The following page will provide students with an array of resources that will assist through the entire college search and application process. Check back often for reminders, deadlines, event updates and more.
College Counseling Announcements
Prairie subscribes to an online college planning program called SCOIR. It offers college counselors and families many tools for the search and application process, including the all-important college list that we develop with you, information about college visits to our campus, scholarship postings, and much more.
Standardized Testing & Preparation
Here are a list of resources pertaining to PSAT, ACT and SAT testing.
ACT & SAT
We strongly recommend that students take one ACT (the version with Writing) and one SAT Reasoning Test (the basic SAT) in late winter or spring of junior year. That timing works well because students will have learned more of the test content by then, and taking both tests allows students to discover if they have a clear preference for one or the other test, and to plan retesting in senior year accordingly. Some students choose to retake their preferred test only once (i.e., a total of twice for that test), while others will choose to retest twice (a total of three times for that test). We recommend that, except in unusual cases, students not take their preferred test more than three times.
Test dates and registration deadlines are available here: ACT-SAT Dates 16-17. For complete registration and testing information, practice tests, testing tips, and other helpful material, visit the testing agency websites:
Prairie sophomores and juniors are automatically registered to take the PSAT on campus in mid-October.
Sophomores take it for practice. The PSAT is written for juniors, so sophomores should view their scores in light of the fact that it tests some material they have not yet learned.
For juniors, the PSAT is important for two reasons: First, it’s a general indicator of likely performance on the SAT and, more specifically, it reveals areas of relative strength and weakness. Juniors can use that information to shore up skills in anticipation of taking the SAT later in junior year. Second, particularly high scores on the PSAT qualify a student for National Merit Commendation and Scholarship competition. The National Merit Corporation notifies students who qualify at either level through the College Counseling Office, and we work closely with those students who choose to compete for a scholarship.
SAT Subject Tests
Each year, Upper School teachers recommend that some students consider taking one or more SAT Subject Tests in the spring. These are advanced-level tests in a wide variety of specific subjects. Some of the most selective colleges require Subject Tests, sometimes in one or more specific topics. Many others will accept the ACT (with Writing) in lieu thereof. See the College Board website for a list of colleges that require subject tests, but be aware that colleges’ policies change from time to time, so be sure to confirm testing requirements on any college’s website.
Many colleges that do not require Subject Tests will nevertheless consider Subject Test scores with an application. So while it is not necessary to take SAT Subject Tests for colleges that do not outright require them, a student who is confident of scoring well (high 600s or better) should consider taking them. Less confident students should not take Subject Tests “just to see how I’ll do.” Why? Because some colleges require the whole history of either the SAT or ACT, so if a student is sending the SAT to colleges, that history will include scores from any Subject Tests, and weak Subject Test scores can disadvantage an otherwise acceptable application. Practice Subject Tests, available online and in print, are a good way to gauge mastery of the material. Students should consult with teachers and Mrs. McDonough as needed.
Various forms of test preparation are available. The simplest form is “homeschooled” test prep, namely a self-imposed regimen of practice SATs and ACTs (available online and in print). Becoming familiar with each test’s content, timing, methods, and scoring makes a more efficient tester, and that alone can boost performance.
However, it behooves all students, even strong testers, to undertake formal test preparation in the form of a test prep course or one-on-one work with a qualified test prep tutor. Weaker testers typically find formal preparation significantly improves their scores, while stronger testers competing for coveted spots at highly selective colleges benefit from any increase in scores. Test preparation options include full courses at test prep agencies, such as Sylvan Learning (Kenosha), Princeton Review and Kaplan (Milwaukee); shorter courses at Prairie (see summer programs), local high schools, and universities; online courses and real-time tutorials, such as PrepNow; and local private tutors (see the College Counseling office for referrals).
Additional Links & Information
Listed below are several college guides that we recommend for their various purposes, thoughtful analyses, and helpful formats. Bear in mind that no guide is exhaustive and all are necessarily somewhat subjective, though they work hard to offer fair and objective views. In every case, for accurate, up-to-date information on application deadlines, admission requirements, and any other important information go straight to the college’s website. Never rely on any outside guide, including all those listed here.
- Fiske Guide to Colleges 2014 (Sourcebooks, Inc.)
