NCS College Guidance Office
Main number: (202) 537-6687
Fax number: (202) 537-5594
NCS School Code: 090135
©2011 National Cathedral School
The National Cathedral School College Guidance Handbook is edited once per year by the members of the
College Guidance Office. This document is the written expression of the counseling that we provide to
students and families during their time in the Upper School. Thank you for taking the time to read it—enjoy!
Mission Statement
A college where each student will thrive: that is the goal of the NCS College Guidance Office. We foster and
guide students throughout the process, encouraging students to build on their strengths. Our approach is
student-centered and collaborative; we work with students and their families to maximize choices that best
suit students’ interests and aspirations. We believe it is especially important for young women to engage in
the college selection process and to know that college choice is a result of their efforts. We believe this
engagement will enhance each student’s healthy independence, confidence, and leadership.
What is Expected of Students
 Students will approach the college search with an open mind.
 Students will use the NCS College Guidance Handbook as a tool and resource.
 Students will participate in the application process mindful of the NCS Honor Code.
 Students will be honest with their counselors, their parents, and themselves as regards expectations
and goals; students will engage in authentic self-reflection and will take pride in and responsibility for
their talents and achievements.
 Students will check their NCS e-mail and respond to requests from teachers, counselors, and colleges
in a timely and appropriate manner. Students will read the College Guidance newsletters. Students
will arrive on time to meetings with their counselor, will complete NCS forms as requested, and will
meet NCS deadlines in a timely manner.
 Students acknowledge that they are responsible for researching and meeting requirements established
by colleges and scholarship programs.
 Students will ask for help and advice when they need it.
 Students will keep their parents informed about their college search and application process.
 Students will keep counselors informed when they submit applications and receive decisions.
What is Expected of Parents
 Parents will provide support and encouragement throughout their daughters’ college search and
application process.
 Parents will be honest with their daughters as regards their goals and expectations, particularly as
regards family finances.
What is Expected of Counselors
 Counselors will provide support and encouragement to students and their families throughout the
college search and application process.
 Counselors will recommend all students to the colleges of the students’ choosing with pride and
 Counselors will maintain relationships with college admissions offices in a continual effort to learn
more about the institutions and their needs, and to explore how best to recommend and prepare NCS
students for matriculation to college.
 Counselors will be as transparent as possible. Counselors will maintain the anonymity of individual
students when providing data-driven advice to predict college acceptances.
 Counselors will maintain appropriate confidentiality.
 Counselors will file required documents on time. Counselors will respond to student and parent email messages and phone messages in a timely manner.
 Counselors will abide by the guidelines set forth in the National Association of College Admissions
Counselors’ statement of principles of good practice.
NCS College Guidance Schedule
College Planning Calendar
College Fairs
Standardized Test Dates
AP Examination Test Dates
Thinking about Fit
Six Search Criteria
Resources & References
Narrowing Down the List
Visiting College Campuses
College Representatives at NCS
Planned Absence Form
Campus Visit Checklist
Interview Basics
Interview Preparation
Sample Interview Questions
SAT Subject Tests
The SAT vs. The ACT
Advanced Placement (AP)
Standardized Test Score Reporting
Accommodations for Students with Educational Plans
Test “Flexible” Colleges
Types of Admissions Programs
Types of Applications
Evaluating Applications at Competitive Colleges
The Parts of an Applicant’s File
Sample NCS Transcript
Reporting Disciplinary Infractions and Honor Board Cases
How to Complete an Application: TOP TIPS
Sample Resume
Athletic Recruitment
The Arts
Purpose of the College Essay
How to Approach the College Essay
Sample Essay Questions
General Information
Definitions, Sources of Financial Aid, Resources
Scholarships at Colleges
General Scholarships
Public Colleges
Why Take a Gap Year?
Organizing a Gap Year
Reflections of an NCS Alumna
The following is an abbreviated, chronological overview of the college guidance process at NCS. Details will
follow in subsequent chapters.
First Timers Workshop
All Upper School family members (and parent(s)/guardian(s), in particular) who self-identify as new to the
college process are invited to attend an evening event hosted by the College Guidance Office.
Finding Money for College
Members of the College Guidance Office and a college financial aid expert provide an overview of the financial
aid process, explain the different kinds of aid available, and the process for applying for aid. The workshop is
held on an evening in the fall and is open to families from all grade levels.
Athletic Recruitment Workshop
Students and parent(s)/guardian(s) meet with the College Guidance Office and Athletic Department for a
discussion of the athletic recruitment process.
Class Meetings
The College Guidance Office will host a class meeting about once per quarter to share relevant college search
and application tips with sophomores.
All sophomores take the PSAT at NCS on a nationally-determined, set date in mid-October.
First Timers Workshop
All Upper School family members (and parent(s)/guardian(s), in particular) who self-identify as new to the
college process are invited to attend an evening event hosted by the College Guidance Office.
Finding Money for College
Members of the College Guidance Office and a college financial aid expert provide an overview of the financial
aid process, explain the different kinds of aid available, and the process for applying for aid. The workshop is
held on an evening in the fall and is open to families from all grade levels.
Morning Meeting
In early winter parent(s)/guardian(s) meet with members of the College Guidance Office for an overview of the
PSAT and a discussion of how the NCS College Guidance Team prepares students for the search and
application process.
Athletic Recruitment Workshop
Students and parent(s)/guardian(s) meet with the College Guidance Office and Athletic Department for a
discussion of the athletic recruitment process.
Course Selection Coffee
In March, members of the College Guidance Office and Class Deans attend a morning event for
parents/guardians of rising juniors. The event is hosted by the Upper School Office. The focus of the meeting is
a conversation regarding course selection for the final two years of Upper School.
Handbook Distribution
The College Handbook is distributed to sophomores at a class meeting in early June.
Junior Year Outlook
Parent(s)/guardian(s) meet with members of the College Guidance Office for an overview of the college process.
The event takes place on an evening in late September.
Fall Class Meetings and Mini-Fairs
Juniors attend a series of 8th period group events, as offered by the College Guidance Team.
All sophomores take the PSAT at NCS on a nationally-determined, set date in mid-October.
Practice ACT
All juniors are invited to take a practice ACT during an in-school service day in the fall.
Career Day
Each spring, the Advancement Office sponsors this on-campus program that offers juniors and seniors the
opportunity to learn more about different careers from NCS alumnae in various fields.
Athletic Recruitment
Students and parent(s)/guardian(s) meet with the College Guidance Office and Athletic Department for a
discussion of the athletic recruitment process.
Finding Money for College
Members of the College Guidance Office and a college financial aid expert provide an overview of the financial
aid process, explain the different kinds of aid available, and the process for applying for aid. The workshop is
held on an evening in late fall and is open to families from all grade levels.
Junior College Night, Part I
Held on an evening in January, this program for juniors and their parent(s)/guardian(s) features a panel of
experts, including university representatives. They describe the application process and answer questions.
College Conferences
In early winter, after each junior has submitted her Junior Questionnaire, she is scheduled for an individual
conference with her designated counselor/s during one of her free periods. Together they discuss the student’s
timeline for standardized tests, her GPA, and her senior course schedule, as well as her general interests and
priorities. This initial meeting is followed by a family conference, which also takes place during a student’s free
period. The family conference offers an opportunity to discuss an initial list of possible colleges. Families
planning to visit colleges during spring break should schedule this conference before the vacation. Students meet
with their designated counselor for a quick, final check-in meeting in late May.
SAT Reasoning Test or ACT
During the winter and spring, juniors take one of the two standardized tests that are required at most colleges
and universities: the SAT Reasoning Test or the ACT. Students register for the test on their own and take it at
local high schools (NCS is not a test center). Juniors should take the SAT or the ACT once during the spring.
Junior College Night, Part II
Held in the spring, this program for juniors and their parent(s)/guardian(s) features a panel of seniors who offer
advice from their own experiences with the college selection process.
Independent School College Fair
On an evening in April, area independent schools host more than 100 selective colleges at the Independent
School College Fair at a local university. Juniors and their parent(s)/guardian(s) are expected to attend.
Teacher Recommendations
During the fourth quarter juniors ask their teachers to write recommendations on their behalf. Once these
requests are finalized, students submit the Teacher Recommendation Form to the College Guidance Office.
Since many teachers prefer to write recommendations during the summer, juniors provide recommenders with a
Brag Sheet (and any other supporting information the teachers request) before summer break commences.
Student Assessment and Parent/Guardian Brag Sheet
Written assessments are required from each junior and requested of her parent(s)/guardian(s) before the end of
the academic year. These assessments are due to the College Guidance Office in mid-spring.
AP Examinations
During two weeks in May at NCS, AP exams are administered in more than a dozen subject areas according to a
strict schedule set by the College Board. Exams are offered twice a day (morning and afternoon). Students sign
up for AP exams at school before spring break. The cost is billed to their NCS student account.
SAT Subject Tests
SAT Subject Tests are offered six times per year. NCS juniors should take at least two, and possibly three, SAT
Subject Tests in May and June of their junior year. Students must register and pay for these exams on their own.
College Camp
During the week preceding Flag Day, juniors attend a one-day workshop at NCS presented by the College
Guidance Office and the Health & Wellness Team. Students engage in reflection and goal-setting exercises, they
start the Common Application, and they practice interview and essay-writing techniques.
Essay Writing Workshop
During the summer, rising seniors may attend optional essay writing workshops at NCS, as presented by the
College Guidance Office.
Senior Kick-Off
In September, parent(s)/guardian(s) of seniors may attend an optional evening meeting outlining the senior year
college selection process.
Senior Seminar
During the first semester, seniors meet one period a week with the members of the College Guidance Office.
These classes are required. The seminar offers an opportunity to discuss the college selection and application
process, and the transition to college life. When the schedule permits, visitors such NCS alumnae currently in
college make presentations.
Career Day
Each spring, the Advancement Office sponsors this on-campus program that offers juniors and seniors the
opportunity to learn more about different careers from NCS alumnae in various fields.
College Conferences & Mini-Fairs
In September, after each senior submits her draft of the Common App to her designated counselor, each family
attends a second conference. This meeting takes place during one of the senior’s free periods. Early applicants,
who adhere to November deadlines, should meet by mid-October. All families must complete their second
family conference confirming a final college list by Thanksgiving.
College Admission Officers’ Visits to NCS
Every fall, approximately 100 college admission officers visit NCS and meet with seniors, who have the
opportunity to ask questions, discuss their concerns, and share their ideas with the college admissions officers in
charge of their applications. Students sign up for the meetings online using Naviance/Family Connection.
Retaking the Standardized Tests
Students may choose to retake standardized tests in the fall of senior year. The SAT, the ACT, and the SAT
Subject Tests are offered several times during the fall semester; students should plan retakes around application
deadlines, some of which occur in the fall.
Finding Money for College
Members of the College Guidance Office and a college financial aid expert provide an overview of the financial
aid process, explain the different kinds of aid available, and the process for applying for aid. The workshop is
held on an evening in late fall and is open to families from all grade levels.
Student Requests for School Materials
College applications require input from school representatives; most colleges require a secondary school
transcript, a school letter of recommendation, a school profile, and teacher letters of recommendation. When
possible, NCS submits documents digitally. Requests for school documents and letters are coordinated through
Naviance. It is the student’s responsibility to arrange for testing agencies (College Board, ACT) to send
standardized test results directly to colleges.
AP Examinations
During two weeks in May at NCS, AP exams are administered in more than a dozen subject areas according to a
strict schedule set by the College Board. Exams are offered twice a day (morning and afternoon). Students sign
up for AP exams at school before spring break. The cost of the exams is billed to their NCS student account.
Follow-Up Conferences
Students must inform their designated college counselor of all decisions and maintain close communication with
the College Guidance Office after completing and submitting applications. Students may schedule additional
meetings to discuss results, especially in the case of a wait list.
Enjoy life in the Upper School!
 Start to assess your priorities and aspirations. What
subjects do you most enjoy? What careers are you
Except in very rare circumstances, students
intrigued by?
should not take any standardized tests.
 Attend optional workshop at NCS, including First Timers,
Finding Money for College, Athletic Recruitment
Take PSAT. Remember, it’s for practice!
 Participate in quarterly class meetings to learn timely
college search and application tips.
When choosing classes for fall semester of
junior year, take the entire next two years  Attend optional workshop at NCS, including First Timers,
into account.
Finding Money for College, Athletic Recruitment
Take SAT Subject Tests, if appropriate (the
vast majority of sophomores should wait  Parents/guardians: Attend morning meeting for to discuss
until next year to take a SAT Subject Test.)
PSAT and to learn how to use its results as a diagnostic
 Begin to self-educate. Buy or borrow a College Guide
 Visit colleges when convenient, not to make a decision,
but to learn.
 Read the College Handbook during the summer before
junior year!
Take PSAT and practice ACT.
 Attend 8th period events in the fall, including class
meetings and mini-fairs at St Albans.
Take SAT Subject Tests in November if
appropriate; Language Tests with Listening  Start exploring and using Naviance as a web-based
Subject Tests are only offered once a year,
research tool.
in November.
 Parents/guardians: attend Junior Year Outlook at NCS in
the fall.
 Attend local college fairs and information sessions.
 Visit colleges when convenient.
 Attend Athletic Recruiting Workshop.
 Attend NCS Career Day and explore options.
Formalize a test plan. Prepare for either the  Submit Junior Questionnaire via Naviance.
ACT or the SAT. Register for the SAT in  Attend Junior College Night Part I in January.
January or March, and for register for the  Attend one-on-one conference with designated college
ACT in February, April, or June.
counselor/s in February.
Register for SAT Subject Tests in May  Schedule and attend family conference with designated
and/or June
college counselor in March or April.
Coordinate testing schedule with coursework  Review college guides, make a primary list of colleges,
and AP schedule.
and plan itinerary for spring break and summer college
Register for the AP exams.
 Research and apply for scholarships.
 Make plans for the summer.
Take AP exams in May at NCS.
 Submit Junior Assessment Attend Junior College Night
Part II in the spring.
Take SAT Subject Tests in May and/or June.
Consider courses required for college study,  Attend WAIS College Fair in April.
and select rigorous program for senior year.
 Attend local college information sessions.
 Ask teachers to write recommendations. Provide teachers
with Brag Sheet and other appropriate information to help
in writing the letter.
 Parents/Guardian: submit Parent/Guardian Brag Sheet.
 Final check-in meeting with your designated college
counselor before the start of summer.
September to
November to
Review results of standardized tests and  Attend College Camp at NCS in early June.
register and prepare for fall retakes of  Continue to visit colleges. Follow-up with specific
standardized tests, if necessary.
research on priorities you have identified, such as
academics, the arts, athletics, and financial aid.
 Start looking at college applications. Make note of varying
application requirements and deadlines.
 During college visits, participate in group information
sessions and tours. Inquire as to interview process, merit
scholarships, and honors programs.
 Research and apply for scholarships.
 Attend optional Essay Writing Workshop at NCS.
 Start the Common Application when it goes live on
August 1.
 Draft Essays
 Keep you college counselor informed about your search
and application process.
Retake standardized tests, if necessary.
 Parents/guardians: Attend Senior Kick-Off to the College
Process in early September.
Remember, first semester grades count!
 Meet college representatives at NCS, at STA mini-fairs,
and at local functions.
 Schedule second family conference with designated
college counselor to confirm college choices.
 Make note of all application forms and deadlines for all
colleges and continue drafting essays.
 Visit colleges as necessary. Students may miss school to
visit colleges but only if they complete a Planned
Absence Form in absence.
 If applying early, inform NCS in early October and apply
by November 1 or 15, according to the college deadlines.
 Confirm all college application deadlines, as some
colleges have early deadlines separate from early
admissions programs.
 Attend NCS Career Day and explore options.
 Confirm a final list of colleges and list those colleges in
Naviance by the time you return from Thanksgiving
 Submit drafts of essays to designated counselor for
 Most college deadlines fall from mid-December to early
February. Bring essays to designated counselor/s for
 Early admission results are available in mid-December.
Work on regular decision applications before receiving
 Submit FAFSA online before February 1. Submit
accompanying financial aid forms directly to the colleges,
as necessary.
 Receive admission decision from colleges by April 1.
Research what AP results may help you earn
Inform College Guidance Office of all results.
advanced standing in college, and sign up  Consider financial aid offers, if necessary.
for those AP tests. Send results to college of  Adhere to May 1 reply date to colleges.
 Consider pursuing wait list, if appropriate.
College Fairs represent an opportunity for students to learn about several different institutions in one
setting; depending upon the size of the venue, up to 125 colleges can be represented at once. NCS is
one of more than a dozen area independent schools that co-hosts a fair for juniors and their families
each April. St. Albans hosts small, ―mini-fairs‖ on campus in the fall—about a dozen colleges are
represented at each fair. In addition, students may be interested in attending national fairs sponsored by
the professional development membership group of which NCS is a part, the National Association of
College Admissions Counselors (NACAC.)
The following is a list of College Fairs for the 2009 – 2010 academic year.
