The College Process

Seniors

Senior Letter 2016

Finalizing Your College List

  • Short List:  Narrow your choices to the colleges where you intend to apply (early fall).  Your list should include two “safety” schools and, beyond that, any combination of “safety” to “reach” colleges where you feel a strong sense of fit.  Confirm with your college counselor that your list is solid in all respects.
  • Campus Visits:  Visit or revisit college campuses wherever possible, meet with college representatives at Prairie, attend local college fairs, and/or ask colleges if they have alumni/ae or student ambassadors in our area who are available for informational conversations.  All of these options will demonstrate your interest and help you clarify your sense of fit at various colleges.  Link to Naviance website.

Organizing Application Details

  • Getting Started:  Establish an organizational system that works for you, whether it’s a spreadsheet, binder, wall chart, or some other system to keep lots of details clear and organized.
  • Application Plans:  Note each college’s options for Rolling (including any priority deadline), Regular Decision, Early Notification, Early Evaluation, Early Action, or Early Decision.  At colleges that give you a choice, decide which plan you’ll use.  If you’re considering Early Decision (a binding contract), consult with your college counselor.
  • Deadlines:  Note each college’s deadline, including whether your application must be uploaded/postmarked or received by that deadline.  Almost all are upload/postmark these days, but do not assume it; a small number of colleges still use paper applications.  If the college’s website doesn’t make their deadline requirements clear, call them to ask.
  • Teacher Recommendations:  Most students need 2 Teacher Recommendations from junior- or senior-year teachers in core academic subjects.  Ask your chosen teachers as early as possible in the fall.  If you obtained one or two teachers’ consent in spring of junior year, confirm again with them.  Students applying to art schools may substitute an art teacher’s recommendation for one academic recommendation.
  • Optional Supplementary Recommendation:  Students who have a particularly strong relationship or record in a sport, visual or performing art, job, or other non-academic activity may want to obtain a third, supplementary recommendation from that coach, director, employer, or other supervisor.  This is appropriate only if that adult can provide significant additional insight into your skills and character in ways that your college counselor and teachers cannot.  If you think this may apply to you, please see your college counselor about the advisability of the supplementary recommendation you’re considering, and so we can consult with non-Prairie recommenders before they write their letters.
  • Financial Aid Applications:  Carefully note financial aid information and deadlines at each of your colleges.  We recommend you also complete the Net Price Calculator (NPC) on each college’s web site and then talk with the respective Financial Aid offices by phone or in person to confirm that you did the NPC correctly and that it’s a reasonably accurate predictor of your cost.  This is especially important at a college where you’re considering an Early Decision (binding) application.  In any case, bear in mind that an NPC does not guarantee cost and cannot account for merit aid the college might ultimately award you.  Also look for scholarship opportunities on your colleges’ websites and then take the initiative to ask the Admissions or Financial Aid offices if other (unpublished) scholarship opportunities are available.

Preparing Applications

  • Deadline Verifications:  For each college, take a screenshot of their website page showing your application deadline.  You must attach this page to the “College Application Details” form you submit to Mrs. Uebe.
  • Forms:  Download all required Student forms, Teacher forms, Counselor forms (aka. Secondary School Report), Financial Aid forms, etc., as needed.  You do NOT need to download Common App Teacher and Counselor forms; we will access the Common App forms ourselves.  It can be helpful to draft and revise a “practice copy” of each application before you complete the real thing.
  • Essays:  In the summer after current applications are posted (usually August), read all your colleges’ essay and short-answer prompts so you have time to think about various topics and approaches.  Draft essays and responses, seek feedback from your college counselor, and revise as needed.  Your essays and short answers are extremely important!  Many colleges rely heavily on them for important indications of your interests, personality, and critical thinking and writing skills.
  • Résumé:  Mock up a list of your extracurricular, service, and work activities in grades 9-12.  Include only those that are of some import (not the one time you served at a food bank, for instance), categorize them by nature of activity, and note for each the most salient details, including special achievements or awards, positions held, leadership roles, and number of hours per week and weeks per year you invested.  College applications will include a section for extracurricular information, and it helps to have clear, succinct verbiage ready to use.  Many applications also ask you to list your activities in order of their significance to you, and it’s important that you comply with that instruction.  The Common Application and UW-Madison’s application are good examples of this.
  • “College Application Details” Forms:  At least 4 weeks before your college deadlines, give Mrs. Uebe a “College Application Details” form for each college (available in the College Counseling office).  We must receive these forms before your teachers can send their recommendations.  Do not compromise the 4-week lead time because the item immediately below depends upon it.  We will fully explain our forms and folder system in the first week of school.  Note:  You do NOT need to have completed your part of applications before giving us these forms.  You may continue to work on your applications while we’re working on our part.
  • “Teacher Recommendation Details” Forms:  At least 4 weeks before your earliest college deadline (right after you give Mrs. Uebe your “College Application Details” form), give your recommending teachers a “Teacher Recommendation Details” folder (available in the College Counseling office).  Again, do not compromise the 4-week lead time.  Your teachers are busy, and good recommendations take time to write.  Giving them your forms on time will help them help you.
  • Proofread:  Complete your part of applications in plenty of time for you and your parents to proofread every inch of them.  And proofread aloud!  You’ll catch many more errors when you’re speaking than when you’re reading silently.  Make corrections as needed and proofread again.  If you want additional proofing “insurance,” we are happy to proofread your applications as well.
  • Financial Aid Applications:  If you’re applying for financial aid, work with your parents to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after it’s posted on October 1 (available at www.fafsa.ed.gov).  Some colleges also require the CSS PROFILE (available at collegeboard.org) and/or their own financial aid application form.  Often the PROFILE and college-specific financial aid form deadlines do not coincide with the FAFSA timing, so carefully note each college’s full list of financial aid requirements and deadlines.

