirements before it was too late. For instance, [one school] requires 3 SAT Subject Tests which I hadn’t realized until it was too late for me to have any scores in by the deadline.”
- “Pick the number of colleges to apply to based on you, not your friends.”
- “Don’t apply anywhere just because your best friend/significant other/dog is applying. That may not be the place for you.”
- “Have back-up schools you really like to take off pressure of getting into your #1 school.”
- “Enjoy bragging. This is one of the few times in your life where they want you to brag.”
- “I wish I hadn’t gotten so stressed out about it. I made myself ill the first semester.”
- “Stay in contact with the representatives of your #1 and #2 choice schools. Call them with questions so they get to know who you are.”
- “Keep in mind that your parents are as anxious about this as you are. (Maybe more). Be kind.”
- “The more you remember the big picture, (i.e. I will go to a good school because all the schools I’m applying to are good), the calmer you’ll be and all of this “college frenzy” won’t be that big of a deal. It’s only a moderately big deal!”
- “That it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get into your first choice.”
- “The process is hard, time consuming and stressful, nobody will deny that. But when it’s all over, you’ll appreciate every bit of it.”
Independent College Counseling
Thayer Academy is fortunate to be able to devote human resources exclusively to the process of college counseling, and families are strongly encouraged to use those resources to their fullest extent. That being said, some families may decide to seek additional support from Independent College Counselors or companies who specialize in college counseling.
Although it’s not something that families need in order to have a successful college admission experience, some students may find it helpful to have additional guidance. When a third party is employed by the family for this purpose, that does not excuse the student from maintaining regular contact with his or her Thayer college counselor. It is vital for the Pulsifer College Counseling Center to be aware of, at the very least, how the student is progressing and which colleges comprise the student’s college list. The best scenario exists when the private college counselor and Thayer’s college counselor are communicating and working in concert to ensure everyone involved is on the same page.
Final Words of Wisdom
- Be visible in the college counseling office; attend meetings once every two or three weeks in the senior year until your applications are complete. Open communication is the key to a successful college process.
- Save everything. If you throw it away we can almost guarantee you will need it sometime in the future. Be sure to save everything sent to you from the College Board regarding your SAT registration and scores.
- Use the same name on every document you send to colleges. For example, if you use your formal name on your SATs but use a nickname on your application, those two pieces of information may never match up and your application will be considered incomplete.
- Fill out your standardized testing registrations the same way every time. Occasionally inserting a middle initial can confuse a computer and make more work for you in the end.
- If you have a special talent - music, drama, athletics, physics, creative writing - pursue that interest with each college. This is not the time to be modest.
- Make appointments for interviews early. Some colleges stop interviewing candidates early in the winter.
- Develop a system for organizing information about the process for each college; create check-lists with deadlines, things to be done, etc.
- Use the resources of this handbook. It contains the answers to many of your questions.
- Read the application instructions and requirements for each college thoroughly. Some colleges have very specific requirements. Knowing about and adhering to these specific requirements is your responsibility.
- Treat each application as if that school were your first choice. Colleges pay attention to your level of interest. They want to admit students who want them. At the same time, don’t fall into the trap of telling every college that they are your first choice.
- Meet all deadlines. Deadlines are a serious matter. Where possible, submit applications early.
- Be kind to your teachers. If you need teacher recommendations, choose one or two teachers who know you well. Make these requests early, and make sure the teacher knows what the deadline is.
- There is a college for every student who graduates from Thayer Academy. If you pay attention to the guidelines in this handbook, you will be in a position to attend a college of your choice.
Top ten things students should know about the college admissions process (from NEACAC)
From the New England Association for College Admission Counseling (NEACAC) www.neacac.org
- You have the right to request information from colleges and universities without feeling high pressure tactics to persuade you to apply or enroll.
- You have the right to accurate information about each institution's academic programs, facilities, and faculty, along with each institution's retention and graduation statistics.
- You have the right to the names of all accrediting, certifying, or licensing organizations for each institution.
- You have the right to complete information about all direct and miscellaneous expenses, the types of non need-based and need-based financial assistance provided, and the methods by which eligibility is determined.
- You have the right to accurate information about all aspects of campus safety, including institutional crime statistics.
- You have the responsibility to assure that all required items necessary for the completion of your application are received by each institution within the required timeframe.
- Once admitted to a college or university, you have the right to wait until May 1 to respond to an offer of admission and financial aid (unless you have been admitted under a binding Early Decision program).
- You have the right to request in writing an extension to May 1 without penalty if an institution requires an earlier commitment (unless you have been admitted under a binding Early Decision program).
- You have the right to historical information about prior waiting list activity including the number wait-listed, the number ultimately admitted and the availability of housing and financial aid. Colleges and universities cannot require a deposit from you to maintain your place on a waiting list.
- You have the responsibility to submit a deposit to only one institution–and upon submitting that deposit to withdraw from all other institutions to which you have been admitted.
Top ten things parents should remember about the college search process (from Middlebury College)
It is good, of course, that students and parents approach this process jointly, but we all know that at its best, the process itself can prepare students for the independence that they will experience in college. The following list contains some possible symptoms of parental overinvolvement.
- Remember that this process is not about you. No matter how similar your children may be to you, they need to make their own decisions and observations.
- Support and encouragement are more appropriate than pressure and unsolicited advice. Allow your children to seek you out and restrain yourself from imposing your viewpoint upon them.
- Do not use the words “we” or “our” when referring to your children’s application process. Those little pronouns are surefire indicators that you have become too involved.
- Help them prepare but let them perform. Encourage them to sleep well and put thought into a college visit, but once on campus, step back and let them drive the experience. This is good practice for the next phase of their lives—adulthood.
- Encourage your children to make their own college appointments, phone calls, and e-mails. When a family arrives at an admissions office, it’s important that the student approach the front desk, not the parents. We notice! Having control over those details gives them a sense of ownership. Don’t be tempted by the excuse that “I’m just saving them time” or “they are too busy”—students will learn to appreciate all the steps it takes to make big things happen if they do them.
- Allow your children to ask the questions. They have their own set of issues that are important to them.
- Prepare your children for disappointment. For many students this is the first time they could face bad news. Remind them there is no perfect school and that admissions decisions do not reflect on their worth as people or your worth as parents.
- Never complete any portion of the college application—yes, even if it is just busy work. That also goes for friends, siblings, counselors, and secretaries. For many colleges, that overstep would be viewed as a violation of the honor policy at the school.
- Do not let stereotypes or outdated information steer your children away from schools in which they would otherwise have an interest. Times have changed and so have colleges.
- And the #1 Thing for Parents to Remember about the College Search Process is: Never, ever, during a college visit buy a sweatshirt or t-shirt from the bookstore in your size— it’s a dead giveaway!