A guide to surviving college and the application process
Image credit: Mauli Patel
College application deadlines are quickly approaching and most seniors are either extremely calm because they have everything submitted, or are freaking out because they have no idea what they’re doing. School stress already takes a toll on teens’ health, and now with the added weight of college applications, the stress only seems to get worse.
For those currently panicking about grades, extracurriculars and essays, relax! Luckily, Conant staff members who have been through it all–with their students and their own children–have offered advice on how to survive the college application process.
Crier: How do you help your students during college application time?
Mary Kay Albamonte (English): I want to keep my students on track [and] remind them of deadlines. Since my own daughter has been through this I can provide guidance to my students.
Karla Modelski (English): I want my students to be prepared for college. Two of my boys have gone through the application process, so I am a professional now. I know what the college looks for, which has made me more aware of how and what I should teach during class.
Crier: What should Conant students do to prepare for college?
Shelley Castans (math): Do your homework beginning freshman year. You’ll get a lot of homework in college, and doing [it] daily is a strong way to keep your grade up and to drill the information in your head.
Sharon McCoy (science): Have all your priorities straight, be organized and know what you want to do. Always have a goal.
Crier: Do you teach differently compared to teachers who have younger children?
McCoy: I think so since my kids have been through it. I teach a lot of college level skills, and my classes require a certain work ethic. This way, my students can be prepared once they get to college.
Modelski: Definitely. Colleges take standardized tests [seriously], which is why I start teaching ACT prep to my students. I also teach PSAT courses after school to help students become better acquainted to the exam.
Principal Julie Nowak and assistant principal Robert Small both have children in college. As administrators, they don’t get to work with individual students in the same way teachers do, but that doesn’t mean they’re not here to help.
Crier: Are any of the decisions that the administration makes influenced by the fact that your own kids are in college?
Nowak: I think they are, and it’s inevitable. It’s because my child is in college, so high school should be the prep before college. You have to be careful because everyone’s college planning is different, but we try to make it so the students are prepared for college as much as possible.
Crier: Since you don’t always see students on a day-to-day basis like teachers, what role do you play for students during college app and decision time?
Nowak: We are on a macro level. We try to impact students at large scale rather than a small scale.
Small: Indirectly, our job is to help teachers to their job. We help remove roadblocks and work as a behind-the-scenes crew. But sometimes, I do get to hang out with students and advise them. For example, I am a swim coach, and that enables me to work with students personally and help them when they need it.
Crier: What kind of support do you give students during college app time since it can be quite stressful?
Nowak: First of all, we want students to have easy access to their counselors and college support systems. We make sure that they are able to plan college visits. The administration also helps keep everything in perspective for the students and enables them to make a realistic choice.
Small: In the past, we’ve run programs to help families fill out applications, especially the FAFSA (Free Application For Student Aid) form. We also run clinics for teachers on how to write strong recommendation letters to help our students get in their top choices. Along with this, we also help our juniors prep by offering classes that provide additional help to ace their college entry exams. We have student-led groups of ACT and SAT classes in the media center (on Wednesdays), and our teachers also run classes.
Crier: How has your experience as a parent with a child in college prepared you for working at a high school?
Nowak: I understand the students here more. I know the progression from freshman to senior year. One of the reasons that I started Principal Advisory Board is because I want the students’ opinions, which are most important.
Small: As a parent, you go through the process. You know the load of class and courses and stress on the student. It’s useful to have children in college because I can help students at Conant so they’re successful.
Though the Conant staff is a big help to students with college applications, the best people to advise students are often their parents. All of the teachers and administration that the Crier interviewed for this piece have their own children in college and provided their personal experiences to the Crier.
Crier: Should a parent help their child during college app time?
Castans: I was more of a reviewer. My husband was a journalism business major, which helped my child with writing his essays. I do think that a child should become more independent by the time college rolls along.
Nowak: It is different for every student. For example, my child was very independent and handled everything on his own. I only helped with the FAFSA application, which a parent should do.
Crier: What are some things in college that you would or wouldn’t want your child to do?
Albamonte: My daughter wasn’t as unsure of herself like I was. I think a student should have a sound plan before entering college. I’m glad [my husband and I] made mistakes in college because it really helped my daughter not make those same mistakes. A parent can be very beneficial in those situations.
McCoy: If it’s available, study overseas. I had the opportunity to, but didn’t do it. Studying overseas will help broaden perspective. Also, be a part of clubs and take advantage of your time.
Crier: As a parent, what is your advice to Conant students about college?
Albamonte: Be realistic. Don’t apply to a college you don’t want to attend or don’t meet the requirements for. Take time to see how everything lines up.
Castans: If you have questions about the materials, approach your teacher yourself. Nobody will hold your hand in college, so it is very important for students to seek out teachers themselves.
McCoy: Visit the college and don’t be afraid apply, but always have backups. Never be disappointed if you don’t get in–[it’s] their loss.
Small: You need to have a vision of what you want to do as a career. Additionally, treat high school like a job and do the work.
While GPA and ACT scores might be important, having fun in high school and acquiring knowledge also holds precedence. Conant students are very lucky to have knowledgeable and experienced teachers and administration.
Below is a top ten list of important things to consider while in the college application process:
10. College application time is stressful for the whole family. Just because your mom and dad are quiet and calm doesn’t mean that they aren’t worried about you and your well being.
9. There is nothing wrong with asking your parents for help. They are happy to–just don’t have them write your entire essay for you.
8. Your GPA, ACT, AP, and SAT are important, but they aren’t the only things that matter.
7. Take four years of language–colleges love to see multilingual students. If you have the time, minor in a foreign language because many jobs these days require employees to know multiple languages.
6. Get involved in your college planning experience. Plan college visits and ask plenty of questions when you take a tour. Leave a strong impression on your tour guide.
5. Never do anything last minute, especially your college applications. Always prepare early.
4. Ask your teachers for help. See them in the morning, after school, or during your lunch hour. Teachers love curious students who wish to learn and improve in their class. Don’t be afraid!
3. Always be realistic. Apply to schools that fit your budget, your scores, your grades, etc. Don’t apply to a school for fun when you won’t be attending… fees for college applications add up!
2. Communicate. Talk with your parents about how you plan to attack your applications, ask your teachers for advice or help, and keep in contact with the college.
1. Be yourself. Take advantage of everything Conant has to offer. Have an enjoyable, unforgettable high school experience.