What's really important junior year?

Get the lowdown on grades, extracurriculars and more in our conversation with Teen Life, Dealing with Junior Year StressJunior year is important but, more significantly, it feels important because there is so much going on. Students are juggling a lot -- testing, extracurriculars, campus visits, researching colleges.  But, despite what you hear, applying to college is not rocket science. There is no secret. It doesn't require an advanced degree. Colleges aren't asking 17-year-olds to do anything that 17-year-olds aren't capable of doing.  Applying to college is like any large project, you just need to break it down into smaller manageable parts. Keep that in mind as you start this process.

What three things should rising seniors be doing over the summer?

As we head off into the summer, we asked our experts what rising seniors should be doing this summer. As usual, they've got some great advice about how to rest, recharge, and prepare for a couple of steps in the college application process so you'll hit the ground running -- and avoid feeling overwhelmed -- in the fall. And don't forget, two of the most important and best things you can do this summer are rest and read, read, read... Nothing will prepare you better for senior year. Enjoy all of it!


Mai Lien Nguyen
College and Career Center Coordinator
Mountain View High School
Mountain View, CA


“Having fun” and “preparing for college applications” aren’t phrases you normally hear in the same breath.  But the summer before senior year could be the golden opportunity to make this happen.  Let’s see how:


Juniors: Do you know what "test optional" means?

There have been a lot of headlines lately about standardized testing. There is no question standardized testing is in a period of evolution. As a result, you will be hearing more and more about schools that are "test optional."

In recent years, many colleges have looked more closely at the use of standardized test scores and some have adopted a “test- optional” policy. That means they are flexible about submission of standardized test scores. But it's not as obvious as it sounds. At some schools test optional means students are no longer required to submit SAT or ACT scores. At others, however, it means students may be asked to submit the results of AP, IB, or SAT Subject Tests in lieu of SAT or ACT results. Eligibility to not submit test scores may also be contingent on other factors— for example, applicants might need to rank in the top 10 percent of their class or have a GPA of 3.5 or above. Furthermore, applicants can sometimes be required to meet alternative admission requirements such as submission of graded writing samples, additional teacher recommendations, or in- person interviews. You will need to check the testing policy of each school to which you are applying.

Trevor Rusert, Sewickley Academy

We want to tell you a story. A story that we think gets to the heart of who most high school college counselors are -- at least the ones every parent wishes for their son or daughter. This is a story about Trevor Rusert and a student named Amanda.

Amanda lives with her father, a single parent. Her family is working class and Amanda had a significant scholarship to attend Sewickley Academy in Pennsylvania where Rusert is Director of College Guidance. But her scholarship didn't cover everything, so Amanda worked 30 hours a week at McDonald's as shift manager -- 6 p.m. to midnight, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and then full shifts on the weekend -- to make up the difference. In the summertime, she worked with Sewickley's maintenance crew during the day and was back at McDonald's at night -- 70-plus hours a week.

Juniors, Taking the ACT or SAT? Practice, practice, practice...

The winter testing dates for the ACT and SAT are coming up soon:  the SAT will be administered on January 25th and the ACT on February 8th. For many students, practice can improve scores. But if you're listening to your iPod while you're thumbing through the test or not taking a timed practice test, you probably won't experience that improvement. Here's how to practice so you get results:

                Practice under actual test conditions. Both tests require students to perform in a fixed amount of time. Sit down in your kitchen with a test book and your No. 2 pencils and have a family member time you.

Misty Whelan, Conestoga High School

Misty Whelan has lived the college admission process from both sides of the desk, so to speak. True, she worked early in her career at Bryn Mawr College. But that's not what we're talking about. Now a counselor at Conestoga High School in Berwyn, Pennsyvania, Whelan has also navigated the college application process as a parent. Her 16-year-old daughter, Sarah, is taking her first steps in the process and her 19-year-old son is now attending Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The view from the parental side of the process has been invaluable for Whelan.

"It has really, really helped me immensely as a professional in terms of sympathizing and empathizing with families as they go through this process," says Whelan. "And the other thing it validated for me was letting my son do the work and not to do it for him. He did the bulk of the work. I learned a lot about how to center him and not have him panic or get too stressed out. Luckily, he knew what he wanted and did not have too many schools on his list.  I also learned a lot about financial aid and the scholarship process. That was the biggest eye opener for me -- how colleges fund students."

Students with a Learning Difference: Should you write about it in your essay?

Educational psychologist Jane McClure, who is widely respected for her work with students with learning disabilities, returns this month with more advice on the college application process for students with a learning difference or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Read on for her excellent advice on when and where students should write about a learning difference or disability in their college essays, including guidance on how to effectively write such an essay.

Will Cardamone, Manlius Pebble Hill School

William Cardamone grew up in New York State, the youngest of ten children. His father was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals and his parents pinned their hopes for a lawyer from the family on their youngest son, the only one of the ten who seemed interested in the law. Cardamone obliged -- in his own time -- graduating from Hamilton College and spending three years in the West as a wilderness guide before attending Vermont Law School.

But then he took another detour, teaching social studies for four years to 11th and 12th graders at Woodstock High School in Vermont's capital. He returned to the law for a few years, practicing employment and education law at a firm in Utica, New York. Until he visited a former advisor at his alma mater of Hamilton and spent the next eight years in their admission office, rising to Associate Dean of Admission.

While his wife, also a "recovering attorney," says Cardamone, rose in the ranks of her family's business which she would eventually lead, he found his true calling, As he worked with independent high schools in the region, recruiting for Hamilton, he said, "That's the job I want." In 2006, he joined Manlius Pebble Hill School in DeWitt, New York, as Dean of Students, eventually becoming Director of College Counseling in 2010.

Juniors: It's Time to Think about a Testing Plan

Most students will want to take either the SAT or ACT once by the end of junior year -- usually taking either test for the first time in the winter or spring. (The SAT is first offered in January; the ACT in February. Make sure to check deadlines for sign-up!) This timing allows you to capitalize on having just completed Algebra II, as well as further coursework in English. No timetable suits all students, but all students should begin thinking of creating a testing plan, taking into account planning for the SAT or ACT, Subject Tests, and AP exams (if enrolled).


Advice for Applying to College When You Have a Learning Disability

Educational psychologist Jane McClure, who is widely respected for her work with students with learning disabilities, returns this month with advice on the college application process for students with a learning difference or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. For students with such special circumstances, making the right match with a college is particularly important. Read on for her excellent recommendations on the college search, visits, testing and making the right match.

Applying to college can seem complicated for all students, but if you have a learning disability or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, it can appear to be downright daunting. However, with careful planning and an understanding of how the process works for LD and ADHD students, it is manageable and should lead to a successful transition from high school to college.  Here are some tips for how to proceed: