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Inside Sonoma Valley High School’s College & Career Center

As the College and Career Center Coordinator at Sonoma Valley High School, I have the privilege of helping students launch their post-secondary plans. Every year, we guide our seniors through the application process beginning in the fall and then channel our attention on our juniors, starting in January. The college application process has changed greatly over the years - here are a few hints to help students and families of current juniors get a jumpstart on the process.

In the spring, juniors should plan on taking standardized tests. Most schools accept either the SAT or ACT. Don’t study for both exams, select the test that best suits your strengths. Keep in mind the March 2016 SAT is newly redesigned and differs from prior tests. Many college advisors recommend focusing on the ACT since the test preparation material is current, accurate and abundant. We don’t have a lot of information about the new SAT.

Many people get caught up in published college rankings like US News & World Report. These sources compile a lot of valuable information, but choosing a school simply because it’s highly-ranked but where you end up miserable is a disaster. Take some time to reflect about what you want and need in a college, and remember that your needs may be very different from your best friends’. Spend the time researching schools now, and start putting together a list of places you are interested in applying to in the fall. Naviance, our new college and career software, is a fabulous tool to help your research. You might even have time to squeeze in a college visit over spring break.

College essays require a lot of time and thought – they are really hard to write! You’re creating a portrait of yourself to share with prospective schools, so don’t waste valuable real estate listing activities. Write about something that isn’t anywhere else on your application, or takes a closer look at something you really care about. For example, let the reader know how you’re dedicated to soccer. Perhaps you rise at 5 a.m. to run before your zero period math class, you go to the library at lunch so you can get your homework started before practice at 3pm and you’re usually up until midnight finishing homework. These details demonstrate your commitment. Your goal should be to have your college essays done before school starts in August. Your life will be much less stressful in the fall if you have your essays done. Ask any senior and they will tell you they wished they started writing sooner.

Parents, rest assured, you will survive this process! Senior year is packed with activities, stress and emotions. Ask your student what you can do to support him/her through this process. Perhaps you can keep a spreadsheet with the various requirements and deadlines for each college or discuss a timeline on which you can help keep everyone on track. It’s not fun, but it is necessary.

Money! College is expensive and so is applying to college. Each application can cost up to $90. Next are housing, enrollment deposits, tuition payments; it’s incredible how fast these numbers multiply. Each college is required by law to post an estimated cost of attendance on their website. This information will help you better plan. Use the FAFSA4caster (http://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa/estimate ) to help you estimate your financial aid package. Do your homework to try to keep surprises to a minimum.

Finally, please know there is a lot of support in our community to guide our families through this entire process. The SVHS College and Career Center (CCC) is a drop- in center open every day during school hours. We are the only full-time CCC at a public school in Sonoma County and we employ a part-time CCC specialist (Mary Klenow) and a full-time work based earning coordinator (Wendy Swanson). Throughout the school year we offer college nights, college workshops and loads of college-related resources advertised in our daily bulletin. In addition, we have outstanding community partners helping our students.

The Boys and Girls Club and 10,000 Degrees offer workshops open to ALL SVHS students. Please feel free to reach out to any one of us so we can offer assistance. Make sure to stop by the CCC with any questions and to see where all our current seniors are being accepted to college. We look forward to working with you.

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Lisa Conner is the director of Sonoma Valley High School’s College & Career Center, and the parent of two SVHS graduates.

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