Communicating with Colleges

  • Getting Information:  Always do your homework first!  Thoroughly read the college’s website and seek answers to your questions there first.  When you really can’t find what you need, email or call the appropriate admissions officer.
  • Demonstrating Interest:  At a few appropriate points in the application and decision process, email or call the appropriate admissions officer to express your interest and enthusiasm.  Authentic demonstrations of interest can be important!  Do not rely on your “silent” application to do all the talking.  If you email, be sure to proofread your message, check your grammar and spelling (no texting shorthand!), and consider the tone of your message from your reader’s point of view.  Let your personality shine through, but remember that all your communications tell them something about you, so show them you’re not only enthusiastic, but also respectful, responsible, and articulate.
  • Grade Reports:  We automatically send colleges your official transcript (including your current-year courses), as well as your first-semester grades, which serve as the Midyear Report colleges require.

Family Programs

  • Attend our family programs:
    • College Meeting for Senior Parents (late August)
    • College Financial Aid Seminar (mid-September)
    • Mock Admissions Case Studies (mid-October) or College Admission Experts Panel (late January) – alternating years
    • Prairie College Fair (mid-March)

Standardized Testing

  • SAT and ACT:  Take or retake the SAT and/or ACT with Writing in the fall (usually Sept. and Oct.).  Bear in mind that colleges need your scores by their application deadline, and the testing agencies may take 2-3 weeks to report scores.  Do the math and schedule your testing accordingly.
  • SAT Subject Tests:   Only some of the most selective colleges in the country require SAT Subject Tests, while many other comparably selective colleges will accept the ACT with Writing in lieu thereof.  If your colleges require one or more Subject Tests, be sure to take them in time for scores to be reported to those colleges.  Consult with your college counselor as needed.  Colleges that do not require Subject Tests will nevertheless consider Subject Test scores with your application.  So while it is not necessary to take SAT Subject Tests for colleges that merely “recommend” or do not even mention them, if you are confident you will score extremely well, consider taking them.  If you’re less confident, bear in mind that some colleges will require you to send your whole SAT history, including any Subject Tests, and poor Subject Test scores could disadvantage you.  I.e., don’t take them imprudently.  Practice Subject Tests, available online and in print, are a good way to gauge your mastery of the material.
  • AP Exams:  If you took AP Exams, choose which, if any, scores you wish to send to each college.  We recommend you send scores of 4 and 5 in every case, but scores of 3 in only some cases (consult with your college counselor).  Order AP score reports as needed from College Board, allowing them sufficient time to report before your college deadlines.

