The College Counseling Office provides a full range of support for students and their parents in the college search, application, and transition process. Our goal is to facilitate a “best fit” college selection while maintaining the focus on the needs of the student and family as they weigh their options and make this important decision. Saint Stephen’s students attend a wide range of colleges throughout the country and abroad. Most of our graduates are offered merit scholarships.
The following overview is meant to provide a brief introduction to college counseling activities. In addition to the student activities listed below, there are multiple opportunities for parents and families to engage in topical discussion through Parent Nights, Coffee & Conversation sessions and invited speakers.
The freshman year is a time of transition. It is a time to build on foundational knowledge and begin to think and write more critically and independently. It is also a time to try new things by joining clubs and participating in sports and community service.
Colleges will look at the ninth grade record in a special way. They will want to know if the student got off to a strong start. Students begin to fulfill Saint Stephen’s rigorous graduation requirements, courses that almost always exceed the standards set by other schools. In the fall, college counseling provides Advisory activities to help students with the transition to high school. In the spring, the college counselors meet with freshmen in small groups for career exploration sessions and an introduction to Naviance Family Connection, our web based college counseling information and communication tool.
With the assistance of their advisors, sophomores continue with their four year academic and co-curricular plan. Students should continue extracurricular activities and make a plan to deepen their commitments and rise to leadership where possible. College counselors again meet with students in small groups in the spring to broaden their exposure to college options, explore possible college majors and careers related to their interests and skills. More specific Naviance tools are also introduced.
In October, sophomores take the PSAT for the first time. This is a pre-test that exposes students to the content and style of the SAT: Reasoning Test. The results help to predict where a student might need additional practice for future tests and are used as an aid in determining course selection. The PSAT score reports are available by early January and each family is encouraged to schedule an appointment with a college counselor to review the results. The College Board has partnered with Khan Academy for free, online SAT practice specifically targeted to the student’s results and we strongly encourage use of this program as students prepare for further testing.
At the end of tenth grade, students will be ready to select courses for junior year. It is at this point that students will have more flexibility in their choice of courses. The college counseling office works with the Academic Dean to advise students on appropriate courses leading to specific college majors and level of admissions selectivity. During IQ week, sophomores are eligible to participate in the college counseling sponsored college tour trip to a different region of the country each year. In the summer months, many students choose to participate in summer programs related to their interests or pre-college academic programs hosted on college campuses.
The college counseling program intensifies in the junior year as students begin to explore specific schools and majors. On Opening Day juniors meet with the college counselors for an overview of the junior year and more specific Naviance tools to assist with building their college list. Juniors are expected to meet with college admissions representatives visiting campus throughout the fall. This is a great opportunity to speak directly with the professionals who review applications and can help build relationships that are beneficial during the application phase. Juniors will also attend the Bay Area Independent Schools College Fair where students have the chance to meet with admissions officers from more than 200 colleges and universities from around the country.
In mid-October, juniors take the PSAT/NMSQT for the second time. The results of this round of testing are used to further identify areas in need of review and are also the qualifying results for the National Merit Scholarship Program. Juniors take their first round of the ACT and SAT tests in the spring with some students sitting for the SAT Subject Tests in May or June. Test prep classes are offered in the fall and spring. Although not everyone requires structured test preparation, all students are wise to take time ahead of the exams to practice sample questions.
A series of College Counseling seminars held beginning in November, provide exercises in self assessment, college search criteria, terminology, resume writing, securing recommendations and admissions interviewing. These seminars are followed by individual and family appointments throughout the winter and spring months.
In January, the college counseling office jointly sponsors the Tampa Bay Case Studies program with other area independent schools, which is a unique opportunity for juniors and families to get a behind the scenes peek at how admission decisions are made and to attend a college fair. During IQ Week, the College Counseling office offers college tours designed and organized to help students learn how to make the most of their college visits. In conjunction with advisors, and the Academic Dean, counselors make recommendations for a senior schedule based on grades, teacher comments, testing history, and post-secondary goals. An essay writing class is offered by faculty in June and again in early August in partnership with the College Counseling CAmplication, which provides students with an opportunity to get a jump start on their Common Application.
By the time senior year begins, Saint Stephen’s students have done most of their college planning and research. They are taking their most challenging courses and reaching the peak of involvement and leadership in their chosen activities. For those who do not attend CAmplication, counselors provide an Opening Day Senior Seminar to help jumpstart the application process.
During the first weeks of school the college counselors meet with students individually and in small groups to discuss the logistics and practicalities of the college application process: reviewing each part of every application before submission, essays and supplementals, obtaining and filling out forms, sending test scores and transcripts, obtaining teacher letters of recommendation, and working with deadlines. Seniors are expected to schedule weekly meetings during their study hall and families are welcome to schedule appointments as needed. College counselors take responsibility for supporting each student’s college applications by writing the counselor recommendation, completing the secondary school report, gathering the teacher letters of recommendation and school transcripts. These packages, together with an Upper School Profile, are then sent to the universities.
In the spring of Senior year, students are receiving admissions decisions and financial aid packages. Counselors assist students with review of their admissions packages and their final matriculation decision. In April, celebrations and long standing Saint Stephen’s traditions abound, from the Senior Walk to the College Pennant Celebration. As students graduate and begin the next phase of their journey, the college counseling office provides transition support for students and submits final transcripts and Florida Bright Futures data.