Tuesday, October 12, 2011
National Association of College
Admission Counselors (NACAC)
Greater Washington DC
National Fair
Convention Center
Washington, DC
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
8th period
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
8th period
College Mini-Fair for NCS and STA
juniors and seniors
(colleges TBA)
St. Albans
Sunday, October 29, 2011
1:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
National Association of College
Admission Counselors (NACAC)
Performing & Visual Arts
College Fair
Convention Center
Washington, DC
Wednesday. April 25, 2011
6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Washington Area Independent
Schools (WAIS) College Fair
Juniors are expected to attend
American University
Washington, DC
2011 – 2012
DATE 2012 – 2013
Saturday, October 15
Saturday, October 13
SAT Subject Tests
Saturday, October 1
Saturday, November 5
Saturday, December 3
Saturday, January 28
Saturday, March 10 (SAT, only)
Saturday, May 5
Saturday, June 2
Saturday, October 6
Saturday, November 3
Saturday, December 1
Saturday, January 26
Saturday, March 16 (SAT, only)
Saturday, May 4
Saturday, June 1
Saturday, September 10
Saturday, October 22
Saturday, December 10
Saturday, February 11
Saturday, April 14
Saturday, June 9
Saturday, September 8
Saturday, October 20
Saturday, December 8
Saturday, February 9
Saturday, April 13
Saturday, June 8
May 7 – 11
May 14 – 18
May 6 – 10
May 13 – 17
Reference the next page of this
handbook for a complete listing of
which AP exam will be
administered, and when
These test dates are national test dates, beyond the scope of our control.
They are, therefore, subject to change.
Sunday testing is available for students who cannot test on a Saturday due to religious observance.
For more information contact College Board or ACT
AP test dates are published up to a year in advance. Future dates can be accessed online at
www.collegeboard.com. Although AP exams are administered at NCS, the schedule of testing is
beyond the scope of our control. Requests for alternate exam times are rarely granted.
Monday, May 7
Environmental Science
Tuesday, May 8
Computer Science A
Spanish Language
Art History
Wednesday, May 9
Calculus AB
Calculus BC
Chinese Language and Culture
Thursday, May 10
English Literature
Japanese Language and Culture
Latin: Vergil
Friday, May 11
U.S. History
European History
Studio Art
Monday, May 14
Music Theory
Physics B
Physics C
Tuesday, May 15
U.S. Government & Politics
French Language
Wednesday, May 16
English Language and
Thursday, May 17
Friday, May 18
Human Geography
Spanish Literature
Students who are embarking upon the college process often ask themselves the same first question:
where do I start? The best place to start is at the beginning: with the search. And the only way a student
can find something—in this case, a list of colleges at which she will thrive—is to engage in selfreflection and goal-setting, and then to learn more about colleges themselves.
The most important thing for a student to remember, throughout the entire college search and
application process, is this: the better you know yourself, the easier it will be to find colleges at which
you will thrive. Counselors often talk about this in terms of ―finding the fit.‖ But what is fit all about?
Here are three ways to think about fit; under each definition of fit, we’ve listed important questions
that students should ask themselves.
1. A fit is a school that brings out the best in you!
 When do you feel at your best?
When you wake up each morning, which activity do you think about to inspire you to come out
from under the covers?
What makes you laugh and smile? When are you happiest?
What is something you do—something to which you happily or effortlessly devote a significant
amount of time, talent, or energy—that others would find boring?
When are you most frustrated? What makes you cry?
Are you inspired by challenge? Do you take comfort in material that comes naturally to you?
2. A fit is a school that offers you the chance to learn about your favorite subjects in a manner
that best suits you!
 What is your favorite subject? How do you know? When is the last time you did something
related to that topic not because you had to, but because you wanted to?
Do you enjoy classes because of the material or because you enjoy learning from the
Do you like working in groups or do you prefer working independently?
Do you enjoy small class sizes with an emphasis on class participation and student input, do
you prefer to learn from an expert in the field who is there to impart knowledge to you, or do
you prefer something in between?
Do you look forward to the opportunity to conduct research and engage in experiments with
scholars? Do you want to intern in a particular field?
Does the thought of taking a prescribed set of classes and fulfilling a set of graduation
requirements give you a sense of structure or a sense of constriction?
3. A fit is a school that gives you the chance to participate in activities that are meaningful to
 Do you want to play sports at college? Do you want to compete against and travel to other
colleges with a Varsity team, do you want to play against your classmates just for fun, or
something in between?
Do you want to write for a student publication? Try out for a play or musical? Be a part of an
Improv Troupe or a capella group? Perform with a marching band, orchestra, or small group
ensemble? Contribute to student life as a mentor, school government leader, or resident
assistant? Engage in community service activities or social justice causes in the local
Could you spend four months in a row without visiting a movie megaplex? Without trying a
new restaurant or visiting a museum or attending the ―must-see‖ concert of the year? Without
taking a run or riding a bike down a country road? Without wearing flip flops? Without
wearing a wool sweater? Without having your mom/dad/best friend in the same time zone?
Could you be happy going to lecture series and theme parties on campus? Doing your laundry
on your own? Shopping online for new clothes? Putting your driver’s license in the drawer
because you’re never behind the wheel? Exploring a bookshop the size of the Student
Commons? Staying on campus for four Saturday nights in row? Is it OK if you can only choose
from one of three worship services each weekend or do you need flexibility and choice? Have
you thought about what you might do during the summer, and whether you’ll return to the DCmetro area each May?
When you imagine life in college, do you expect to meet new people every other hour? Do you
want to know everyone in your grade level? Can you imagine joining a sorority or theme
house? Do you picture making friends with people who are just like you or with people who are
very different from you?
Students should keep in mind that their answers to these thought-provoking questions could (and in
some cases, should) change. Many students experience tremendous growth during college. Students
should seek a place that will foster and encourage growth, because they aren’t going to be the same
exact persons when they graduate from college as they are today.
Be honest with yourself! Most students feel compelled to say that they love going to museums and
concerts, but it’s important to think about how you actually spend your time. Most college students—
even those at urban universities—spend the bulk of their time on campus. That is where the energy is.
Don’t discount a college because of its location until you investigate its campus life and determine how
that fits with your priorities.
Once you have a sense of your priorities and how you might answer these questions, you will know
what it means to ―find a fit.‖ Students should solicit their parents’ thoughts, feelings, and reactions, as
well. At the very least, keep in mind that college is not free and tuition amounts—as well as the
opportunity to win scholarships—vary widely from institution to institution. Remember: there isn’t
just one school out there for you. And who you are and what you want can, and should, change.
Given all this, students should expect to find several, and at least eight, ―fits!‖ Fits of varying
In our estimation, there are six factors to consider when searching for a school. Students should
approach their research with an eye towards these important college characteristics.
1. Academics and Institution Type
A successful college search takes into consideration college type, as well as academics—in other
words, the type of degrees that are available. Students should investigate:
 core curriculums
 graduation requirements
 when and whether applicants must declare a major
 whether applicants must apply to a division of the institution (sometimes, as a high school
Most liberal arts universities offer students the opportunity to major in just about anything: these
schools tend to be bigger (to support such diversity) and can lean towards the pre-professional.
Examples of liberal arts universities include
 Public, state schools
o College of Charleston
o University of Maryland
o Temple University
o University of Virginia
 Private universities
o Boston University
o Carnegie Mellon University
o Duke University
o Harvard University
o Howard University
o Rice University
o University of Richmond
o Stanford University
Liberal arts colleges tend to be smaller, tend not to offer pre-professional degrees (except, perhaps, for
engineering), and celebrate learning for learning’s sake.
Examples of liberal arts colleges include
 Public, state schools (although these are rare!)
o New College of Florida
o St. Mary’s College, Maryland
 Private colleges
o Carleton College
o Scripps College
o Swarthmore College
o Wesleyan University
o Williams College
A third type of institution is the small university that splits the difference. Some colleges offer a
hybrid of the small, liberal arts, focused approach with the curricular breadth of a university.
Still other institutions offer students the chance to focus in something quite specialized. These include
both private and public institutions. For example:
 Technical institutes
o California Institute of Technology
o Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
o Virginia Polytechnic Institute
 Conservatories and art institutes
o Juilliard School
o New England Conservatory of Music
o Massachusetts College of Art and Design
o School of the Arts (Philadelphia)
o Rhode Island School of Design
 Service and military academies
o Air Force Academy
o US Naval Academy at Annapolis
o Virginia Military Institute
Not sure what is the best fit for you? The good news is that most institutions offer some combination
of these characteristics!
2. Size
When we talk about size, we are usually referring to the number of students who are enrolled at a
college, although comparing enrollment numbers to campus size is an interesting exercise!
Nearly any college an NCS student selects will be larger than our school, but for students from large
public school districts across the country, that isn’t always the case. When considering a college’s size,
it is important to distinguish between the number of undergraduates and the number of total students—
focus on the former, but take the latter into account as it will have bearing on a university’s facilities,
campus acreage and transportation, and the presence of graduate students as teaching assistants. Here
is one way to think about size:
Amherst College
Bard College
Bates College
Bennington Coll.
Very Small ~ 2000 undergraduates or less
Bowdoin College
Drew University
Kenyon College
Cal Tech
Eugene Lang
Occidental Coll.
Colby College
Hamilton College
Pitzer College
Davidson College Haverford College
Rhodes College
Scripps College
St. Mary’s Coll.
Whitman College
Barnard College
Brandeis Univ.
Bucknell Univ.
Carleton College
Case Western
Small ~ 2000 – 4000 undergraduates
Clark University Furman University Univ. of Redlands
Colgate Univ.
Gettysburg Coll.
Rice University
Denison Univ.
Holy Cross
U. of Richmond
Dickinson College Mary Washington Skidmore College
Emerson College
Oberlin College
Spelman College
SUNY Purchase
St. Olaf College
Trinity College
Vassar College
Wesleyan Univ.
Medium ~ 4000 – 10,000 undergraduates
American Univ.
Boston College
Carnegie Mellon
Coll. of Charleston
Columbia Univ.
Dartmouth College
Duke University
Emory University
Elon College
Fordham Univ.
Georgetown Univ.
Harvard University
Hofstra University
Howard University
Ithaca College
Johns Hopkins
Lehigh University
Loyola Marymount
Notre Dame Univ.
U. of Pennsylvania
Princeton Univ.
Univ. of Rochester
St. Andrews Univ.
U. of San Francisco
Santa Clara Univ.
Stanford University
Tufts University
Univ. of Vermont
Villanova Univ.
Wake Forest Univ.
William & Mary
Yale University
Big ~ 10,000 – 20,000 undergraduates
Auburn University
Boston University
Clemson University
Cornell University
University of Delaware
DePaul University
Drexel University
Edinburgh University
George Washington Univ.
McGill University
New York University
Northeastern University
UNC Chapel Hill
Univ. of Pittsburgh
Syracuse University
University of Virginia
Very Big ~ 20,000 – 30,000 undergraduates
UC Berkeley
University of Colorado at Boulder
Colorado State University
University of Georgia
Indiana University at Bloomington
Univ. of Maryland at College Park
University of Michigan
Virginia Tech
Arizona State University
Ohio State University
Huge ~ 30,000+ undergraduates
Pennsylvania State University
Rutgers University
University of Texas at Austin
University of Toronto
3. Location
When looking for a college, it is important to consider the topic of location from a variety of angles.
Consider a college’s distance from home. Students who go to school in the DC-metro area can bop
home for a Sunday meal with their family, can attend school events for younger siblings with ease, can
borrow the car for a weekend, can introduce their family to their college friends, can do a load or two
of laundry at home, and can invite Mom and Dad to campus for an event. Note that this is what
students can do, not what they have to do. NCS alumnae who have attended college in DC report that
the amount of time they spend with their family varies: for most, the amount of time a student spends
with her family during college has less to do with the distance from home and more to do more with
the student and her parents than one might think.
Students are advised to consider what it would be like to spend four years in a new and different
part of the country. Think about the day-to-day impact of attending a college that is more than a
day’s drive from home. It might signify moving to a new time zone! Distance from home will likely
have bearing upon how a student will travel to and from college (car, train, bus, plane?) and how
frequently. Students should also consider to what extent they would like to experience a different
region and culture during college—even at universities with national populations, that draw students
from across the world, the people who live and work at the college and in the surrounding community
will have an impact on the student experience.
Finally, the area in which a college is located should also have bearing on your search. Colleges are
often referred to as ―city, suburban, or rural,‖ but in our country, these easy descriptives can vary
widely from one community to the next. If you think you prefer an urban school, consider the extent to
which you seek a self-enclosed campus with a community feel. How do you see yourself taking
advantage of the city lifestyle? If you think you want access to a city, does the type of city matter?
What would you do in that city, and how would you get there? What about a college town, or a rural
school ―in the middle of nowhere?‖ Do you think that an institution’s energy has more to do with the
people on campus or the area in which it is located?
With every category on this list, and with location in particular, we advise that you keep an open mind.
Try this small exercise: think about your mental image of some words associated with location, such as
―suburb‖ or ―country.‖ What comes to mind? Compare these preconceptions to reality when college
tripping, and challenge your conventions when seeking a school that fits your priorities.
4. Culture & Student Body
Determining a college’s culture is the work of the college-tripping, prospective student detective. Be a
sleuth! When considering a college and its mission, ask yourself a question that we have borrowed
from the counselors at CITYterm: ―What does this college value, and how can I tell?‖ Think about
how you might answer this question. We have a few ideas. Read the college’s mission statement,
examine their promotional brochures and Web site, pay attention to the subtext of the admissions tour,
and use context clues such as bulletin boards and student paper headlines to piece together an answer.
If you have a difficult time approaching the search from this angle, step back for a moment and think
about your decision-making process when you chose to come to NCS. If you do not remember making
a choice, think about our school from the perspective of a new student.
 Who are we?
 What do we value?
 Are we traditional or innovative?
 What is most important to us?
 What type of students thrive here?
 What type of people work here and teach here? How can you tell?
As regards the student body, consider what type of student enrolls at this college.
 Where are they from?
 What do they like to do?
 How diverse are they?
Think about the importance of selectivity, and consider how you might gauge the relative
competition, rigor, and challenge that a college might offer.
We do not mean to imply that there are simple answers to these questions: the substance of your
evaluation should not be black and white, but rather a shade of gray. The extent to which you are
comfortable with what you have learned is what is, ultimately, important.
5. Finances
A college education is a major investment. When looking for a school that fits, it is imperative for a
student to consider her family’s goals and priorities as regards tuition. When looking at colleges,
consider the price tag. Compare private school tuition to public school tuition. Think about long term
priorities—such as graduate school—as well as short term concerns, such as pocket money.
In short, there are three ways to approach financing a college education:
1. the family can pay the whole way
2. the family can apply for need-based funding
3. the student can try to earn a merit scholarship
Or some combination thereof!
We suggest that if paying for college is a concern, students and parents should seize this opportunity to
have a frank discussion about money. After all, applying to college is a big step towards adulthood,
and while a child does not have to be brought into all the details about family finances, general
parameters and guidelines are often appreciated. Clarity is key!
6. Your ―gut‖
Instinct. That feeling. A reaction that cannot be put into words.
There are more than 1200 major colleges in the United States alone, and we are here to tell you that a
well reasoned and instinctual gut reaction is a decent way to winnow the list. Of course, an emotional
response to a place should not constitute the bulk of your decision-making! At the same time, if you
feel strongly about a college for reasons that you cannot articulate, or reasons you can articulate but
feel ashamed or silly or unreasonable admitting (―I don’t want to go to the same school as my sister.‖
―I want to go to a school people have heard of.‖ ―I hate how that campus looked.‖) we are here to tell
you that is okay. After all, at the end of the day, you can only go to one school!
After students have reflected upon their priorities, they will know whether they prefer a big school or a
small school, a city school or a rural school. They will have a sense of what majors they might want to
pursue, and what type of student body they seek. They will understand how tuition prices and the
availability of scholarships may influence decision-making. The next step is to create a list of colleges
to research. There are a lot of resources out there that can help! Self-education is a huge part of a
successful college search, and being mindful of your sources is a smart way to approach research.
When conducting your research, we advise that families use a combination of sources—both primary
sources and secondary sources.
Primary Sources include:
 College Web sites
 Visits to colleges
 College promotional materials, including catalogs that list available majors and graduation
 Discussions with current students, alums, professors, and administrators
Secondary Sources include Web sites and publications that review colleges across a spectrum of data.
Our favorite secondary sources are:
 The Fiske Guide Extra copies are available for loan through our office.
 Rugg’s Recommendations A book that lists colleges, sorted by major; borrow it from us!
 Scholarship Search Engine Fast Web www.fastweb.com
 Any books by the author Loren Pope, creator of ―Colleges That Change Lives‖ www.ctcl.org
 Naviance/Family Connection includes a ―college search‖ in which you can plug in your
personal criteria and be given a list of colleges that meet that criteria. Ask the College
Guidance Team for log-in information.
 U-CAN: University and College Accountability Network www.ucan-network.org
 UNIGO: College reviews, videos, and photos by students, for students www.unigo.com
Our least favorite sources are:
 The U.S. News & World Report Rankings
 www.zinch.com This Web site claims to market students to colleges, but most colleges do not
know about it.
 www.CollegeConfidential.com
is mostly just rumors and speculation about college
admissions, with lots of angry students seeking a public venue by which to vent their
 People who condemn or praise a school even though they have never directly experienced it.
 Independent counselors who charge big fees to tell you what we can tell you for free!
While gathering information about colleges, be objective about the obvious and subtle ways that
colleges may try to influence students’ decisions. Consider the following suggestions:
Recognize that hearsay, rumor, media hype, and popular opinion offer easy sources of information
but are often misleading. Listen to others and take note of positive or negative publicity, but draw
your own conclusions based on reliable knowledge.