Choosing and Enrolling in a College

  • Final Visits:  After you’ve received admission decisions and financial aid packages, consider visiting or revisiting your final choices.  If you can, make an overnight visit at one or more of your final choices for an even better comparison.
  • May 1 Enrollment Deadline:  You MUST make a non-refundable enrollment deposit at the college of your choice no later than May 1.  This is a “received by” deadline, not a postmark deadline:  your money in their hands on May 1.  Be safe; send it electronically before May 1 and call to confirm that they received it.  Late enrollment deposits will usually relegate you to the end of the queue for a place in the freshman class.  Do NOT make a May 1 enrollment deposit at more than one college.  It is highly unethical to do so.
  • Courtesy Notification:  After you officially enroll at the college of your choice, email the other colleges that admitted you to say you will not be enrolling there and, if you wish, tell them what college you are attending.  Taking yourself off their list helps to clarify their enrollment picture; it’s a simple and important courtesy.

Your High School Story

  • Strong Academic Finish:  Continue to work hard and participate actively in classes.  Senior-year grades matter!  Colleges will see your fall-term grades as they make admissions decisions, and the college where you enroll will see your year-end grades.  They will expect your best all the way to the end.  Plus, strong year-end grades can help if you’re hoping for an offer from a college that wait listed you.
  • Strong Extracurricular Finish:  Continue to pursue and develop depth in extracurricular interests.
  • Meaningful Interim:  Plan a substantive interim experience commensurate with your major and career interests.

Juniors

Junior Parent Letter 2016-17

College Counseling Classes and Conferences

  • Absorb all you can in our 8-part junior course on the college search and application process (completed in English class hours, January to May).
  • Meet with your College Counselor individually and then again with your parents to share information and develop a college list (appts. scheduled January to May).  Contact Mrs. Uebe for individual and family meeting appointments.
  • Update your college résumé.  Mock up a list of your extracurricular, service, and work activities since grade 9.  Include only those that are of some import (not the one time you served at a food bank, for instance), categorize them by nature of activity, and note for each the most salient details, including special achievements or awards, positions held, leadership roles, and number of hours per week and weeks per year you invested.
  • Complete our College Application Survey—we’ll get you started (spring).
  • Consider your junior-year and senior-year academic teachers for possible letters of recommendation.  If you’re certain of one or two junior-year teachers you want to ask, do so in the spring so they can write your letter during the summer if they wish.  Otherwise, consider your choices over the summer and plan to ask teachers first thing in the fall of your senior year.
  • Draft possible college essays during the summer—we’ll get you started in our spring class and summer workshops.

Researching Colleges

  • Attend several college visits at Prairie (fall).  Link to Naviance website.
  • Research colleges via their websites.  After we meet with you and your parents, we’ll build a list of suggested colleges.  Link to Naviance website.
  • Consider attending a college fair (fall).
  • Contact colleges by internet, email, or phone to schedule campus visits, ask questions, etc., as needed.
  • Visit several college campuses, including “safety” and “reach” schools.  It’s best to go while colleges are in session, but summer’s good enough if that’s your only option.  We’ll prepare you in class on how to make an official campus visit.  Where required or possible, schedule an interview unless you plan to revisit the campus in fall of senior year and can interview then.  Requesting an interview demonstrates your interest and enthusiasm, and a good interview can strengthen your admissions profile.  If you’re visiting campuses before our class on campus visits and interviews, see your College Counselor for a quick primer.
  • Research financial aid options in general and at colleges of interest.  Click here to open our page on Financial Aid.

Family Programs

  • Remind your parents about our family programs:
    • College Financial Aid Seminar (mid-September)
    • College Meeting for Junior Parents (early January)
    • Mock Admissions Case Studies (mid-October) or College Admission Experts Panel (late January) – alternating years
    • Prairie College Fair (mid-March)

Standardized Testing

  • Take the PSAT—we automatically register you to take it at Prairie (October).  The results are not used in college admissions, but they’re important for several college-related reasons, one of which is possible National Merit and related scholarship qualification.
  • Register for at least one SAT and one ACT (with Writing) in the late winter or spring.  We recommend you take the tests late in junior year because you will have learned more of the test content by then.  We also recommend you take both tests because some students score notably better on one or the other, and that’s useful information when you’re deciding which one to retake in senior year.
  • If recommended by Prairie faculty or required by your colleges of interest, take one or more SAT Subject Tests.  Consult with your College Counselor as needed.  Note that only some of the most selective colleges in the country require SAT Subject Tests, while many other comparably selective colleges will accept the ACT with Writing in lieu thereof.  Colleges that do not require Subject Tests will nevertheless consider Subject Test scores with your application.  So while it is not necessary to take SAT Subject Tests for colleges that merely “recommend” or do not even mention them, if you are confident you will score extremely well, consider taking them.  If you’re less confident, bear in mind that some colleges will require you to send your whole test history, so if you’re sending SAT scores (instead of ACT), that report will include any Subject Tests you’ve taken.  In that circumstance, poor Subject Test scores could disadvantage you.  I.e., don’t take them imprudently.  Practice Subject Tests, available online and in print, are a good way to gauge your mastery of the material.

Your High School Story

  • Consult with your academic advisor and teachers to ensure an appropriately challenging senior-year course plan (February).  Consult with your College Counselor as needed.
  • Continue to work hard and participate actively in classes.  Junior-year grades are particularly important in college admissions and merit-aid decisions.
  • Continue to pursue and develop depth in extracurricular interests.
  • Continue to read extensively.
  • Plan a meaningful interim experience commensurate with your career interests, and get all you can out of it by giving all you can to it.
  • Plan to make productive use of summer through camps, courses, special programs, work, volunteer service, worthwhile reading, etc.

Sophomores

Freshman-Sophomore Parent Letter 2016

Easing into the College Search

  • Attend three or four college visits at Prairie (fall).  Link to Naviance website.
  • Attend one or more national college fairs in the Milwaukee-Chicago area (fall).
  • Make a few official visits to college campuses for a tour and information session.  Visiting a few colleges in sophomore year can clarify your understanding of college expectations and help you order high school priorities accordingly as you approach junior year.  Consider visiting a mixture of large and small schools to begin comparing the advantages of each type.  Before you schedule campus visits, see your College Counselor for a quick primer on how to set up and make the most of them.
  • Update your college résumé.  Mock up a list of your extracurricular, service, and work activities since grade 9.  Include only those that are of some import (not the one time you served at a food bank, for instance), categorize them by nature of activity, and note for each the most salient details, including special achievements or awards, positions held, leadership roles, and number of hours per week and weeks per year you invested.
  • Complete personality type and career interest inventories, even if you did so in grade 8 or 9.  Things change, including you!

Family Programs

  • Remind your parents about some of our family programs:
    • College Financial Aid Seminar (mid-September)
    • Mock Admissions Case Studies (mid-October) or College Admission Experts Panel (late January) – alternating years
    • Informational Evening for Freshman and Sophomore Parents (mid-February)
    • Prairie College Fair (mid-March)

Standardized Testing

  • Take the PSAT for practice—we automatically register you to take it at Prairie (October).
  • If recommended by Prairie faculty, take one or more SAT Subject Tests (late spring); consult your College Counselor.

Your High School Story

  • Consult with your advisor and teachers to ensure an appropriately challenging four-year course plan (February).  Consult your College Counselor as needed.
  • Continue to work hard and participate actively in classes.
  • Continue to pursue and develop depth in extracurricular interests.
  • Continue to read extensively.
  • Plan to make productive use of summer through camps, courses, special programs, work, volunteer service, worthwhile reading, etc.

Freshmen

Freshman-Sophomore Parent Letter 2016

  • Become familiar with Naviance—we’ll introduce you (early fall).
  • Create a working college résumé.  Mock up a list of your extracurricular, service, and work activities, beginning in grade 9 (you’ll update it every year of high school).  Include only those activities of some import (not the one time you served at a food bank, for instance), categorize them by nature of activity, and note for each the most salient details, including special achievements or awards, positions held, leadership roles, and number of hours per week and weeks per year you invested.
  • Complete personality type and career interest inventories—we’ll introduce you (early fall).
  • Remind your parents about some of our family programs:
    • College Financial Aid Seminar (mid-September)
    • Mock Admissions Case Studies (mid-October) or College Admission Experts Panel (late January) – alternating years
    • Informational Evening for Freshman and Sophomore Parents (mid-February)
    • Prairie College Fair (mid-March)
  • Consult with your advisor and teachers to sketch out appropriately challenging four-year course plan options (February).  Investigate various college websites to learn more about the high school course programs that colleges typically require and desire.  Selective colleges like to see that you have challenged yourself commensurate with your abilities.
  • Work hard and participate actively in classes.  Your GPA is cumulative!
  • Pursue continuing extracurricular interests and explore new activities with an eye to developing depth in areas of strong interest.
  • Read good writing—fiction or nonfiction—as much as possible.  Active readers have a stronger vocabulary and are better writers, and the best way to prepare for the SAT and ACT is to learn well in school and read extensively.
  • Plan to make productive use of summer through camps, courses, special programs, work, volunteer service, worthwhile reading, etc.