- The Insider’s Guide to the Colleges (St. Martin’s Griffin)
- Rugg’s Recommendations on the Colleges (Rugg’s Recommendations)
- Colleges That Change Lives (Loren Pope, Penguin Books)
- Peterson’s Guides to Colleges—multiple guides focusing on different aspects of college and different areas of interest (Peterson’s)
- College Board Handbooks—multiple handbooks focusing on different aspects of college (e.g., campuses, majors, scholarships, financial aid, international students)
College Scholarship Information
Visit College Scholarships to access the tools listed below:
- Links to 70 online scholarship search sites
- Online GPA calculator
- Links to colleges with comprehensive programs for students with learning and other disabilities
- Links to Catholic and Christian colleges by state.
- Information on online colleges, community colleges, and four-year colleges by state.
Recommended Parent Reading
This is just a sampler of books we’ve liked or that have been well reviewed by others, but other such books are out there. If you find a great book on parenting your kids as they go to and through college, please let us know so we can add it to our list!
- How to Be a High School Superstar: A Revolutionary Plan to Get Into College By Standing Out (Without Burning Out) (Cal Newport, Three Rivers Press, 2010)
- Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools that Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges (Loren Pope, Penguin Books, 2012)
- Looking Beyond the Ivy League: Finding the College that’s Right for You (Loren Pope, Penguin Books, 2007)
- Letting Go: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the College Years (Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger, 5th ed., Harper, 2009)
- Don’t Tell Me What to Do, Just Send Money: The Essential Parenting Guide to the College Years (Helen E. Johnson and Christine Schelhas-Miller, St. Martin’s, 2000)
- You’re on Your Own (But I’m Here If You Need Me): Mentoring Your Child During the College Years (Marjorie Savage, Fireside, 2009)
- I’ll Miss You Too: An Off-to-College Guide for Parents and Students (Margo E. Woodacre Bane and Steffany Bane, Sourcebooks, 2006)
- Parent’s Guide to College and Careers: How to Help, not Hover (Barbara Cooke, Jist Works, 2010)
- Parents’ Guide to College Life: 181 Straight Answers on Everything You Can Expect Over the Next Four Years (Robin Raskin, Princeton Review, 2006)
- Sending Your Child to College: The Prepared Parent’s Operational Manual (Marie Pinak Carr and her daughters, Katharine Carr, Ann Carr and Elizabeth Carr, Dicmar Publishing, 2009)
- I’m Going to College—Not You! Surviving the College Search with Your Child (Jennifer Delahunty, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2010)
On-Campus Programs & Events
Grade 12: College Meeting for Senior Parents – Required
Thursday, August 26th, 6:00-7:30PM in the Jack Mitchell Theatre
Application deadlines are rapidly approaching! Join us for a detailed overview of the
college application process.
Grades 9-12: College Financial Aid Seminar
Tuesday, September 14th, 6:00-7:30PM in the Jack Mitchell Theatre
Hear from an expert about how financial aid works and how you can prepare for college
expenses. All Upper School parents and interested students are encouraged to attend.
Grades 9-12: Mock Admissions Case Studies – Required for Grade 11 students and families
Tuesday, November 16th, 6:00-7:30PM via Zoom
You’ve heard rumors about how colleges evaluate applicants and what matters most to them. Here’s your chance to learn just how complex it really is! Go behind the scenes and review sample applications to make admissions decisions with seasoned admissions officers from leading institutions across the country. Prairie families at other grade levels are also welcome.
Grades 9-12: College Admissions Experts Panel – Required for Grade 11 families
Thursday, January 13th, 7:00-8:00PM in the Jack Mitchell Theatre
A panel of nationally prominent college admissions officers will address key topics about
choosing a college and how the selective admissions process works. Prairie families at other grade levels are also welcome.
Grade 11: College Meeting for Junior Parents – Required
Wednesday, January 22nd, 6:00-7:30PM in the SRC
Your student’s college search has begun! Join us for a detailed overview of the process. Grade 9-10 parents are also welcome.
Grades 9-10: Informational Evening for Freshman and Sophomore Parents
Wednesday, February 9th, 6:00-7:00PM in the SRC
Wondering what you and your student should be doing and when? Bring your questions, meet the college counselors, and learn more about our 4-year college counseling process.
Grades 9-11: Prairie School College Fair
Thursday, March 10th, 12:00-2:00PM in the JAC
Visit with representatives from a wide range of colleges. Explore options and opportunities,
collect information, and ask individualized questions as you begin or continue your college
search process. All Upper School students and parents are encouraged to attend.