Rankings, such as U.S. News and World Report, may be helpful but are rarely a thorough
evaluation of what a college has to offer. Always consider the source of rankings and which
factors influence a college’s standing on the list.
Separate facts from promotional material. College Web sites, catalogues, viewbooks, DVDs and
brochures are designed to promote the school. The many college representatives who visit NCS
are naturally eager to attract interest in their school. Talking with NCS alumnae who are currently
enrolled in a college is often helpful. Plan to have lunch with alumnae who return to NCS. The
College Guidance Office will keep you informed of some specific opportunities. Touring a college
campus, spending a night in a residence hall, and visiting classes offer invaluable insights.
Use the resources of the College Guidance Office to help answer questions about colleges. While
counselors hesitate to be the first to create a list for a student or make final decisions, we can
advise sources of information, share experience and knowledge, and offer suggestions.
Trust your own reactions and record them. It is helpful to keep a journal with entries about each
college visit. Include your impressions as well as facts. Keeping track of what you learn in an
organized way makes it easier to notice comparisons and discover differences that may shape your
decisions as you narrow your list to your final choices.
NCS Alumnae and Faculty
NCS alumnae are a valuable source of information about college. Each year, students may request a
list with the names and e-mails of college-age alumnae. They are excellent resources, able to discuss
academic, athletic and extracurricular options in their communities, and to advise on ways in which
their college is similar to and/or different from NCS. When alumnae who are currently in college visit
NCS, if their schedule permits, we will invite them to attend a Senior Seminar meeting, to share their
experiences and answer questions. In addition, the College Guidance Office and the NCS Alumnae
Relations Office collaborate to invite college-age alumnae to various events throughout the academic
year. We will post information on school bulletin boards with dates and details when plans are
NCS faculty, administration, and staff members also are helpful resources. Even if they graduated
several years ago, they may have current information and could offer helpful suggestions.
Research Books
The books listed below are just a few of the many informational books available in local bookstores
about colleges. The NCS College Guidance Office has several texts in addition to many of those listed
below. Families are encouraged to borrow our materials at any time; we also maintain a bookshelf with
college catalogs for those who prefer good old-fashioned paper to Web-based versions (online catalogs
are, however, more up-to-date).
General Guides
Mayher, Bill. The College Admissions Mystique. New York: Noonday Press.
Mitchell, Joyce. Winning the Heart of the College Admissions Dean. Berkeley: 10-Speed Press.
Paul, William H. Getting In: Inside the College Admissions Process. Cambridge: Perseus Press.
Descriptive Guides to Four-Year Colleges
Fiske, Edward. Selective Guide to Colleges. New York: Time Books.
Peterson's Guide to Four-Year Colleges. Princeton, New Jersey: Peterson’s Guides.
Yale Daily News Staff. Insider’s Guide to Colleges. New York: St. Martin's Press, Inc.
Specialty Guides
Beckham, Barry. The Black Student’s Guide to Colleges. Hampton, Virginia: Beckham House.
College Board. The College Board Guide to 150 Popular College Majors. New York: College Board
Everett, Carole J. The Performing Arts Major’s College Guide. Lawrenceville, NJ: Arco.
Killpatrick, Frances and James. The Winning Edge: The Student Athlete’s Guide to College Sports.
Alexandria, Virginia: Octameron Associates.
Kravets, Marybeth and Amy F. Wax. The K & W Guide to Colleges for the Learning Disabled. New
York: HarperPerennial.
Moll, Richard. The Public Ivys: A Guide to America’s Best State Colleges and Universities. New
York: Penguin.
Pope, Loren. Colleges that Change Lives. New York: Penguin Books.
Rugg, Frederick E. Rugg’s Recommendations on the Colleges. Fallbrook, California.: Frederick E.
Smith, Dr. Norman R. How to Make the Right Decisions About College. New York: Wagner College
Spencer, Janet and Sandra Maleson. The Complete Guide to College Visits. New York: Citadel
Financial Aid and College Cost References
Cassidy, Daniel J. and Michael J. Alves. The Scholarship Book. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey:
Prentice Hall.
Hecht, Cheryl S., ed. Dollars for College: The Quick Guide to Financial Aid for Art, Music, and
Drama. Garrett Park, MD: Garrett Park Press. (Order at 301-946-2553)
Leider, Anna and Robert. Don't Miss Out—The Ambitious Student’s Guide to Scholarships and
Peterson’s Guide to Paying Less for College. Princeton, New Jersey: Peterson’s Guides.
Philos, Daphne A., ed. The As and Bs of Academic Scholarships. Alexandria, Virginia: Octameron
Whiting, Ernestine. The Black Student’s Guide to Scholarships. Silver Spring, MD: Beckham House
Gap Year
Gilpin, Robert and Caroline Fitzgibbons. Time Out. New York: Fireside Books.
Hall, Collin and Ron Lieber. Taking Time Off. New York: Noonday Press.
Haigler, Karl and Rae Nelson. The Gap Year Advantage: Helping Your Child Benefit from Time Off
Before or During College. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
During all of high school, and during the junior spring and the summer before senior year in particular,
students have the luxury of considering dozens of colleges. Priorities can be vague, and dreams can
have no limits. When senior year hits, however, it is time to start narrowing the list.
An important factor in narrowing a college list is the selectivity of the college. If all of the colleges on
a student’s list do not practice selective college admissions—in other words, if they have open
enrollment—then selectivity would not matter! But for most NCS students, their long list of colleges
includes at least a few at which competition can be tough, colleges whose admissions rates are less
than 25%.
The good news is that NCS has assembled a variety of different resources to help students gauge,
predict, and guess the outcome of their application. One helpful tool is part of the Naviance/Family
Connection Web site: scattergrams. Scattergrams use data from past NCS applicants to plot the
outcome of every college application on a graph that charts SAT scores vs. GPA. Scattergrams are
anonymous snapshots of actual NCS applicants, and the color coded symbols indicate accept, wait list,
or deny. Because the ACT is gaining in popularity, NCS scattergrams do not yet include data for ACT
results, only the SAT. Students who chose to take the ACT can use a conversion chart to interpret the
data accordingly.
While the scattergrams are helpful in that they outline some of the more important aspects of the
college application (namely, a student’s grades) the scattergrams do not take into account important
variables that have a big effect on the outcome of applications—everything from the strength of a
student’s schedule to a student’s essay. Nor do the scattergrams reveal the impact of a student’s status
as a recruited athlete, being the daughter of an alum, or whether she applied to a particular program.
For this reason, it is important for students have a conversation with the NCS College Guidance Office.
The NCS counselors can help place decisions in the context of the high school, and counselors can
offer advice to help a student play up her talents, skills, interests, and unique qualities. Students and
families are in the best position to hear about a student’s chance for admission to a particular college at
the start of senior year, when a few important variables have been secured. These include: a sixsemester GPA, standardized test results, and a senior year course schedule.
Students who apply early will make that decision by early October. All NCS students should have a
firm, long list of schools by Thanksgiving. The long list is the list of colleges to which a student will
submit applications.
One final thought: although it may sound simple, a student should want to attend each and every
college on their final list! There is no point in applying to colleges that the student does not want to go
to, although we realize that feelings can change between November and March of a student’s senior
At NCS, a final list usually numbers around eight. To borrow a phrase from a famous colleague and
nationally published author, we like to call this a final list of ―Eight First Choices!‖ If a student is
genuinely interested in all of the colleges on her list, then her happiness at the end of the process is
more secure. For this reason, NCS will rarely offer statistics regarding how many students were
accepted to their ―first choice‖ school. In our experience, a first choice can change over the course of a
year. All choices should therefore be a top choice! Given the number of excellent institutions—and
taking into account the smart and confident way with which NCS girls have traditionally approached
this task of selecting a college—we are confident that every student will get a top choice!
Naviance/Family Connection is the software system that the NCS College Guidance Office uses to
help with the college search, to send documents to colleges, and to track application results. Naviance
has several useful functions that can be used once a student has logged into the system, including:
1. College Search: This function allows students to input a number of different variables including
size of university, location, religious affiliation, setting etc. Once students have indicated a
preference for each criterion the system will generate a list of colleges that match. This is a good
activity for students at the start of their college search—it will help students find colleges they may
have never heard of before.
2. College Lookup: This function gives users detailed information on particular colleges, including
data on admissions, academic programs, financial aid, and student life.
3. College Match: When a student has added a few colleges to her ―prospective colleges‖ list on
Family Connection, and once her GPA and standardized test scores have been entered, she can
click on the college match button. This feature will show popular ―overlaps.‖ For example, if a
student adds Barnard to her prospective college list, Naviance uses data from thousands of high
schools across the country to show that 50% of students who applied to Barnard also applied to
NYU, and 35% of students who applied to Barnard also applied to Bard. On this same College
Match page, the bottom half of the screen has a section called ―Colleges that have accepted
students like you‖. Using data from other NCS students, this function will show a list of colleges
that have accepted NCS students with a similar academic profile.
4. College Compare: When a student clicks on College Compare, she will be asked to add several
colleges to a short list using the lookup function. On the next page, she will find a chart. The first
row of the chart will list the student’s GPA and standardized test scores. The rows beneath will list
the average accepted NCS GPA and average NCS test score for each college in the student’s list. If
the GPA or test score is highlighted in green, this indicates the student has an academic profile
which exceeds the average accepted academic profile. If the student’s academic profile is red, the
student’s profile is lower than the average accepted to this college from NCS in the past.
5. Scattergrams: The scattergrams section is probably the most commonly used function on Family
Connection. This section plots application results as a function of a student’s GPA and SAT score:
the data stretches back for the past four years. Therefore, an applicant can see—with anonymous
data—how other NCS applications from the past have fared when applying to a particular college.
A red X signifies that the applicant with that GPA and SAT score was denied; a green square
indicates an acceptance; a blue diamond indicated wait list. Once a student has earned her sixsemester GPA and junior year test scores, her academic profile appears as a red circle on the chart;
this gives the student an even clearer sense of where she will stand in the applicant pool.
Although Naviance can be useful, and oftentimes eye-opening, students must remember that Naviance
tracks numbers, only. Naviance cannot fully illuminate the subjective part of the admissions process,
including essays, extracurricular activities, and recommendations. Students should therefore remember
that if their academic profile does not match average accepted scores, that doesn’t signify she should
not apply to the college. It does, however, signify that she should take these numbers into account
when determining which colleges would be considered a reach and which colleges would be
considered a match.
Campus visits have an important impact on a student’s college selection and are a fundamental aspect
of college research. Here is a rundown of what a campus visit entails.
Visits to college campuses are undertaken by students who are considering an application to that
college. Prospective students are often accompanied by their parents, guardians, and other family
members. Some students enjoy visiting colleges with their friends.
Members of the NCS College Guidance Office also conduct visits to college campuses. This ongoing
professional development helps the counselors advise students. Furthermore, these visits strengthen
NCS’ relationship with universities and the admissions professionals who review students’
A campus visit can be either formal or informal. Formal campus visits often include an information
session and a tour. These presentations are usually coordinated by the university admissions offices,
and presenters include administrators, faculty, staff, coaches, and current students. Some presenters are
paid, whereas others are volunteers.
Some colleges offer prospective students more than just a welcome workshop and a tour—prospective
students may be invited to sit for an interview, observe a class, participate in activities, and spend a
night with a current student. These opportunities may be available only during certain times of the
year, perhaps during Open House weekends or in the spring for students who have already been
accepted to campus. Events may be tailored for students who meet specific criteria, such as students
who are interested in a particular on-campus program or major (such as recruited athletes or students
interested in majoring in engineering) or students from a particular background (such as students of
color or international students.) For these reasons, families should investigate registration details and
should RSVP in advance for formal visits to campus.
Informal visits to campus can include everything from a casual walk through campus to attending an
on-campus sporting or performing arts event. Students should check out on-campus resources that are
open to the public, such as the student union and the bookstore. Families are advised to spend time in
the surrounding area.
Of course, a student and her family will get a different impression from this type of visit, rather than a
visit that has been designed specifically for prospective students. Informal visits to campus can,
however, be a great way to get a feel for a university and help inspire students’ goal-setting and
Students should visit colleges when it is most convenient for the family to do so. NCS strongly
encourages students to limit the number of classes they miss for college visits.
Some families visit colleges in the summer; others prefer to do so during the academic year, when
colleges are in session but NCS is on break.
Some families conduct visits early in high school, during freshman or sophomore year. These visits
may be formal but are often informal. For example, why not attend an on-campus performance or
sporting event? Why not stop in and have lunch at the campus union on a Sunday afternoon, when
your family happens to be driving through a college town for a non-college related event?
Most NCS families start formal visits to colleges during vacation times of junior year, and during the
summer before senior year. Many students conduct follow-up, overnight visits to their favorite schools
in the fall of senior year. These visits can help a student confirm whether she might like to apply early
decision to a college.
Students can continue to visit colleges throughout senior year, even after an application has been filed.
Many colleges offer events for accepted students during the month of April, which help students with
their matriculation decisions.
Campus visits are available around the world. If a family does not know how to begin, we suggest
conducting some practice visits with colleges here in the DC-metro area. We are fortunate to have a
bunch of different types of institutions all within easy distance of NCS.
 A large public institution in a college town: University of Virginia
 A large public institution in a suburb with access to a city: University of Maryland
 A selective research university with a self-enclosed campus in a city: Georgetown University
 A city school without a clearly defined campus: George Washington University
 A Historically Black College: Howard University
The possibilities are nearly endless!
Visits to campus require the dedication of resources—time and money. Yet, in our experiences, inperson observations are critical to the decision-making process. Spending time on campus as a
prospective student is a solid investment.
Visiting campus provides an unparalleled opportunity to conduct in-person research, and visits are
more helpful than any guidebook or Web site. Visits to campus inspire not only the search and goalsetting aspect, but the application as well. Many admissions committees ask applicants to answer an
essay topic that goes something like this: ―Why do you want to attend our college?‖ Having visited
campus will make for a better essay.
Some colleges take into account whether a student has visited or not. This is called ―expression of
interest,‖ and at some institutions (usually the smaller, liberal arts colleges), a student’s outreach to the
college has a bearing on the decision that is rendered upon her application. In other words, at some
schools it can help a student be accepted if that student has visited campus. ―Expression of interest‖
can also entail sitting for an optional interview, attending a local informational session or college fair,
or registering with the school’s Web site. If you are curious about whether this might be a factor at one
of your favorite colleges, ask!
Please note that NCS has limited funding for assisting students in making visits to campus. If paying
for the cost of visits is a family concern, please contact the College Guidance Office.
College Web sites provide details regarding the timing and registration for campus visits. Web sites
include directions to campus, suggestions for nearby accommodations, and offer travel advice.
The NCS College Guidance Office provides families with a list of NCS alumnae currently enrolled at
colleges. If you would like to visit an alumna, let her know of your plans. It is usually possible, with
advance planning, to attend classes with an enrolled student. Students may also request to spend a
night on campus with an NCS alumna (although this often means sleeping on the floor—bring a
sleeping bag and a pillow!)
Of all the suggestions passed down from class to class, one piece of advice resounds most clearly: take
notes! Using a notepad to jot down questions, to list impressions, and to note turn-on’s and turn-off’s.
In this section, we have included a campus checklist to remind students about things to note at each
Students who schedule college visits during the school year must get approval in advance from their
teachers, academic advisor, and college counselor. Use the Planned Absence Form (a sample follows)
for signatures confirming approval.
During the fall, college admissions offices across the world dedicate a portion of their outreach and
travel budget to the funding of ―high school visits.‖ College admissions officers spend weeks on the
road, making individual visits to high schools.
When admissions officers visit NCS, they spend time both with students and with the College
Guidance team. These visits typically take place during September and October, and visits occur
during the school day. Visits last for 30 – 45 minutes, and can take place during one class period or can
span two different class periods.
These on-campus meetings are a great opportunity for students to learn more about a college they have
not explored in depth yet, or to make (or attempt to make!) a lasting impression upon a college
representative from a school that is an early favorite. The representatives who visit are often the
officers who will review applications from NCS; for this reason, the meetings are helpful to students
and adults alike. By visiting NCS, the representatives learn about what is new on our campus, and we
can ask timely questions about changes to their institution. The representatives meet with interested
students, and they have the opportunity to see our institution in action. These representatives can
usually answer many questions that would otherwise require a campus visit, although nothing can
substitute for an actual campus visit. There is no obligation incurred by meeting with a college
The schedule of visits is coordinated and managed online through the Naviance Web site. Seniors are
introduced to this aspect of the internet-based program in late summer. Only seniors are permitted to
meet with college representatives during high school visits. Seniors may miss class in order to do so,
provided they have secured verbal permission from their teachers in advance. E-mail reminders of the
meetings will be sent to students 48 hours in advance, so seniors can be sure to get permission from
their teachers.
The opportunity to meet with representatives is a privilege that should be carefully used, in order to
avoid excessive absences from fall classes. Students who choose to attend class instead of meeting
with a college representative are not penalized in the process; college representatives expect that a
student’s curriculum is her number one, senior year priority.
To insure that all those who need to know of a student’s impending absence are informed, we ask that
parent(s)/guardian(s) and students fill out a Planned Absence Form as soon as possible in advance of
the absence. This will help all concerned to communicate and to accept the responsibility for the
absence and all that it entails. Return this form to the Dean of Students prior to the absence.
Student’s name
will be absent on
Parent/Guardian’s Signature _______________________________
I have informed the following teachers of my plans to miss school and have discussed my
responsibility for the work missed.
Teacher’s Signature
1st period______________________________________________________________________
2nd period______________________________________________________________________
3rd period______________________________________________________________________
4th period______________________________________________________________________
5th period______________________________________________________________________
6th period______________________________________________________________________
7th period______________________________________________________________________
8th period______________________________________________________________________
Student’s Signature
College Counselor’s Signature
for college visits only
Academic Advisor’s Signature
Campus tour guides are usually students. While on the tour, remember that while a guide may be
representative of the college, it would be unwise to formulate an opinion of the college based solely
upon the personality of the tour guide. When on a campus tour, ask lots of questions. Students leading
tours are often the best sources of information about a college, though they won’t know everything.
Good Questions to Ask
How large are your introductory classes? How large are freshman classes? Do you have helpful
faculty advisors? Do you meet regularly with your advisor?
Who teaches lecture classes? Who teaches lab sections? Can you get individual help from
What have faculty done that has surprised you? Beyond office hours, what opportunities do you
have to get to know faculty members?
Where do you study? Is the library a good place to work and study? What hours do students have
access to libraries, computers, labs, etc.?
Is this an openly competitive environment? How are tests and exams administered? Who grades
What percent of students live in residence halls? Is housing guaranteed for all four years? Is it
necessary to have a car? Do students use public transportation?
What are differences among residence halls?
How are safety concerns addressed on and off campus? Are there regular patrols, escort vans,
emergency phones, etc., if needed?
What indicators are there that the student body is interested in national politics and issues? How
tolerant is this community of independence and diversity?
What did you do for fun last weekend? How do students spend their breaks and summers? What
are the most popular extra-curricular activities here?
Is community service part of the life of the school?
Do many students study abroad? When? Where?
What has been a recent ―hot topic‖ of source of discussion on campus and in student publications?
What leadership positions in this community do women and underrepresented minorities hold?
What do you like best/least about being a student here?
At the end of the visit the most important question to ask is: “Do I see myself fitting in here?”
College interviews are a relatively small part of the college search and application process. Doing well
in an interview, however, is an important life skill to acquire. Learning about and preparing for
interviews is, therefore, an aspect of college counseling that our office cares deeply about!
Here is a rundown of what a college interview entails.
College interviews are generally offered to students who have finished their junior year of high school,
although informal conversations with college representatives may occur even earlier in the search and
application process.
College interviews are conducted by different people associated with the university. Some interviews
are conducted by admissions officers and other employees of the college. Some interviews are
conducted by volunteers, including members of the alumni community, current students, coaches,
instructors, and professors.
Although students may begin their college search process at any point during high school, college
admissions offices generally do not begin working with students in earnest until the end of a student’s
junior year. They then work with those students for the whole of the student’s senior year, before
turning their attention to the new batch of prospective students in the summer.
On-campus interviews can take place during the summer and throughout a student’s senior year. Some
colleges prefer to wait until a student has submitted an application before offering the student the
opportunity to interview; others only interview students during the summer, before any application is
ready for submission. Some representatives conduct interviews during their fall travel season—in the
evening, after they conduct high school visits. The timing varies from institution to institution.
What and Why?
College interviews can be evaluative, informative, or both. They can therefore be considered a ―twoway street‖ because they represent an opportunity for the college and the student to learn more about
each other.
In evaluative interviews, students are assessed on their performance. The interviewer writes a report or
provides an evaluation to the admissions committee. This assessment is a factor in evaluating the
student’s chances for admission.
All college interviews are also informative, but some are strictly so. When interviews are informative,
solely, this means that the conversation is an opportunity for the student to learn more about the
college. How well she performs during the interview is not a factor in her admission. We believe that
all interviews are informative because any interaction a student has with a representative from the
college is a chance for the student to learn.
Most interviews will be one-on-one: one student and one interviewer. Some interviews may consist of
a panel review, in which a group of people interview the student. This is more likely to occur in
scholarship interviews.
Sometimes, students may be interviewed as a group—one interviewer for many students. This is rare.
At most colleges, the interview is an optional part of the application. Very rarely do colleges have the
resources to make interviews mandatory, although prestigious scholarship programs may mandate an
interview as part of the review process.
If the interview is optional, we suggest that students take the option. For some colleges, even optional
interviews can reflect positively on the student and her application—at colleges that track expression
of interest, for example.
Furthermore, because interviewing is a skill best acquired through practice, any opportunity to do so is
an opportunity to seize!
Interviews may take place on or off-campus. When they are on-campus, they are usually conducted by
admissions representatives or current students, who are serving as admissions volunteers or interns.
When interviews take place off-campus, they are generally conducted by volunteer alumni. Volunteers
may choose to interview students at their home or office, here at NCS, or at a neutral site—such as a
coffee shop.
Some colleges have begun to offer interviews via Skype.
NCS has plenty of room to share with visiting interviewers; reserving a space is easily coordinated
with our team. If a student plans to meet an interviewer at a coffee shop, it is important to exchange
simple but clear instructions so that the meet can take place as planned. We have heard far too many
stories about students who arrived at the wrong Dupont Circle Starbucks, or students who were clearly
at a coffee shop as the same time as their interviewer but did not know how to find him or her!
As we have illustrated, the who, what, where, when and why of the college interview can vary for
college to college. Furthermore, policies and procedures change from year to year. For this reason, it is
the student’s responsibility to research how to schedule an interview. Determining whether interviews
are offered, and how to obtain one, is an important step in the process of becoming a good selfadvocate and confident college applicant.
Students should not enter an interview with no knowledge of the college. Research is imperative.
Students should spend time looking at a college’s Web site, and come up with about six detailed
questions to ask. The college Web site gives information on academic programs, financial aid, food
service, athletics, residential life, etc. Look at course listings and general requirements for different
majors. Most college newspapers are also linked to the college site. Reading the newspaper gives
insight into the important issues on campus. Are there safety concerns? Do students seem connected to
the outside world or are they concerned solely with life on campus? Do they invite interesting guest
speakers to campus? What kind of entertainers visit? For more sample questions, reference the
previous section on questions for college tour guides.
Spend some time reading about the school’s academic program. It is discouraging for college
admission officers to field question after question about clubs and food and not have any inquiries
about majors or class size. Be sure to have prepared questions about the academic life of the college.
So, for example, do not ask ―How is the English Department?‖ A better question would be ―Can
English majors self-design a concentration?‖
Older friends and NCS alumnae are a good resource. Students are encouraged to contact acquaintances
who attended or are attending a school of interest and ask about their experiences. These kinds of
conversations are valuable background research.
The College Guidance Office suggests students bring a ―brag sheet‖ to an interview, just as adults
bring their résumé to an interview. A ―brag sheet‖ highlights a student’s special talents and activities.
On this form students should list their interests and accomplishments, tailoring the brag sheet to
include things specific to the college. It also provides students with a quick reference sheet. This will
make the interview easier for the college representative and facilitate a smooth, more productive
meeting. For instance, if the student is interested in studying history, listing relevant history papers and
projects by name on the sheet is helpful. It is important for the student to ask relevant questions about
her particular areas of interest, such as whether there have been any recent changes in the history
faculty that significantly altered the department.
Additionally, students should give a brag sheet to anyone writing a recommendation (teacher, coach,
employer, or community service supervisor). Refer to this sheet when writing college application
forms and selecting college essay topics. It also prevents inadvertent inaccuracies or omissions.
The Interviewer
Students should tailor their questions for different interviewers, asking different questions of a Dean, a
young alumna, and an alumnus from the Class of 1958. Keep in mind interviewers may not know the
answer to every question a perspective student asks. If this is the case students should not get
discouraged. Remember to ask about other available resources. A 55-year old physician who has not
been back to campus in ten years might not know anything about the new performing arts center or the
African-American Studies major. However, she has other valuable information to share.
Additionally, interviewers are often volunteers and generally overworked. Don’t be passive in an
interview. Remember that most people, even adults, are basically shy. Put the interviewer at ease and
make an effort to learn as much as you can about the college.
The Interview Itself
Confirm the specifics of the interview in advance and arrive to the interview on time. Coordinate with
the interviewer so you know how to find him/or her. For example, tell them what you are wearing.
Concentrate on listening to the interviewer, answering questions, and then asking any questions.
Students should focus more on learning about the college, and less about themselves if they are feeling
Be positive. The interviewer may ask questions about various experiences in high school. Respond
positively, never put down the administration, blame grades on a teacher, or criticize other schools,
especially public schools, as the interviewer could have gone to one! Avoid thoughtless insults or poor
Have a sense of humor. Too often, students think they must project an aura of intense seriousness, but
instead they appear excessively dour or very tense. A sense of humor can make the interview more
relaxed, more interesting, and ultimately more beneficial for all.
Honesty is the best policy. Students who belittle their accomplishments should bite their tongue and
avoid putting themselves down. On the other hand, students also shouldn’t be arrogant. Decide two or
three accomplishments to stress to the interviewer, and then weave them into the conversation. For
instance, ―You asked me about my favorite movie. It would have to be Crash. It prompted me to join
the Equity Board and take a closer look multicultural issues at NCS.‖
Consider the interview an opportunity to learn something about a college and practice interviewing
skills. The interview is rarely the make-or-break piece of a student’s application, so take it in stride and
try to simply enjoy the experience.
Before you leave, make sure you have contact information for your interviewer so you can write a
thank-you note. Aside from the fact that it is simply good manners to send one, some colleges keep
these notes (along with all other correspondence from the student) on file.
Appropriate Dress and Body Language
During an interview students should wear appropriate clothes. Wear clothing that you would wear to
attend a religious service. If you tend to fiddle with buttons, jewelry, etc. then avoid temptation and
wear something simple. Be clean—do not schedule an interview after sports if there is no time to take
a shower and change.
Body language is very important. Students should be aware of the image they are projecting. Students
should keep arms at their sides or fold hands in their lap, avoiding crossing their arms in a defensive
posture. Gesture naturally while keeping hands away from the face or avoiding playing with your hair.
Also, don’t forget to sit up straight, look the interviewer in the eye, and smile. This is an opportunity
for the student to show many facets of her personality, concentrating on those she would like people to
1. How does the way you spend your time reflect your priorities? How does your typical week/month
reflect your interests or priorities?
2. What is your favorite book? Why?
Your favorite movie? Why?
Your favorite class? Why?
Your best summer experience? Why?
Your favorite extra-curricular activity? Why?
3. Why are you interested in ___ College? What in particular interests you?
4. What questions do you have about ____?
5. What would you say is your greatest strength or asset? Your greatest weakness?
6. Imagine that in twenty years you’ll be on the cover of Time. What would you be famous for?
7. What do you like best about NCS? How does your high school experience affect your choice of
8. Why did you choose to go to NCS? How do you feel a single-sex environment influenced your
9. Tell me about a responsibility you’ve had that you’ve enjoyed.
10. What excites/worries you most about going away to college?
11. What have you done that you are proud of?
12. Why do you want to attend this college?
13. If you could share a meal with three people, living or dead, whom would you choose and why?
14. How do you get your news?
15. Why are your friends your friends?
16. How would your friends describe you?
Many colleges require standardized test scores from prospective applicants as a partial predictor for
academic success in the first year of college. This section describes the standardized tests required by
colleges for admission (SAT, SAT Subject Tests, and the ACT), as well as the tests that are used for
other purposes (PSAT, AP). This section provides detailed information on test registration and sending
score reports. Also included in this section is information on receiving accommodations and tutoring.
The Preliminary SAT (PSAT) is the practice test for the SAT. It is designed and executed by the
College Board and a student’s scores on the PSAT are a good predictor of potential SAT results. The
PSAT is given to NCS sophomores and juniors each October. The test is arranged, administered, and
paid for by the school. This is the first opportunity for most students to take a college entrance test, and
it allows them to become familiar with the test format. Sophomores take the PSAT only for practice; it
offers an early opportunity to note strengths and to focus on areas that may need improvement.
The PSAT is a 2-hour and 10-minute test that measures critical reading skills, math problem-solving
skills, and writing skills. All three sections utilize multiple-choice questions.
For juniors, the PSAT is the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT.) It is used as the
basis for selecting National Merit, National Achievement, and National Hispanic Recognition
Program. The NMSQT selection index is achieved by adding a student’s critical reading, math, and
writing skills scores.
Students hear back from the National Merit Scholarship in September of their senior year. Each year,
approximately 35,000 students receive Letters of Commendation. National Merit Commended students
are named on the basis of a nationally applied Selection Index score that may vary from year to year
and is below the level required for participants to be named Semifinalists in their respective states.
Students with the highest PSAT scores in each state and in the District of Columbia are named
National Merit Semifinalists. Semifinalists must then fill out an application in order to advance to
Finalist standing. Some Finalists in the national competition win National Merit Scholarships, National
Achievement Awards (for outstanding African-American students), or National Hispanic Recognition
Program. Some winners may receive a one-time scholarship. In addition, a select group of corporations
and businesses finance some four-year merit scholarships.
Every sophomore and junior is expected to take the PSAT. The College Board offers the test on two
dates and NCS generally offers the test on the Saturday date. NCS registers students for the exam and
pays the associated fees. The PSAT is administered at NCS.
Many colleges require either the SAT or the ACT for admission. Originally, SAT was an acronym for
the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Now called the SAT Reasoning Test, or simply the SAT, this test
assesses students’ reasoning based on knowledge and skills developed through their coursework.
According to the College Board, the not-for-profit, membership organization that administers the SAT,
this test measures the students’ ability to apply what they have learned in school through analysis and
problem-solving. The SAT is a three-hour and 45-minute test. Results are reported in three areas:
Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing. Each section is scored from 200 to 800 points, with a
highest possible total score of 2400. Even though the test is scored to 2400 colleges often still refer to
the 1600 scale of the Critical Reading and Math combined score.
The Critical Reading score is based on results of two 25-minute sections and one 20-minute section.
The Critical Reading section consists of sentence completions and passage-based readings. Sentence
completions assess a student’s knowledge of word meanings and her ability to understand how the
different parts of a sentence fit together. Reading questions measure a student’s ability to read and
analyze passages that range in length from 100 to 850 words. Reading passage questions ask about
vocabulary and a student’s overall comprehension of the text.
The Math score is based on two 25-minute sections and one 20-minute section. Students may use
approved calculators on the Math section of the SAT and grid their own responses on the ―studentproduced‖ section. The section emphasizes data interpretation and applied math, rather than just
algebra and geometry. Test content includes number and operations, algebra and functions, statistics,
probability, and data analysis.
The Writing score is based on results from an essay and multiple-choice questions. Students begin with
the essay and have 25 minutes to draft a response to a prompt. The prompt consists of a pair of
quotations or a short paragraph. Two readers evaluate the essay portion of the SAT and score it on a
scale from 1–6. A third reader evaluates essays receiving scores that differ by more than one point. The
essay sub-score is reported from 2–12 and comprises one-third of the total writing score. Multiplechoice questions on identifying sentence errors, improving paragraphs, and improving sentences
consist of one 25-minute section and one 10-minute section.
In addition to the sections listed above, the SAT contains one 25-minute long section known as a
variable, unscored, equating section. The unscored section is Critical Reading, Math, or multiplechoice Writing. This section is not scored and is used for research purposes, but students do not know
which section is the unscored section while taking the test, and are therefore advised to put forth their
best effort on every section.
Students taking the SAT will always begin with the 25-minute essay of the Writing section, followed
by six 25-minute sections and two 20-minute sections, which can appear in any order. Students end
with the 10-minute multiple-choice Writing section.
SAT Subject Tests (formerly known as SAT IIs or Achievement Tests) are one-hour, subject-specific,
multiple-choice tests. They are a required part of the admissions process at many selective colleges and
universities. SAT Subject Tests are offered up to six times a year in 20 different subjects in the
following areas: Literature, U.S. History, World History, Math (Level 1 and Level 2), Chemistry,
Physics, Biology (Ecological and Molecular), and foreign languages. A student may take up to three
different tests on one day. When registering for the SAT Subject Tests, students are asked which tests
they plan to take; however, they may take any three tests on the date of administration. The only
exception to this is the Latin test 9which is only offered twice per year) and the Language with
Listening foreign language tests, which are only offered in November.
When the SAT was modified in March 2005 to include a Writing section, the SAT Subject Test in
Writing was eliminated. Many colleges thereby reduced the number of required Subject Tests from
three to two.
As a general rule, students should take Subject Tests in their strongest subjects. A high grade in a class
is a good indicator of successful performance on the SAT Subject Test in a particular subject. Given a
typical NCS course schedule, students are best prepared to earn top results on Subject Tests in the
spring of their junior year. Depending upon a student’s strengths and interests, she may be prepared to
take tests in foreign language, science, U.S. History, literature, and math. Students should take the
Subject Test soon after completing the course work applicable to that test. For example, students
taking a Subject Test in the same subject area as an AP exam have found it helpful to take the Subject
Test in June, after the AP exam is over.
The following is a comprehensive overview, by department, of how the NCS curriculum aligns with
SAT Subject Tests. Note that, except for rare circumstances, students should take SAT Subject
Tests in the spring of their junior year.
SAT Subject Test in Literature
The SAT Subject Test in English assesses students’ ability to read literature closely for relevant
interpretations. Students read passages from literature and answer six to eight questions on each
passage about the selections. Questions seek to assess students’ understanding of the literary passages
and how well they have learned to read and interpret literature. Approximately half the texts are
written by authors from the United States, and half are written by authors from Great Britain.
Similarly, the passages are divided by genre—50% prose and 50% poetry—and period. Approximately
30% of the passages were written before 1700, 30% were written between 1700 and 1900, and 40%
after 1900.
From the time she enters NCS, a student develops and practices the close reading skills that the SAT
Subject Test in English assesses. The English curriculum at NCS exposes students to a wide variety of
genres and periods, and a diverse range of authors from around the world. By the time a student
completes the American Literary Traditions course as a junior, she will have had at least two-and-ahalf years of practice making sophisticated interpretations of literature similar to that which she will
encounter on the SAT Subject Test. In all NCS English electives, including the Writing Seminar,
students continue their practice of close reading. Consequently, all NCS students are well-prepared for
the SAT Subject Test in English by the end of junior year. Students who lack confidence in their
interpretive skill may wish to take a literature elective their junior year. Most NCS students will feel
confident taking the test regardless of their elected course of study.
SAT Subject Test in Chinese with Listening
The SAT Subject Test in Chinese with Listening is comprised of comprehension questions based on
short spoken dialogues and narratives, primarily about everyday topics. The test also includes usage
questions requiring correct completion of sentences, printed in two writing systems (traditional
Chinese characters and simplified Chinese characters), and two phonetic transcriptions (Pinyin
romanization and the Chinese phonetic alphabet Bopomofo). Students are permitted to choose the one
with which they are most familiar. The test includes reading comprehension and questions with assess
understanding of main and supporting ideas, themes, and the setting of passages. All passages are
printed in both traditional and simplified Chinese characters.
This test is only given in November. Students who have completed three full years of strong
preparation are encouraged to take this test.
SAT Subject Test in French
The SAT Subject Test in French tests vocabulary, reading comprehension, and grammar. A strong
vocabulary will help students score well on the Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension sections.
From the start of their study of French, NCS students are used to hearing only French. They have
practiced using both synonyms and antonyms in French. This is a big plus for the SAT. Students have
to know conjugations of verb tenses for both French Subject Tests. The SAT Subject Test in French
covers only a small portion of grammar. Students do not need to know spelling, they are not required
to place accents, nor do they have to place words in the correct order in a sentence, since the entire test
is comprised of multiple–choice questions. Students are not tested on their ability to speak or write.
SAT Subject Test in French with Listening
This test is only given in November. It is similar to the SAT Subject Test in French, but it has an
additional audio portion, which evaluates the student’s ability to understand spoken French. Students
listen to a recording and answer multiple choice questions. Students are not tested on their ability to
speak or write.
Which French test should NCS students take?
Students should take the test that best suits their type of preparation. They should understand that there
is no difference in difficulty between the language tests with listening and the reading-only tests;
colleges may prefer the listening tests to the reading-only tests for placement purposes (but not for
admission purposes); and college application deadlines may determine the choice of test, since the
listening tests are offered only once a year in November.
In the past NCS students have done well on both versions of the test. Students should check with their
teacher as to which test they should take and when they should take it. It is best that they take the SAT
in French either as a junior and if possible in French Level 4. Taking the SAT French without the
listening gives students an extra semester of study in class, because they can take the SAT Subject Test
in French in May or June. Because the French with Listening is only offered in November, the test is
too late for seniors who are applying early. Juniors who are considering early application to college
should consider taking the French Test with Listening in November, and they should check with their
teacher to make sure they are ready for the November test date.
SAT Subject Test in Japanese with Listening
The SAT Subject Test in Japanese with Listening is comprised of comprehension questions based on
short spoken dialogues and narratives, primarily about everyday topics. The test also includes usage
questions requiring correct completion of sentences, that are printed in three different forms: standard
Japanese script with furigana, modified Hepburn romanization, and modified kunrei-shiki
romanization. Students are permitted to choose the one with which they are most familiar. The test
includes reading comprehension and in texts students might encounter in everyday situations, written
in katakana, hiragana, and kanji without furigana.
This test is only given in November. Students who have completed three full years of strong
preparation are encouraged to take this test.
SAT Subject Test in Latin
The SAT Subject Test in Latin tests students’ knowledge and understanding of Latin vocabulary,
grammar, syntax, and reading comprehension. In addition, students are expected to be familiar with
versification, in particular dactylic hexameter verse. The test is available twice a year, in December
and June. This test should be taken in June by students who have completed Level IV or the AP
course. Students should check with their teacher about how best to prepare for this test.
SAT Subject Test in Spanish
The SAT Subject Test in Spanish tests vocabulary, grammar, and reading comprehension skills. A
strong vocabulary and knowledge of grammar will help students do well. Students do not need to know
spelling, they are not required to place accents, nor do they have to place words in the correct order in
a sentence, since the entire test is comprised of multiple–choice questions. Students are not tested on
their ability to speak or write.
SAT Subject Test in Spanish with Listening
This test is only given in November. It is similar to the SAT Subject Test in Spanish, but it has an
additional audio portion, which evaluates the student’s ability to understand spoken Spanish. Students
listen to a recording and answer multiple choice questions. Since NCS students are used to only
hearing Spanish in class, the presentation of the listening component of this test will play to students’
strengths. Students are not tested on their ability to speak or write.
Which Spanish test should NCS students take?
Students should take the test that best suits their type of preparation. They should understand that there
is no difference in difficulty between the language tests with listening and the reading-only tests;
colleges may prefer the listening tests to the reading-only tests for placement purposes (but not for
admission purposes); and college application deadlines may determine the choice of test, since the
listening tests are offered only once a year in November.
In the past NCS students have done well on both versions of the test. They should check with their
teacher as to which test they should take and when they should take it. It is best that they take the SAT
in Spanish as a junior and if possible in Spanish 4C or AP Spanish. Taking the SAT Spanish without
the listening gives students an extra semester of study in class, because they can take the SAT Subject
Test in Spanish in May or June. Because the Spanish with Listening is only offered in November, the
test is too late for seniors who are applying early. Juniors who are considering early application to
college should consider taking the Spanish with Listening, and they should check with their teacher to
make sure they are ready for the November test date.
SAT Subject Test in Math, Level 1
 This test is intended for students who have taken three years of college-preparatory math,
including two years of algebra and one year of geometry.
 Students enrolled in Algebra 2 may take this test at the end of the year in either May or June.
They should consider retaking it the following year at the end of their Precalculus class if they
are not satisfied with their score. Some students should consider waiting to take this test until
they finish Precalculus. Students should consult with their math teacher to determine which
time is most appropriate to take the Level 1 test.
 Students enrolled in Accelerated Algebra 2/Trig should take this test at the end of the year in
either May or June. They may retake it the following year or they may choose to take Level 2
after they have completed Accelerated Precalculus.
 Students enrolled in Honors Algebra 2/Trig may take this test at the end of the year in either
May or June, though it is not necessary. The following year they should take Level 2 after they
have completed Honors Precalculus.
SAT Subject Test in Math, Level 2
 This test is intended for students who have taken three-and-a-half to four years of college
preparatory math, including two years of algebra, one year of geometry, and one year of
precalculus topics including elementary functions and trigonometry.
 Students enrolled in Accelerated Precalculus are prepared to take this test at the end of the year
in either May or June if they are strong performers in that class. Otherwise, they should
consider taking the Level 1 test again if they are not satisfied with their score. During second
semester, the Accelerated Precalculus teacher can give students advice on which level would be
more appropriate.
 Students enrolled in Honors Precalculus should take this test at the end of the year in either
May or June.
SAT Subject Tests in Biology
 Students taking either Biology or AP Biology are prepared to take either the Environmental
Biology or Molecular Biology Subject Tests. Students are encouraged to discuss their test
choice with their teacher.
 Nationwide, most students taking this test are 9th or 10th graders taking biology in the
traditional American sequence. Biology and AP Biology at NCS are more substantial courses,
and students who have taken these are better prepared than many of their peers throughout the
 While students taking AP Biology could elect to take either of these tests in May or June,
students taking Biology would be better served by waiting until June to take either test.
SAT Subject Test in Chemistry
 While this test is an option for students doing very well in Chemistry, it is almost always better
to take a science Subject Test as a junior. Students considering taking this test should consult
with their Chemistry teacher before making their decision.
 Students taking AP Chemistry are prepared for this test and could elect to take it in either May
or June.
 Students choosing to take the Subject Test in Chemistry should check with Ms. Clevenger for
information about a unique question type that appears on this test.
SAT Subject Test in Physics
 The Science Department does not recommend students take this test after the NCS 9th grade
physics course.
 This test is designed for the course typically taken by juniors and seniors in traditional
American programs. Since this course differs in significant ways from the course NCS 9th
graders take, they are not well prepared for this test.
 Students taking AP Physics B or C are prepared for this test and could elect to take it in either
May or June.
SAT Subject Test in U.S. History
 Students taking U.S. History or AP U.S. History may take the SAT II in U.S. History at the end
of 11th grade, in May or June.
 The U.S. History Subject Test assesses knowledge of, and ability to use, material commonly
taught in U.S. history and social studies courses in high school. The questions in the SAT II in
U.S. History are drawn from political, economic, social, and intellectual history which is
covered in NCS classes. However, the test covers a broader chronological period than that
typically covered in the NCS curriculum. Students might want to review pre-Columbian history
and history from the 1980s onward.
 All questions on the U.S. History SAT Subject Test are multiple-choice, requiring you to
choose the best response from five choices. Questions may be presented as separate items or in
sets based on quotes, maps, pictures, graphs, or tables.
SAT Subject Test in World History
The Social Sciences Department does not recommend that NCS students take the SAT II in World
History. This test assumes a comprehensive knowledge of key ideas in global history that is
chronologically and geographically broader than the curriculum of the 9th grade Modern World
History class
Registration for the SAT and SAT Subject Tests
It is the student’s responsibility to register for the SAT and SAT Subject Tests. Students should
register online. Registration must be completed in advance; to avoid late fees, students should research
registration deadlines, which generally fall four to six weeks before the exam. Students may take either
the SAT or up to three SAT Subject Tests during a given test administration. The exams are offered at
several test centers in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. NCS is not a test center.
Students should take the SAT (or the ACT) and at least two SAT Subject Tests by the end of junior
year. Students can retake tests, if necessary, during the fall of their senior year. Early applicants who
wish to retest should sit for the SAT and SAT Subject Tests no later than October of their senior year.
Some colleges, though not all colleges, with fall deadlines will accept scores from the November
administration. All tests must be taken by January of a student’s senior year.
To register, students create an account online at www.collegeboard.com. Students should make careful
note of their username and password because they will need them every time they register for a test.
Parents have the option of creating their own account; they will not, however, be able to register their
daughter for standardized tests via a parent account. Students who register online receive immediate
confirmation of their test center. Students are not always prompted to indicate their school code
during registration, but must include the NCS school code each time they take a test. The NCS code
is 090135. The SAT registration includes an optional questionnaire that is difficult to opt out of and
takes a lot of time to complete. The survey does not assist colleges or NCS in your college search; it is
primarily a research and marketing tool. It is time-consuming, but difficult to ―skip;‖ use your best
judgment when answering the questionnaire.
Students can register for three specific SAT Subject Tests, but can take any Subject Tests (except Latin
and Language with Listening Subject Tests) in any order on the actual test day.
Once students have registered for the SAT tests they will receive a downloadable, printable admission
ticket. Students can make corrections to their admission ticket online even if they registered by mail.
Students must report to their test center with proper photo identification and the registration
confirmation on the date of their test, and confirm all test day procedures with the College Board.
Stand-By Status
Students who miss the registration deadlines can try to take the tests on stand-by status. Stand-by tests
are administered on a first-come, first-serve basis, so students should arrive at the test center by 7:00
a.m. Students must bring a check for the correct amount (there is a stand-by fee,) a hard copy of the
registration form (available in the College Guidance Office,) and a photo ID. The test center
administrator will put students’ names on a wait list and, depending upon attendance, stand-by test
takers could be admitted.
Fees and Fee Waivers
Exam fees generally increase from year to year. As of this printing, the SAT Reasoning test costs $47.
The fee for late registration is an additional $24. The basic registration fee for the Subject Tests is $21.
Each test costs an additional $10, except for Language with Listening Subject Tests, which cost an
additional $21. Students interested in financial assistance should ask the College Guidance Office for a
fee waiver.
SAT Test Centers Recommended by NCS Students
Washington DC
Archbishop Carroll HS
Gonzaga College HS
St. John’s College HS
Sidwell Friends School
Maryland, continued
Montgomery College (Rockville)
Thomas Wootton HS (Rockville)
Montgomery Blair HS (Silver Spring)
Good Counsel HS (Wheaton)
Holton-Arms School (Bethesda)
Bethesda-Chevy Chase HS (Bethesda)
Walt Whitman HS(Bethesda)
Walter Johnson HS (Bethesda)
Einstein HS (Kensington)
Thomas Jefferson HS (Alexandria)
Bishop O’Connell HS (Arlington)
Washington and Lee HS (Arlington)
Woodson HS (Fairfax)
Langley HS (McLean)
McLean HS (McLean)
The American College Test, or ACT, is a national college admission examination that consists of four
sections: English, Reading, Mathematics, and Science Reasoning. The ACT also includes an optional
Writing section. The ACT is not an aptitude test or an IQ test. Instead, the questions on the ACT are
directly related to students’ high school course knowledge. ACT results are widely accepted by U.S.
colleges and universities, though many require the optional Writing section. Colleges who accept the
ACT do not prefer it to the SAT; both are viable options for students.
The ACT is a three-hour and 25-minute test. The English section takes 45 minutes to complete. It
includes 75 total questions based upon long prose passages, questions that assess knowledge of
punctuation, grammar, and sentence structure. This section also assesses rhetorical skills on writing
strategy, organization, and style. The 60-minute, 60-question math section includes geometry, prealgebra, algebra, and trigonometry. The 35-minute reading section uses four passages and 40
questions to assess reading comprehension. The science reasoning section lasts for 35 minutes and
consists of 40 questions. The passages include graphs, tables, research, and experiment summaries that
cover biology, chemistry, physics, and earth science. Test-takers are not expected to answer content
specific questions in this section—rather, they are assessed on scientific terms, thinking, reasoning,
and conceptual thinking. The last section, the 30-minute writing section, is optional. In this section,
test-takers are asked to respond to a prompt and to defend a point of view on an issue taken from
everyday life. While the writing section is optional, NCS students are advised to always take this
option as it is required by most selective colleges.
Each section of the ACT will be scored from one to 36; the Composite Score is the average of the four
test scores, rounded to the nearest whole number. A perfect composite score is 36.
It is the student’s responsibility to register for the test at http://www.actstudent.org/. NCS students
should always register for the optional writing section. Registration must be completed in advance; to
avoid late fees, students should research registration deadlines, which generally fall one month before
the exam.
Students who miss the registration deadlines can try to take the tests on stand-by status. Stand-by tests
are administered on a first-come, first-serve basis, so students should arrive at the test center by 7:00
a.m. Students must bring a check for the correct amount (there is a stand-by fee,) a hard copy of the
registration form (available in the College Guidance Office,) and a photo ID. The test center
administrator will put students’ names on a wait list and, depending upon attendance, stand-by test
takers could be admitted.
Fees and Fee Waivers
As of this printing, the ACT 2010 academic year, the ACT with writing costs $46. The fee for late
registration is an additional $21. Students interested in financial assistance should see College
Guidance Office to request a fee waiver.
ACT Test Centers Recommended by NCS Students
As more students take the ACT each year, we will continue to add more centers to this list.
Bethesda-Chevy Chase HS – Bethesda, MD
Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School – Rockville, MD
Langley HS – McLean, VA
McLean HS – McLean, VA
Robinson Secondary School – Fairfax, VA
Colleges that require a standardized test for admission have always accepted either the SAT or the
ACT. Test-takers on the coasts tended to favor the SAT, whereas students in the middle of the country
opted for the ACT—in fact, taking the ACT is a secondary school graduation requirement in some
states. When the College Board added the writing section to the SAT in 2005 and increased the length
of its test, students in the DC-metro area and across the country were drawn to consider the ACT as an
Which test should an NCS student take? Girls who have taken both report that the ACT can be more
enjoyable but it is not necessarily easier. Some have done better on the SAT, some have done better on
the ACT. The best strategy is to take a practice ACT, compare those results to PSAT results, and then
prepare for one or the other.
Comparison of SAT and ACT Scores
SAT score
SAT range
SAT score
SAT range
ACT Composite
(Critical Reading + (Critical Reading +
(Critical Reading + (Critical Reading + ACT Composite
The College Board develops and administers the Advanced Placement (AP) exams. Exams are
administered in May in 22 different subjects, and are scored from one to five (five being the highest).
AP exams may be taken at the appropriate level of study in high school. Colleges use the AP test
scores to determine whether a student is able to undertake advanced study in the first year of college
and as an indicator of a student's achievement in a particular academic discipline. Many colleges award
credit and advanced standing to students who earn a high score on an AP. Some colleges also use
scores to determine placement. Finally, some admission committees find AP scores helpful in
assessing student achievement, although AP results are not required of an applicant to colleges in the
U.S. Many selective college admissions committees do, however, look to a student’s enrollment in a
designated AP course.
AP exams have a variety of formats and usually include multiple-choice questions, oral sections for
languages, essays for history and English, and problem solving in science and mathematics. The tests
are between three to four hours in length. Like the SAT, AP exams are standardized tests subject to
strict rules of administration. Exams are offered during two weeks in May. Students across the country
and the world take the same exact test on the same exact date at a specified time. Make-up exams,
which are alternate versions of the tests, are only allowed in special circumstances. Although there are
specific AP courses at NCS/STA in some disciplines, other upper level classes can also prepare
students to fare well on AP examinations.
NCS students in designated AP courses are required to sit for the AP exam at the conclusion of the
course. Therefore, they are automatically registered for these exams. Students taking AP-level courses
at St. Albans take their exams at St. Albans. Students in AP-preparatory courses will elect whether to
take the exam. For example, 4C language classes at NCS are AP-preparatory and students are
encouraged to take the exam. U.S. History and upper level English literature classes are also APpreparatory.
In May 2011 AP exams cost $87 each. The NCS Business Office sends bills for all AP exams to
students’ families. Students who register for an exam but then change their mind and do not sit for the
exam are not charged the full price of the test; rather, they are charged a $13 cancellation fee.
Students interested in financial assistance should contact the NCS Admissions Office.
It is a student’s responsibility to share standardized test results with any organizations that request this
information. It is the student’s responsibility for the following two reasons:
1. Colleges require that students send an official copy of standardized test results direct from the
testing agency to the admissions office. National Merit, the NCAA, and other scholarship and
qualifying programs may also request official score reports.
2. NCS does not report students’ standardized test scores on our transcripts.
Read further for clarifying details on the nuances of sharing standardized test results.
PSAT Score Reports
PSAT scores are automatically shared with the one agency that requires them: the National Merit
Scholarship Corporation. PSAT scores are not otherwise used in the college application or
matriculation process.
SAT and SAT Subject Test Score Reports
Score reports may be sent for free to four colleges each time a student registers for the SAT or the SAT
Subject Test. There is a fee for additional score reports. Score reports take up to four weeks to process.
The College Board can ―rush‖ reports for an additional fee, but many colleges do not accept rushed
reports. Check with the college before spending additional money.
The College Board has implemented a new procedure for sharing SAT and SAT Subject score reports
beginning with the Class of 2010. Prior to the spring of 2009, score reports were cumulative; now,
students have some choice regarding which scores are shared. SAT score reports are shared by test
date. In other words, students cannot send only their best individual scores from the three sections, but
students can send scores from their best individual test date. In contrast, students can send their best
individual SAT Subject Test scores, no matter which test date.
Some colleges will ask that applicants share the results from all test dates; for this reason, students
should always use discretion when taking tests.
ACT Score Reports
ACT score reports are shared by test date, not by individual scores. If a student’s top scores are from
multiple test dates, she is encouraged to send multiple test date score reports to her colleges of choice.
The ACT charges a fee per test date, per report. The ACT can arrange for priority score sending for an
additional fee; not all colleges accept priority reports, however, so students should check with the
college before spending additional money.
AP Score Reports
During the application process students should not arrange for the AP score reports to be sent direct
from the College Board to colleges. Why? Because when electronically generated and officially sent,
AP score reports are mailed to a college’s academic dean’s office (or the like.) They are not sent to the
admissions office, and the College Board does not permit a student to specify a receiving office at the
university. If a student is pleased with her junior year scores, however, she is encouraged to self-report
her AP exam grades on the Common Application or individual college applications.
Seniors taking AP exams release scores to their college of matriculation. It is possible to withhold or
cancel individual current and past AP exam scores. While the exam score is not listed on the score
report sent to the college, the name of the exam is still listed on the score report with a notation that it
has been cancelled or withheld by the student. It costs $10 per grade, per college to withhold scores;
cancellation is free. The College Guidance Office does not advocate withholding or cancelling scores,
as a student’s admission would not be rescinded due to low performance on an AP exam.
A student with accommodations on her schoolwork at NCS may request the same accommodations on
her standardized testing from the two major testing agencies, the College Board and ACT. Each treats
the process a bit differently. Separate applications are required for each. The Teaching and Learning
Center (TLC) manages all requests and processes all applications for testing accommodations.
College Board
Students who receive testing accommodations at NCS may be eligible for accommodations on all
College Board tests (PSAT, SAT, SAT Subject Tests, and the APs). The most common
accommodation for NCS students is 50% extended time. A student must satisfy the conditions listed on
the College Board’s Web site in order to qualify. Students who meet those conditions will fill out the
first two pages of the Student Eligibility Form, which is available in the TLC. Students must
complete this form only once in their high school career. Note that particular deadlines must be met
and that the processing time can be lengthy. College Board will then send a letter to the student and to
NCS stating whether the accommodation(s) has been granted. The letter will contain a ten-digit code
specific to the student that she must use each time she registers for the SAT or SAT Subject Tests (she
does not need her code to register for the PSAT and AP exams, as NCS does this for her). Assuming
she has been granted a standard accommodation (ex: 50% extended time), she may test at any national
test center.
Students who receive testing accommodations at NCS may also be eligible for accommodations on the
ACT. Conditions are listed on the ACT program’s Web site. The most common accommodation for
NCS students is 50% extended time. Students must complete both the Application for ACT Extended
Time National Testing and a test registration form and return documents to the TLC along with the
appropriate test fee (students with accommodations have to register by paper for their first test). If the
student is approved, ACT sends her a registration ticket for the exam. Assuming she has been granted a
standard accommodation (ex: 50% extended time), she may test at any national test center. The next
time she wishes to take the test, she may register online; she will be prompted to indicate that she has
received extra time previously. If she is not approved, she receives a letter of explanation. NCS does
not receive notification of approval or denial, so please inform the TLC of the decision.
The NCS curriculum prepares students to do well on standardized tests, including those required for
admission to college—the SAT, the ACT, and SAT Subject Tests. Explicit test preparation, however,
is not a curricular component in most Upper School classes.
Some families choose to have their daughter work with a tutor or enroll in a class. NCS does not
recommend any particular test preparation company or individual, but the College Guidance Office
maintains a list of local options as compiled by suggestions by students and their families. In order to
provide access for all students who wish to received standardized test preparation, NCS offers in-house
test preparation. These sessions take place on weekends and weeknights. Financial assistance is
available. Contact the College Guidance Office for details.
Some selective colleges do not require standardized tests in support of a student’s application. A full list can be
found at www.fairtest.org. Here is a partial listing of colleges with flexible and atypical standardized test
Agnes Scott College, Decatur, GA
Lawrence University, Appleton, WI
American University, Washington, DC
Lewis and Clark College, Portland, OR
College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, ME
Loyola University, Baltimore, MD
University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
Marist College, Poughkeepsie, NY
Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY
McDaniel College, Westminster, MD
Bates College, Lewiston, ME
Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT
Bennington College, Bennington, VT
Mississippi (University of), Oxford, MI
Bowdoin College, Brunswick, ME
Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA
Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA
Muhlenberg College, Allentown, PA
Campbell University, Morrisville, NC
New York University, New York, NY
Colby College, Waterville, ME
Pitzer College, Claremont, CA
Colorado College, Colorado Springs, CO
Providence College, Providence, RI
Connecticut College, New London, CT
Rollins College, Winter Park, FL
Denison University, Granville, OH
Saint Johns College, Santa Fe, NM
Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA
Saint Johns College, Annapolis, MD
Drew University, Madison, NJ
Saint Lawrence University, Canton, NY
Fairfield University, Fairfield, CT
Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY
Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster PA
The University of the South, Sewanee, TN
Furman University, Greenville, SC
Smith College, Northampton, MA
George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
St. Michael’s College, Colchester, VT
Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, PA
Stetson University, Deland, FL
Goucher College, Baltimore, MD
Susquehanna University, Selinsgrove, PA
Green Mountain College, Poultney, VT
Texas A&M Universities, TX
Guilford College, Greensboro, NC
Trinity University, Washington, DC
Gustavus Aldophus University, St. Peter, MN
Union College, Schenectady, NY
Hamilton College, Clinton, NY
Ursinus College, Collegeville, PA
Hampshire College, Amherst, MA
Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC
Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, NY
Washington College, Chestertown, MD
Holy Cross (College of the), Worcester, MA
Wheaton College, Norton, MA
Knox College, Galesburg, IL
Wittenberg University, Springfield, OH
Lake Forest College, Lake Forest, IL
Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA
A college application represents a student’s desire to attend a certain college—it demonstrates what a
student has accomplished during high school, it articulates what a student can offer to a particular
institution, and it includes recommendations that speak to the student’s strengths. An application may
be considered a question: ―I am interested in going to your college—do you have room for me?‖ There
are a few different processes and timelines through which colleges manage this request.
Rolling Applications
Colleges which practice rolling admission generally have only one deadline—a final deadline, that
falls in March or April; colleges do not accept applications after the final deadline.
Colleges with rolling admission encourage students to apply at any time during the year, and
applications are reviewed either as they are received, or in batches. Decisions are ―rolled out‖ in
waves, and competition may increase if spaces start to fill up.
Decisions are typically announced six to eight weeks after the application is submitted.
May 1 is usually the deadline for a student to indicate acceptance of admission.
Regular Decision Applications
Regular decision deadlines run from December through March.
Colleges review applications at once, and announce decisions after taking the entire candidate pool
into account.
Colleges send out notification of acceptance at varying times, but no later than mid-April.
A student’s final decision about where to matriculate must be made by May 1.
Priority Deadlines
Priority deadlines tend to fall early in the admissions process, sometimes up to months in advance
of any final deadlines.
Some colleges do not give preference to students who submit by the priority deadline; their goal in
publishing an earlier deadline is to encourage students to finish their application sooner rather than
later, which helps them with the processing of applications.
Some colleges give preference to applicants who meet priority deadlines, such as less demanding
admission standards or special consideration for scholarships.
Some colleges also offer a priority deadline filing period called early admission. There are two
general types of early programs—binding programs (early decision) and non-binding programs
(early action.)
Early Decision
Students make a single application to their first choice college, usually in early November.
When applying students sign a contract agreeing to enroll if admitted. This needs to be signed by
the student, parent, and counselor.
Acceptance is based on a strong three-year record; not all colleges require senior year grades, and
the NCS GPA is only updated twice per year (in January and in June); updated grades have not yet
been earned and are therefore not available in time for review.
By mid-December the college decides whether to admit, defer, or deny the application.
A student agrees to accept admission if it is offered; her admission is binding. She does not file any
other applications, and she withdraws any pending applications.
Deferred applications are reconsidered in the regular admissions process, at which time the
application can be supplemented with a mid-year transcript and additional information from the
student, should she wish.
Early Decision II
Students apply to colleges according to the colleges’ deadlines during the months of December and
January; students select one school as Early Decision II, if it is offered.
Early Decision II applications are reviewed first. Within four to six weeks, the college decides
whether to admit, defer, or deny the application.
A student agrees to accept admission if it is offered; her admission is binding. She withdraws all
other pending applications.
Early Action and Single-Choice Early Action
Students submit an application by the college’s deadline in November.
As with early decision programs, acceptance is based on a strong three-year record; not all colleges
require senior year grades, and the NCS GPA is only updated twice per year (in January and in
June); updated grades have not yet been earned and are therefore not available in time for review.
By mid-December the college decides whether to admit, defer, or deny the application.
The difference between Early Action and Early Decision is that Early Action is not binding. The
student is not committed to attend if accepted and has until May 1 to make a decision on her
matriculation. She may therefore apply to other colleges according to their deadlines. At NCS,
however, students who receive an early action admission will be strongly advised to file fewer
regular decision applications.
Single-choice Early Action differs from Early Action in that colleges with this program expect
students to make only one early application. In contrast, a student applying Early Action can
submit multiple early applications.
During the application process, it is the student who submits an application to the college. NCS
follows-up with other required elements, such as the transcript and letters of recommendation (details
on this part of the process are explained further in this chapter).
Here are the three main types of applications that NCS students file.
A College’s Own Application
 The admissions office’s Web page typically provides information regarding the type of application
they accept.
 Some colleges only accept their own application. Applications can be downloaded from their Web
site and submitted via post as a hard copy; sometimes, students can complete the application online
and submit it through the university’s Web site.
The Common Application
 This ―unified‖ application form can be used to apply to hundreds of colleges in the United States.
 The Common Application is available online via its Web site, www.commonapp.org. Students
may print out and submit paper copies to a college; alternatively, they can complete the application
online and submit a digital copy to their colleges of choice.
 Students can submit the same version of The Common Application to all of the colleges on their
list, or they can create alternate versions.
 Not all colleges accept The Common Application; those that do typically require supplements. A
college’s unique requirements are listed online at the Common Application Web site, and students
are advised to confirm requirements through the college’s own Web site.
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, or UCAS
 All students, British and international, apply to colleges in the United Kingdom through UCAS, the
Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.
 If students are applying to only one college in the U.K., they may have the option of a direct
application. (For example, if a student is only applying to the University of Edinburgh).
 Students complete the online application for this clearinghouse at www.ucas.com.
 Students from the USA may submit their credentials to up to six colleges by June 30 (Cambridge
and Oxford have an earlier deadline).
 Those who wish to compare offers of admission from schools in the U.K. and the U.S. should
submit the UCAS by late winter.
 Students can apply to either Cambridge or to Oxford, but not to both schools. Both have an
October deadline, be sure to check their websites regarding application due dates. Also, students
should be prepared for additional testing in specific subject areas, and possibly interviewing in
person in the UK or New York.
Other applications may be required of students—for example, if they are interested in competing for a
scholarship or for admission to an honors program. Students should confirm special requirements with
the college’s admissions office.
Colleges weigh a combination of factors when determining the students to whom an acceptance is
offered. At competitive colleges—where admissions offices receive more applications than spaces in
the freshman class—the most important factors generally fall into three categories. We list them here
in order of importance.
The Transcript
The transcript is the most important credential because it includes:
Course depth and strength (which is clarified through the NCS profile, which is submitted with
each application)
Grades (including the difficulty of the grading system)
Patterns over time (upward/downward trend in individual subjects, GPA, etc.)
Strength of the school
Strong Weights
 Standardized Testing (SAT and/or ACT and SAT Subject Tests)
 Recommendations (including the school recommendation and teacher recommendations)
 Writing (the application form, including essays and short answers, and photocopies of in-school
writing and/or a writing portfolio, if appropriate)
 Extra-curricular strengths (arts, athletics, leadership, etc.) and community service
 Interview, if used for evaluation
Tippers—Institutional Needs, or ―Hooks‖
 International students and students from an underrepresented minority, geographic, or religious
 First-generation students (if the student’s parent/s did not attend college)
 Students with exceptional ability or promise who have applied to a particular school or program
 Recruited athletes
 Children, grandchildren, and siblings of alumni or current students
 Expression of interest, as well as early decision (that is, a student’s promise to enroll if accepted)
 Children of faculty members
Adapted from Bates College document
There are usually six important parts of an applicant's file:
1. Application
The application itself asks students for basic demographic information. It also asks students for
their intended field of study and their career goals. Students will list their extra curricular activities
and awards, what classes they have taken, whether they’ve completed academic work outside of
the school year, if they’ve done anything of note during the summer, and whether they’ve held a
part-time job. Instead of merely listing activities and achievements, students may also submit
optional supplementary material, sometimes as an indicator of serious commitment—for example,
a résumé, a writing portfolio, an art portfolio, or a video recording. Students interested in
supplementing their application should consult the College Guidance Office first.
2. Essays
Essays are valuable to the admissions committee because they indicate how clearly a student thinks
and writes. Furthermore, they demonstrate what a student values and whether she is a fit for the
college. Students should present carefully crafted responses that are rigorously edited and
3. Test Scores
SAT and/or ACT scores and SAT Subject Test scores are a requirement at many colleges; they are
used as a predictor of college success and are evaluated with high school grades. Colleges may also
look at AP scores during the admission process, although they are not required for admission to
colleges in the U.S. At NCS, no standardized test scores are included with the school documents
that are sent to colleges: it is a student’s responsibility to self-report scores and send from the
testing agencies, as requested by the college.
4. Secondary School Report and Recommendation
Most applications require a statement of support from the school, and many colleges ask whether a
student is in good academic and disciplinary standing at her secondary school. (For more details on
disciplinary infractions, reference a later page in this section of the handbook.) Most colleges
solicit additional comments; at NCS, a full letter of school support is provided. This confidential
letter is written by the College Guidance Office in consultation with the faculty. It draws upon
information shared by the student and her family, it highlights a student’s strengths, and it offers
the school’s endorsement of the candidate. It is co-signed by all of the co-directors.
5. High School Transcript and School Profile
The six parts of an applicant’s file are not given equal weight: nothing counts as heavily as the
transcript. Colleges consider the rigor of courses taken and the overall course load (including a
student’s senior-year schedule) as well as grades. The academic work attempted and the results
achieved come at the top of the evaluation list. A profile is a description of the school, offering
information on the test scores of the most recently graduated class, where previous NCS graduates
have gone to college, and detailed information on the NCS course of study. It gives context to the
student’s application. It helps an admissions committee understand more about NCS, the
committee interpret the transcript, and the evaluators understand where the student is coming from.
6. Teacher Recommendations
Most colleges request two recommendations from classroom teachers because teachers have direct
contact with students and can write about a student’s curiosity, motivation, dedication, effort, and
other traits from first-hand experience. Teacher recommendations are confidential; students are
advised to waive their right to access them.
