While you may be focused on the process of choosing your child’s high school, we can both personally attest to the fact that the high school years go by incredibly quickly, and before you know it, you’ll be touring college campuses and sending your child off to one of them. We want to share some thoughts on why the way that St. Francis School guides students (and their parents!) through the college selection/application process (as well as the financial aid and scholarship process) is a major advantage.
First, our overall goal in the college counseling process is to help each student find the “right-fit” college. We are not trying to win a race or push kids to certain schools because they look good on our list, though we’re certainly proud of the way that their hard work pays off in college admissions. Instead, like everything at St. Francis School, the college counseling process is very much tailored to each individual student. What are their academic passions? What other interests do they want to pursue in college? Are they interested in an urban or rural environment, and what region of the country would they prefer? Liberal arts or pre-professional? Small college or large university?
Our college acceptance list demonstrates the individualized nature of this process at St. Francis School, because every year it represents a wide array of fantastic schools. It is a list of which we are immensely proud because it reflects the diversity of our students’ interests and aspirations — from Ivy League schools to state schools to small liberal arts colleges to big public universities, and more. We are also very proud of the scholarships they earn…the Class of 2020 earned $10,309,589 in scholarships for an average of $229,102 per student!
Another major advantage for St. Francis School students is that we have a full-time College Counselor, Leslie O’Connor, who has over 20 years of experience and is dedicated to helping each student find the right college over their four years at SFS. She keeps parents and students at every grade level updated on opportunities, events, and more.
She begins the process in a gentle way with our 9th graders each year. We view 9th grade as a year needed to make the transition from middle to high school, and a time to begin contemplating the step beyond high school. Leslie meets with them to introduce the idea and encourage them to do a few things: find activities they truly love, explore what high school has to offer, challenge themselves academically (whatever is appropriate for each student), and record their activities for the resumes they will construct as part of college applications. 9th graders also take the Pre-ACT in the spring semester to begin practicing for standardized tests in a low-stress and low-stakes environment.
Leslie holds a group meeting with parents and students in 10th grade to kick off the college process, sharing a timeline and tips for getting started. She also introduces students to YouScience aptitude testing, which is a free 2.5 hour-aptitude test based on research from Vanderbilt University that students take in small chunks online. It identifies areas of strength, as well as possible career options for them, and is something they have access to for 10 years. 10th graders also take the PSAT in the fall semester and the Pre-ACT in the spring semester, meeting with Leslie after the results come in from both to discuss these results and help determine what their testing plan should be going forward.
11th graders take the PSAT again, both as practice for the SAT and for possible National Merit Scholarship qualification. Then parents and students will have another meeting with Leslie to introduce the online platform (Scoir) that we use for college planning and applications. In English classes, students do extensive work on creative nonfiction essays that can be used as their college application essays. The goal is for each student to have several finished essays by the end of junior year. (We actually got a call from a college admissions office last year, complimenting us on the quality of the essays submitted by several of our students who applied!) Students meet with Leslie one-on-one multiple times in the second semester of junior year in order to discuss standardized test plans, hone in on college interests, and discuss when visits to campuses might be possible. The final step is creating each student’s college list.
In 12th grade, it’s time to apply to college! Students continue to work with Leslie very closely, taking standardized tests again if needed, putting the final touches on their essays (with their English teachers and Leslie), making final decisions on where to apply, evaluating early action and early decision options, managing the application deadlines, and considering scholarships and financial aid (including a parent meeting for help filling out the FAFSA if needed). Throughout the fall, Leslie assists students with all aspects of college applications, including interviewing skills.
Another major benefit for St. Francis School students is the strength of the required letters of recommendation that our teachers and Leslie will write for them. Our letters are an incredible asset for St. Francis School students for two main reasons: first, our faculty write very well and they appreciate that writing these letters is an extremely important part of their jobs; and second, our faculty know our students so well that they can provide detailed, individualized illustrations that help our students really stand out from the college application “crowd.” In fact, we are often complimented by college admissions officers for how well we know and represent our students in these letters. In summary, St. Francis School families and students can breathe a sigh of relief when it comes to the college process because of the way our amazing College Counselor helps reduce the stress that comes with it. The college process at St. Francis School aligns with our overall philosophy and gives students the opportunity for self-reflection. We believe that the journey of selecting a college is an important milestone that enables each student to move towards independence. Navigating the complexities of the process with appropriate guidance is an opportunity for students to gain skills that will ultimately prepare them for success in college and life after St. Francis School.