By Laurel Busby
The Palisades High School College Center encourages students to take ownership of their college searches, but also to relax through this sometimes hectic time.
“We try to make it an adventure for them and not an anxiety-ridden process,” said head college adviser Ruth Grubb. “There is a school out there for everybody. We tell them ‘Aim high if you want to, but it’s also perfectly okay to go to a community college.’ A student might not be ready to move far away or might want to save money or might need time, while other students are happy to move 3,000 miles away. Everyone is different.”
Grubb noted that researchers have found only 3 percent of teens take a direct path through a chosen college major to planned career goals, such as majoring in pre-med and becoming a doctor.
Instead, the vast majority take a more circuitous route that includes exploring various opportunities and eventually finding their paths in often unanticipated ways.
The choice of a college is a beginning to venturing into the world as an adult, and the College Center works to support students as they navigate this sometimes confusing path.
As counselors, “We are training them to have ownership of this process,” said Grubb, a Palisadian who grew up in Wales and was introduced to the American college application process when her three children went through PaliHi. “It’s the move to adulthood, because once they go to college, they have to do this. The parents cannot do it for them, and we want them to be engaged in their futures.”
Pali’s process begins in freshman year, when students are assigned guidance coun- selors who work to enroll teens in the appropriate classes based on their skills and college or career goals.
Then in late January, freshmen are encouraged to create accounts on the website Naviance, which allows them to input information about themselves, ranging from interests to grade point average, so they can begin to increase their awareness and knowledge of potential colleges.
The site makes suggestions and also shows each student how s/he might compare with other Pali students who have been accepted into particular colleges. In addition, the center’s four counselors encourage students to explore colleges both locally and when traveling out of town to get a feel for some potential schools.
As sophomores, most students are advised to take the PSAT and may wander into the Center to ask various questions or browse through the center’s offerings.
Midway through junior year, the college application process becomes much more focused. Juniors schedule appointments at the center, and the counselors make presentations to all of the English classes to introduce themselves and provide guidance on aspects of the college selection process.
These presentations encourage students, who vary widely in experience with the college application process, to create college folders for themselves, schedule college planning appointments with the center, set up Naviance accounts if they haven’t already done so, create an appropriate email address for the process, plan their SAT/ACT testing, review PSAT results, take practice SAT/ACT tests, and look into test prep options.
In addition, the counselors recommend that students review the requirements for admission to UC/CSU schools, make sure their Facebook pages look appropriate, and consider which teachers they might like to ask for letters of recommendation, private colleges generally require.
Summer choices also gain importance, and students are encouraged to find work (either paid or volunteer), perhaps enroll in a summer program or class, visit colleges and read challenging books.
In the fall of senior year, the college application process has even more facets. A college fair, open for all students and parents, is held with about 130 college representatives attending, and even more colleges send representatives throughout the year. Behind the scenes, the counselors also educate these reps about PaliHi and find out further information about the colleges and what they are seeking.
“The college reps enjoy the school because of its diversity,” Grubb said. “They tell me they are looking for this sort of student, who is used to diversity in every sense of the word. . . . These students can bring a lot to the college community.”
In the fall, counselors also spend large chunks of their time writing recommendation letters. To do so, counselors first gather information, not only via school records, but also by meeting with each student. Students and parents complete questionnaires to help the counselors learn even more,and this information allows the counselors to write personal letters advocating for the strengths of each student.
“We do not use a template at all,” Grubb said. “Every single letter is different, and we work really hard on doing that.”
This past fall, in addition to their other duties, each counselor wrote about four letters per day to provide one for about 730 seniors—98.9 percent of whom are graduating this June. About 94 percent of this year’s seniors also plan to go directly to college, while about four percent have instead chosen to work, take a gap year or join the military.
Scholarships and financial-aid information are also developed, in part through using Naviance. Also, each weekday, the college center is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. from August through June to provide not only access to the counselors, but also two computers and printers for students to use, plus varied leaflets, calendars and information on testing.
On average, students apply to about eight colleges, with some only applying to one or two, while others might apply to 15 or more. The applications can get expensive, often costing around $70 each.
PaliHi has a varied student body, ranging from students who may be the first in their families to attend college to athletes working to get a scholarship, so each student’s college application process is unique.
Advanced placement exams also become part of the process each spring, with about 50 percent of seniors taking the AP English exam last year. For the last several years, about 5 to 10 percent more students are choosing to take AP exams in one or more subjects each year.
The spring also includes most acceptance and rejection letters from colleges and universities. Last year, more than half of Pali’s seniors were admitted to four-year colleges. Together, UC and Cal State University schools admitted about one-fourth of this group, and other admissions ranged from the University of Hawaii to Yale.
Many students tell the counselors the process “is nerve-wracking,” Grubb said. “They don’t know where to start, and they hit this brick wall. Then they go slowly. They get the confidence to proceed with their college search.”
The process can be trying, but Grubb tries to assure them “Expect some bumps along the road, and it will be okay. You’ll come out fine.”
The center is seeking donations.