National Cathedral School
Mount Saint Alban
Washington, DC 20016
Phone: 202-537-6366 ● Fax: 202-537-5625
Suzy Q. Student
3609 Woodley Road NW
Washington, DC 20016
School Code:
March 19, 1991
Social Security #: 987-65-4321
Parent: Mr. Daddy Q. and Mrs. Mommy Q. Student
Secondary School Transcript
School Year 2005/2006
Grade 9
School Year 2007/2008
S2 Year
A- AB+ B+
C+ C+
GPA 3.26
English 9
French 2
World History IIC
Introduction to Ceramics
Intermediate Ceramics
JV Volleyball
Personal Fitness
Variety Show
Grade 10
S1 S2 Year
English 10
A- AAFrench 3 Classic
B+ B
Accelerated Alg. 2/Trig.
B+ B- B
Biblical Themes in Literature
Varsity Volleyball
Personal Fitness
Winter Musical
Variety Show
GPA 3.53
Grade 11
S1 S2 Year
American Literary Traditions
AAWriting Seminar
French 4 Classic
B+ B
Accelerated Precalculus
U.S. History
C+ B+ B
AP Physics B
B+ A- AVarsity Volleyball
Personal Fitness
Variety Show
GPA 3.43
School Year 2006/2007
School Year 2009/2010
Grade 12
S1 S2
Expository Writing
French V
AP Calculus AB
Religion: Its Nature & Practice
Varsity Volleyball
Cumulative GPA
Flag Day Award 2005
Acad. Award 2006
Jane emily Clymer Award in Drama
Writer’s Day Award
Kelly J. Heatwole
D- 0.7
DP Distinguished Pass P Pass MP Minimal Pass RX Medically Excused W Withdrawn
The National Cathedral School is a member of the National Association of College Admissions
Counseling (NACAC.) As a NACAC member, NCS agrees to adhere to the ethical standards and best
practices outlined in the statement of principles of good practice (SPGP). The SPGP asks that
 accurately represent their school and student
 report any significant change in a candidate’s academic status or qualifications, including
personal school conduct record between the time of recommendation and graduation
 establish a written policy on disclosure of disciplinary infractions in their communications to
Many college applications include a section that asks whether a student has ever come before the NCS
Honor Board or whether the student has otherwise been subject to disciplinary measures. The Common
Application, for example, includes a section entitled ―Other Required Information‖ in which students
are asked if they have been:
 ―found responsible for a disciplinary violation at any secondary school‖ they have attended,
―whether related to academic misconduct or behavioral misconduct, that resulted in probation,
suspension, removal, dismissal or expulsion.‖
 ―convicted of a misdemeanor, felony, or other crime.‖
Because the NCS College Guidance Office is a member of NACAC and because NCS is committed to
providing accurate and honest information to all constituencies, students are advised to answer these
questions honestly and truthfully. Students who have come before the Honor Board or have otherwise
been subjected to disciplinary action will be informed by the Dean of Students whether the offense
should be reported or not. In all cases, the NCS College Guidance Office encourages the student
herself to explain the incident in question, and the College Guidance Office staff is available to review
and edit a student’s statement. The school then takes a stance of support and advocacy, which is
provided, in writing, to the college.
If an initial college application does not specifically ask whether a student has been subjected to
disciplinary infractions, that information will not be shared with the college unless the student herself
chooses to disclose the information or unless the infraction is serious enough to affect the school’s
ability or willingness to recommend a student.
If, however, the infraction occurs after an application has been filed, NCS must report the infraction
whether or not the question was initially posed on the application.
In all cases, because the student herself is applying to college, and because Honor Board and
Discipline Board violations are not customarily shared with the College Guidance Office, the student
should be the one to review the colleges’ applications in full—both the student’s section and the
school’s section—to determine if the question is asked. The student should then proceed as necessary,
seeing her designated college counselor as an important first step.
Other Explanations
Many colleges find it helpful when students include a brief explanatory statement that addresses
something that is not otherwise asked about in the application. Appropriate explanations include issues
regarding scheduling conflicts or a severe illness that impacted attendance. Again, the student should
work with her designated college counselor in writing appropriate statements.
Colleges and The Common Application generally update their applications, procedures, and forms
during the early summer in response to their experiences during the prior application season. New
versions of the applications, to be used for the following academic year, are published in late
summer/early fall. The NCS College Guidance Office therefore uses time during Senior Seminar in the
fall to address timely questions and concerns regarding applications, but here are a few general tips
that are not likely to change from season to season.
General application tips
 Always read the instructions for every college application; whether the Common Application, a
school-specific application, or a Common Application supplement.
 When filling out any college application, never simply write ―please see attached.‖ Provide the
information requested, where asked. If you run out of room, indicate where the information is
 If you want to send supplemental information with your application—for example, musical
recordings, an art portfolio, or digital footage of athletics—it is your responsibility to determine the
medium through which an admissions office will accept this information. Deadlines and receiving
offices may vary.
 A sure-fire way to double-check that an admissions office has received your application is to take
note of when and if your credit card was charged. In general, it is the student’s responsibility to
confirm a college’s receipt of her application and all supporting materials.
 The College Guidance Office can provide application fee waivers to eligible students, by request.
 If interviews are an option, it is a student’s responsibility to figure out how to obtain one. Most
colleges provide specific instructions on their Web site; some require that applicants submit their
application before an interview is granted.
 At 99.99% of the colleges, deadlines are ―postmark‖ deadlines. Digital submit deadlines are day of
deadlines; for example, for a January 1 deadline you have until 11:59 pm on New Year’s Day to
 Take note of your Common Application ID number which can be used to reference your
application if needed.
 Print a copy of your application before hitting submit. Digital submission is best. If submitting a
paper application via post, make a copy before sending and send the paper applications via certified
mail, so you can confirm receipt.
Tips for Listing Demographic Data
 If asked whether you intend to apply for financial aid, check with your parents and provide an
honest answer. If you are applying to a need-blind school, what you indicate will not be used as a
determining factor in the admissions process. If you are applying to a need-sensitive or need-aware
school, it could make a difference.
 When asked to check a box or boxes regarding ethnicity, we advise that you check any boxes that
may apply (even though this question is optional).
 If you provide a cell phone number, be sure that your cell phone message is appropriate. If you
provide a personal email address, be sure it is appropriate.
 When asked for a date of entry to NCS, provide the month when you entered the Upper School.
Most colleges will seek details regarding secondary school activities and achievements, only. Do
not provide information from middle or lower school, unless you are noting the general length of
time of any one activity (for example, ―I have played flute since fourth grade.‖)
Some applications ask if students have attended other secondary schools or summer schools; this is
for students who did so in order to earn graduation credits.
Tips for Listing Courses at NCS
 Never use NCS acronyms, such as HLAVC or APUSH. Indicate the full name of the course.
 List only courses for which you will receive academic credit (not Pilates or Senior Seminar.)
 All junior and senior year English classes should be listed as AP-preparatory, as well as any other
classes that prepare you for an AP exam.
 If completing an application before second semester of senior year, do not list any second
semester-only classes; instead, list classes as electives and as pending.
Tips for Listing Honors, Awards, Jobs, and Extra Curricular Activities
 Describe any NCS honors that are not self-explanatory (for example, The Writers’ Day Prize, The
Koch Fellowship, The Bruce Neswick Medal).
 List only jobs for which you have been compensated. If you had an unpaid internship, find a way to
list it elsewhere.
 If you have been a baby-sitter, do not list the family name/s. Indicate ―Neighborhood Families‖ or
the like.
 If it helps provide context, indicate a description for your place of employment (for example, Sales
Associate at Tickled Pink, a clothing boutique.)
 If, when listing an activity, you must choose from a pre-populated field, pick the one that most
aptly describes your activity.
 Provide as many details as space permits for activities that are not self-explanatory.
Tips for Listing Standardized Tests
 Unless directed otherwise, list only your best individual scores on the application. This is a way to
highlight your best work.
 Be sure to list tests that you plan to take if prompted with the phrase tests to be taken.
 It is a student’s responsibility to send SAT and ACT scores direct from the testing agency to the
college. Score report requests can take up to 4 weeks to process.
Tips for Arranging for NCS School Documents to be Sent to Colleges
 NCS submits all school documents—including the transcript and letters of recommendation—
digitally. Students must interface with our Web-based program, Naviance, in order to request that
school materials be sent to colleges.
 Students are advised to list their college choices in Naviance in accordance to internal NCS
deadlines. These internal NCS deadlines are advertised to students early each season; they
generally fall four weeks in advance of a college’s deadline. Many college deadlines fall during
Christmas Break; students must adhere to our internal deadlines to avoid complications during
vacation time.
 Some colleges and scholarship programs require school documents and forms that cannot be
submitted digitally. When researching requirements, students should confirm what parts of the
application must be completed by a school official, and they should alert their college counselor/s
in advance.
 Students may sometimes request a letter of recommendation from someone outside of the NCS
community. NCS is happy to submit credentials on behalf of others if that is OK with the letterwriter. This is something to coordinate at least one month in advance of deadlines.
Suzy Q. Student
5555 Main Street, Bethesda, MD 22222
Mobile telephone number: 202-555-5555  E-mail address: [email protected]
National Cathedral School
Mount Saint Alban, Washington, DC 20016
Date of graduation: June 7, 2012
GPA: 3.21
University of Maryland
College Park, MD
Expected date of graduation: May 2016
English Department Award (grade 12)
National Merit Commended Scholar (grade 11)
Writer’s Day Award (grade 11)
Writers Day is an annual event where practicing authors speak and students are given awards
for creative writing, poetry, and essay writing.
Le Grand Concours – National French Exam, Gold Medal (grades 10 & 11)
Coach’s Award, Lacrosse (grade 10)
St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Washington, DC – Outstanding Youth Minister Award (May 2010)
Peer Leader (grade 12)
Selected as Peer Leader for the incoming ninth grade class at National Cathedral School
Lacrosse: Junior Varsity (grades 9 & 10) and Varsity (grades 11 & 12)
St. Matthew’s Cathedral Youth Ministry Group (grades 9 – 12; Co-President grade 12)
Run for Life (grades 11 & 12)
5K run that raises money for cancer research
Classical Piano (grades 6–12)
Pet Sitter for neighborhood families (grades 10–12)
Child Care – babysitting for neighborhood families (grades 9–12)
Fluent in French
Proficient with Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint
Amateur photographer and ceramicist
Last updated 5/11/2011
The college application process can be different for students who are recruited to play sports at the
collegiate level. Recruits usually operate on an accelerated timeline, they might need to register with
the national clearinghouse, and they must do certain things in order to be noticed (such as attend camps
and compete with a traveling, club team).
If a college coach recruits an athlete to play for his or her team, the coach may have a chance to
positively influence the athlete’s admission to college. This process usually involves submission of
academic information in advance of the application process, thereby providing the college with an
early opportunity to pre-screen the athlete’s admissibility.
The athletic recruitment process varies from sport to sport, and from college to college. In some ways,
it can be seen as complicated; for other reasons, it can add structure and clarity to the process. For this
reason, the Athletic Department and the College Guidance Office host an Athletic Recruitment
Workshop for students and parent(s)/guardian(s) in grades 9–11 every year. At this workshop, the
nuances of the athletic recruitment process are explained in detail.
In addition, the NCS Athletic Department publishes its own handbook for the recruitment process.
Students who wish to learn more about this option and therefore encouraged to work closely with their
designated college counselor/s, the Athletic Director, and their coaches.
Most NCS athletes play at Division I-Ivy or Division III colleges, neither of which offers merit grantin-aid for athletes.
NCAA Eligibility
The NCAA Clearinghouse is now called the NCAA Eligibility Center. In order to be eligible, you have
to meet two criteria: academic eligibility and amateurism eligibility. The Eligibility Center is the
objective measure of this criterion, although only athletes who wish to compete in DI or DII must be
cleared by the NCAA (DIII schools handle things in-house). Amateurism used to be determined inhouse for all Divisions, but now the Eligibility Center will handle amateur eligibility for DI and DII
To learn more and to register, visit https://web1.ncaa.org/eligibilitycenter/student/index_student.html.
 The NCAA Guide for the College-Bound Student-Athlete is a summary of the rules and regulations
in easy-to-read form. Guidelines relate to recruiting, eligibility, financial aid, and college freshman
eligibility requirements for Divisions I and II.
 The Women’s Sports Foundation (www.womenssportsfoundation.org) maintains a college athletic
scholarship database.
Athletic Recruitment Checklist
The following checklist provides a general overview for the steps that are involved in a typical athletic
recruitment process, after a student-athlete has identified her desire to potentially play sports in
Attend the NCS Athletic Recruitment Workshop.
Meet with your NCS coach and the NCS Athletic Director to discuss your interest in being
recruited. Have a frank discussion about what level of play would best suit you.
Draft your athletic résumé.
Begin search for academic and athletic programs that balances your hopes and needs.
Begin NCAA Clearinghouse Process (check core curriculum junior year, submit release form
beginning of senior year).
Keep a file and diary during the recruiting process (including a correspondence log).
Submit online athletic questionnaires.
Send athletic résumé and cover letter to schools of interest via e-mail. Consider tailoring each
cover letter to the specific school (i.e. ―I see that you have two students from the DC are on your
team‖ or ―Congrats on your big win over State U last May‖).
Respond to all contact from coaches by phone, letter or e-mail (even to say ―not interested‖).
Make a video-recording and send to schools of interest.
Get recommendation from high school/club coach.
Meet with admissions officers when they visit your school (mention athletics).
Go on an unofficial visit (non-paid) to schools of interest; contact coaches in advance of your
visit and ask to meet with them (mid/end of sophomore year). Ask questions (Number of seniors
graduating? positions needed? chances of playing at that school? extensive travel? how much
time away from classes? Off-season commitment? etc.). Send a thank-you note to college coach
after your visits.
Go on an official (paid) visit (overnight, if possible) to schools of interest. (One per school, no
more than 48 hours in length. Five official visits in total are allowed throughout the process.)
Send thank-yous.
Have your parent(s)/guardian(s) should speak to the coach at least one time by phone or in
If offered an athletic scholarship, consider all possibilities before signing the Letter of Intent.
Once you’ve identified a top choice school, work with your designated college counselor/s at
NCS to confirm any special handling for your application. Recruited athletes are often asked to
apply via the college’s early admission program.
Notify all coaches of your final decision.
Suzy Q. Student
5555 Main Street, Washington, DC 20000
Mobile telephone number: 202-555-5555  E-mail address: [email protected]
General Information
Date of Birth: 3/19/93
Social Security Number: 123-45-6789
Height: 5' 6"
School: National Cathedral School
Year in School: Junior; Class of 2012
School Phone: 202-537-6687
Guidance Counselor: Ms. Erin K. Johnston
Guidance Phone: 202-537-6360
School Address: Mount Saint Alban, Washington,
DC 20016
Date of Graduation: June 2012
School Fax: 202-537-5594
Director of Athletics: Ms. Heather Dent
Athletic Phone: 202-537-5544
NCAA Eligibility Center Certification: In process
Parent/Guardian Names: Daddy Q. and Mommy Q. Student
Parent/Guardian Phone: 202-555-5554 (h)
Academic Information
Cumulative, unweighted GPA: 3.41 on a 4.0 scale
Class Rank: NCS does not rank students
SAT I Scores: CR 690, M 670, WR 710
AP Exam Results :
Physics 5, U.S. History 4
Athletic Information
Sport : Volleyball
3 years varsity, 1 year JV
Position: Outside hitter
HS Coach: Karen Marshall
HS Coach Phone: 202-537-6364
SAT Subject Test Scores: Math I 650,
Physics 740, US History 710
2011 – 2012 Planned AP Courses :
Biology, Calculus AB
2011 – 2012 Planned AP preparatory course :
Video Available: Yes
Uniform # on Video: 12
Club Team: DC Juniors
Club Coach: Bob White
Club Coach Phone: 202-333-3333
Awards: MVP 2011, All Metro 2011
Camps Attended: GW Volleyball Camp, Princeton Volleyball Camp
School Activities
Student Government; Elected Class Representative; grades 10 & 11
School Newspaper, The Discus; Sports Writer; grades 9 – present
Junior Prom Committee; grade 11
Hobbies and Other Interests
Community Service with Gospel Rescue Ministries
Mountain Biking; Skiing; Hiking
Last updated 5/11/2010
Students with demonstrated dedication to the arts often consider sharing evidence of that talent with
admissions committees. Some colleges welcome receiving this type of information, whereas others
prefer to receive supplemental materials only from students who intend to major or minor in the arts.
If a student is applying to a specialty program or institute, such as a design school or conservatory, she
may be required to submit additional materials or meet with a school representative in person (for an
interview or audition, as applicable). Students with demonstrated talent in the arts who do not intend to
study that field at college should carefully research the benefits and consequences of documenting that
commitment through the application process.
The following overview provides information that runs the gamut from the ―casual‖ artist to the preprofessional artist. In all cases, students are advised to engage in careful self-reflection; to research
college deadlines and requirements; and to coordinate efforts and seek advice from teachers,
instructors, and the college guidance team.
Overview: Studio Art Portfolios & Folios
Students may wish to include a studio art portfolio with their college application in order to
demonstrate a high level of proficiency in an artistic discipline. The choice to submit a portfolio or
folio should be made after carefully researching a college’s application procedures, and after receiving
input from the student’s art teacher and her designated college counselor. Students who intend to major
in art, as well as those who apply to an art institute, may not be in a position to choose: for many
programs, an art portfolio is a requirement for admission.
The NCS Art Department will work with students to help them compile a compelling portfolio. Each
spring, department members arrange for a photographer to come to school to document the rising
seniors’ work. The photographer returns to NCS in September. There is a fee to students for this
In general, the department recommends that most, if not all, of the artwork in the portfolio be beyond
the introductory level. The student should have a minimum of 15–20 works of art that were created
during Upper School, including the summers. Students are encouraged to seek the input of their art
teacher when choosing which pieces to include.
A student with fewer than 12 high quality pieces of art is not a candidate for a portfolio. She might,
however, consider submitting documentation of just one piece to any college which welcomes the
submission of additional information. This is called a ―folio,‖ and it is often accompanied by an artist’s
Most colleges provide instructions regarding the format for submission; those that do not may not
accept such supplemental materials. Admissions committees that require portfolios will generally offer
highly detailed instructions on how and when to submit the required information. Student-artists
should take note that there is a good deal of formatting work and organization that is required with
portfolio submission. Some colleges will accept DVDs and CDs, whereas others require slides. Some
require a letter of recommendation in support of the portfolio. Some deadlines fall in advance of the
standard admission deadline, whereas others fall in February and March, far later than most college
deadlines. In all cases, it is the applicant herself who should research these requirements and
expectations. The NCS Art Department can provide support and guidance for the applicant when the
applicant requests assistance in advance. Students are therefore advised to plan accordingly.
Overview: Vocal and Instrumental Performance
The following was written by an NCS alumna who studied violin in college.
Students should begin searching early to accommodate audition requirements at each school. This
information is needed before preparing audition repertoires in spring of junior year. Early decision
requires a school visit for a live audition. Students should be selective: handling too many college
applications with music auditions is overwhelming, if not impossible.
Most conservatories are affiliated with colleges. Students are well served to investigate academic
programs in addition to music studies through dual programs. For instance, at Julliard and Columbia,
and at the New England Conservatory and Tufts, a student spends three years at college and the final
year at the conservatory, with crossover courses and lessons throughout, receiving a BA from the
college and a Master’s degree in music.
It is possible to be accepted to the university and not the conservatory (or vice versa). At some colleges
it is also possible to be accepted at both—but not to the dual program. Admission to the conservatory
is strictly based upon musical ability; your GPA, SAT, and academic interests are much less important.
Some conservatories may ask for an essay to get a sense of the applicant’s musicianship and goals.
The key in finding the right music school is finding the right teacher under whom to study. Therefore,
summer camps are helpful because you get to know different teachers as well as other high-level
college and high school students. Most conservatory teachers disperse to many summer camps, and
working with a teacher for a summer gives a student a competitive edge over other applicants.
Application deadlines for the vocalist and instrumentalist are much earlier than most college
application deadlines, in late fall. Applicants are usually required to submit additional information,
including supplementary essays, repertoire lists, and teacher recommendations.
As regards the audition process, it is possible for a student to arrange for a private lesson with
conservatory professors before the audition. Since the judges do not talk to students at all during the
audition, a private lesson is one way for them to get to know an applicant. For an applicant to a
conservatory, the audition is the most important part of the college application. Regular-decision
audition deadlines are often clustered, so families must plan their travel schedules carefully.
A final note: once accepted to a music school the search is not complete. Students typically select a
school because of the faculty and must also be accepted into a teacher’s studio. Different schools have
different ways of dealing with this. Students should take the time to become familiar with the
procedure for requesting a teacher. Most likely, the teacher will want to hear the student perform, or
watch the videorecording the applicant created.
Overview: Dance and Drama
As with musicians, students interested drama and dance must first start with goal-setting and research.
Some colleges offer the field as a major or minor within the academic program, whereas other schools
operate as conservatories. Most colleges and universities offer classes in these fields to non-majors, as
well as extensive extra-curricular opportunities.
As part of her research, students need determine whether an audition is required. As is the case with
vocal and instrumental performance, it is possible to be accepted to a university but not to the specific
arts program, and vice versa.
Most drama auditions require students to perform two pieces from memory, one classical and one
contemporary. Students must read and be prepared to answer questions on the plays the monologues
are from. For the audition, some colleges assign readings, while others leave the choice to the student.
Other audition activities may include participation in a group movement exercise, a group drama
activity, or a cold reading. An applicant may be asked to write an essay while at the audition. There
may also be a group warm-up for the audition. Bring a head shot and résumé to the audition, and ask
about bringing recommendations.
Theatre audition panels look at a range of factors—voice, movement, phrasing, and spontaneity, to
name a few. Contact the college and ask for their criteria. There may also be an interview during this
audition, so be prepared to answer questions about training and goals.
Students preparing for a dance audition are well served to reflect upon what is appropriate for her
schools of choice. Programs will publish specific preferences and expectations ranging from attire to
musical accompaniment. Some programs expect students to attend an open class in advance of the
actual audition. Resumes and head shots are often required, as well.
Suggestions for Live Auditions
 Keep track of all audition dates. Most conservatories offer between three and six dates. Request
dates early, because they fill up quickly.
 Do your research to determine whether the program expects and requires, and arrive prepared.
 Keep in mind that the judges are famous artists in their own right, so it is possible they have
recorded or performed the same piece an applicant is performing.
 Auditions are private—parent(s)/guardian(s) and other students are not allowed to listen. There is
no conversation among the students and the judges.
General Guidelines for Preparing a Performing Arts Video-recording
 If you are interested in creating a music or performing arts CD or DVD, first consult your teachers
and then the College Guidance team. Given that these CDs or DVDs are forwarded to the
appropriate department at a college, it is important that students have achieved a certain level of
mastery in their activity. Oftentimes an essay on your passion for music or performing arts is a
more effective way to convey your dedication to an admissions committee.
 For the audition taping (for drama, music, or dance), each chosen selection should be an
appropriate length. The text, music or choreography must be carefully tailored so as to exhibit a
range of polished performance attributes and skilled demonstration.
 If she comes thoroughly prepared, each student’s shooting session usually takes an hour, even
though the final recorded material might be as little as four to five minutes, including an
introduction and slates identifying the pieces performed. There are fees for these types of services,
and additional costs associated with the number of copies required.
 In lieu of recording a piece live students may wish to compile snippets from performances.
Students should coordinate this effort with their teacher. Note that compiling recordings may
require considerable preparation time.
Suzy Q. Student
5555 Main Street, Washington, DC 20000
Mobile telephone number: 202-555-5555  E-mail address: [email protected]
General Information
Date of Birth: 3/19/92
Height: 5’6‖
Weight: 140 lbs
Social Security Number: 978-65-4321
Eyes: Brown
Hair: Brown
Guys and Dolls
Miss Adelaide
Gonzaga Summer Theater, July 2010
Arsenic and Old Lace
Abby Brewster
Close Theater Company, April 2010
Sally Bowles
Close Theater Company, November 2009
Aunt Eller
Georgetown Preparatory Summer Theater
The Fantasticks
Close Theater Company, April 2009
Close Theater Company, November 2009
Joseph and the Amazing
Technicolor Dreamcoat
Gonzaga Summer Theater, July 2009
Tap—private study at Joy of Motion Dance Studio with Louise Ciccone
Jazz—private study with Stephanie Germanotta
Hip Hop—National Cathedral School Dance Team
Soprano I
Private study with Stacy Ferguson
Three-year member of National Cathedral School chorale
School: National Cathedral School
Year in School: Class of 2012
School Address: Mount Saint Alban, Washington, DC 20016
Date of Graduation: June 2012
Cumulative, unweighted GPA: 3.41 on a 4.0 scale
Class Rank: NCS does not rank students
SAT I Scores: CR 690, M 670, WR 710
SAT Subject Test Scores: Math I 650, Physics 740, US History 710
School Activities, Hobbies, and Other Interests
Student Government; Elected Class Representative; grades 10 & 11
School Newspaper, The Discus; Sports Writer; grades 9 – present
Last updated 5/11/2010
Colleges ask for writing samples and essays as a part of the application because essays help the
admissions committee learn more about the applicant. Essays demonstrate how students think, what
they value, and how they write. It is an opportunity for students to write about themselves. The essay
represents an opportunity for the applicant to do more than just fill in blanks, check a box, and submit
a transcript—the essay is a narrative, a story called ―why I want to go to college and why you should
take me!‖
Colleges use the essay to round out their impressions of an applicant. They want to identify the person
behind all the test scores and grade reports. By reading how well the applicant expresses herself, they
have a clearer understanding of how she would fit into the college.
College admission officers, unlike teachers and coaches, may never have met the applicant. The only
things they know about her are based on the information in the transcript, letters of recommendation,
and application. The essay is a way for an applicant to introduce and explain more about herself in her
own voice.
The essay reveals the applicant’s thought process in several important ways. If the applicant writes an
essay explaining a personal problem and how she overcame it, the essay will reveal not only what
happened, but also how it happened. What the applicant highlights, as well as omits, reveals her
priorities. How a student writes something can be just as important as what is written; it reveals how
she approaches problems.
Colleges also use the essay to evaluate writing ability. The essay is a writing sample. Grammatically
correct essays are more effective than stylistically innovative ones.
Although all colleges do not require an essay, most do. Some colleges also ask for graded writing
samples from applicants. These colleges ask for essays and papers that have been submitted to teachers
at NCS for review, and candidates are to send a marked-up copy to the admissions committees.
Each written response offers an opportunity to highlight a student’s talents and interests, to distinguish
her among other applicants. Students should allow ample time for rewriting, editing and proofreading.
The NCS College Guidance Office offers an essay-writing workshop each summer, and the college
counselors recommend—but do not require—that seniors submit drafts for review.
The best essays reveal something special about the applicant—who she is, how she thinks, and what
motivates her. The college essay is unlike any other paper. It has a very specific purpose: to explain
something about an applicant to the college admission committee. As such, it has a sharper focus and a
more journalistic edge than creative writing pieces in English.
Students might consider one of these three approaches to the college admissions essay.
1. Write from your own experience
Is there an experience that has deeply influenced or affected you? If so, reflect on its importance
and relate it. Do not try to produce what you think a committee wants to read. Do not search for a
dramatic or tragic topic. An ―ordinary‖ experience, carefully detailed and candidly explored, is
often the best way to offer a sense of yourself.
2. Comment on current events
Discuss social or political events and/or issues, but remember to link them to your own interests.
Explain and defend your perspective; avoid simply debating abstract ideas.
3. Reveal intellectual interests
Describe a response to the works of a particular author, or indicate your own research in a certain
area. Reveal your interest in reaching beyond a school curriculum.
College essays topics often fall into one of these familiar topics. Students are well advised to consider
these approaches, providing the end result is an authentic, strong, and compelling piece of writing.
These essays describe a problem faced by the student, the effort it took to overcome it, and the lessons
learned. Quest essays show how an experience transformed the writer. These experiences can be very
serious. One boy wrote about how he was bullied as a ninth grader at an all-boys school and went on to
become school president without losing his humanity. Quest essays can also be more lighthearted. One
student wrote about a crew near-disaster during her initial year on the team. It was hilarious, but also
showed her grit in staying with the team.
Descriptive essays can explain what a person values by describing an object. One student described a
photograph of her family and clearly delineated her most treasured values. Another described his
computer and explained how it transformed his life. One student wrote a moving essay about making a
special dish with her immigrant grandmother. As she described each step of the recipe, she also wrote
about her family background and her motivation in wanting to go to college.
Who are you? How did you get to be the way you are? One student wrote about her cultural mix, how
she embodies the American melting pot in her very blood, and what this has meant to her. Another
wrote about a terrible illness, and why her grades suffered during one year.
All of us have obstacles in life, and what develops character is how we each overcome roadblocks.
Examples include moving from another country to the United States, growing up an Army brat, or
enduring a brutal child custody battle. These are all essays that reveal the writer’s personality, and how
she handles life obstacles. But the subject matter does not have to be lofty or dramatic to be effective.
Top Tips for the Essay
Edit your essay. Omit needless words. Check spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Avail yourself of
resources (your college counselor, a teacher, friends, parents). Proofread it, and proofread it again!
Don’t rely on spell-check on your computer!
Follow the application’s guidelines and read directions with care. Be sure that you have answered
each question fully and thoughtfully.
Manipulate the subject of the essay to make the topic compelling. It is your responsibility to share
as many things about yourself as possible.
Don’t set out to write something meaningful and deep. The meaning of the essay will come from
what it reveals about the applicant. Honesty and clarity are the most important qualities of a strong
Try to approach the essay as if you are writing a reflection for an NCS chapel. Think about the
reflections that your classmates have shared: they are personal, they tell a story, they connect with
the listener, and they have a distinct voice.
Use the essay to define and clarify what you seek in a college. This will help you make the right
choice, and this is, ultimately, what the entire college process is about.
Do not assume that essays which have earned an ―A‖ in a creative writing class are well suited to
the college process. These writing samples may be a good idea if the essays directly answer
questions asked in the application. They might also be inappropriate.
Do not write about the same thing in your ―short answer‖ essay on an activity that you write about
in the personal essay. Compare your responses in both to any essays/short answers required in the
supplements. Provide information that is consistent, but not repetitive.
Consider the reader. College admission officers work hard and responsibly, but there are only so
many hours in a day. During crunch times, they have to read hundreds of essays in a short period.
Application essays are read once, quickly. Write accordingly and make it as easy as possible for the
colleges. Include a simple title, avoid subtle literary allusions that require rereading, and don't
assume familiarity with particular books. Do not dumb down writing; rather, emphasize clarity and
precision in the essay.
Avoid bragging. Even if your accomplishment is exemplary, figure out how to emphasize
something other than your achievement. Emphasize how much you have learned from an
experience, rather than how important you are for doing what you did. Very little in life is
accomplished completely through individual effort. Modesty is a very appealing trait; bragging is
Do not take modesty too far; avoid diminishing accomplishments for the sake of being humble.
There is no reason to apologize for doing things well. Students should always give credit to others
for their guidance and support, but remember that ultimately, they took the tests, wrote the papers,
and played in the games. Ironic comments may seem funny and tongue-in-cheek, but the people
reading the essays may interpret irony as self-disgust.
Avoid blaming. A coach may be a tyrant and the cause of much distress, and a math teacher a
mumbler and the reason for a C in the course, but blaming someone else is childish. Both situations
may be true, but do not use the essay as a venue to air complaints about others. It is much better to
avoid negative topics altogether. The student should write about a topic that shows her in the best
possible light.
Colleges do not want to read criticisms of high school, unless the circumstances are compelling and
warrant explanation. Criticizing the cafeteria food, for instance, will not impress the college
admission officers, because it is a relatively superficial concern. If writing about travel to foreign
countries, avoid criticizing the customs and habits of people living there. Don’t sound more like an
―ugly American‖ than an insightful world traveler. In general, criticism can label an applicant as a
malcontent, a person to be avoided, which is not desirable.
The following are sample essay questions:
Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, or risk that you have taken and its impact on you.
Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to
Describe a character in fiction, an historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science,
etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.
Enclose a photograph of something that is meaningful to you and explain why.
Tell us how you first became interested in _________ and what you find most appealing about
the school.
Describe one teacher who has had a great influence on you and explain why.
Write an essay of no more than 500 words on any subject that interests you. For example, you
may choose to write on an issue about which you feel strongly, an experience that has greatly
influenced your life, or other circumstances that you would like the admissions staff to consider
in reviewing your application. These are only suggestions, however; the choice of topic is yours.
Take a look at your list of activities and work experiences above. Please tell us about the one you
value most and why.
Submit a page taken at random from your imaginary diary.
Most families are concerned about meeting rising college costs, and every family should consider
financial aid if they are not able to comfortably pay for the entire cost of attendance. That said,
financial aid is not merely free money from the government. Financial aid at most colleges includes a
mixture of need-based scholarships, loans, (paid) employment, and payment plans. Of the twenty most
popular colleges for NCS girls, only a handful offer merit scholarships.
If paying for college is a concern, a family should treat the financial aid process similar to the way they
are treating the admission process. Just as a student would not apply to a school if she does not fit the
academic profile, so should that student avoid applying to a college that does not offer appropriate
financial aid. It is a little-known fact that of the 2,500+ four-year colleges and universities in the
United States, fewer than 150 will meet the full financial need of its students. At the same time,
research shows that the same family could apply for financial aid at three different schools and be
offered three entirely different financial aid decisions and packages—just like admission! Preparation
is crucial and families are therefore advised to do their research. Families should figure out what forms
are needed—it is different for each school—and submit them on time, as each college sets its own
timetable. If a school does not respond to an application, follow up with the financial aid office. Retain
copies of everything that has been submitted. Finally, ask for help. Consider the College Guidance
Office a resource on both admission and financial aid.
Will My Family Qualify for Aid?
A reasonable first question to ask is ―How do I know if my family will be eligible for aid?‖ With this
question a family is wondering if they will qualify for need-based resources. After all, what you think
you can afford and what colleges think you can afford can be very different. College representatives
say that families with six-figure incomes can still qualify for assistance, but again—how do you know
if yours is one of those families? How do you know if Suzy’s college applications should be limited to
certain colleges? In short, how can a family figure out if they will get aid before they actually apply for
This question is easy to answer, because of the Internet. Any family who is considering applying for
aid should complete an Expected Family Contribution and Financial Aid Calculator online. Go to
www.finaid.org/calculators/ or to www.collegeboard.com (search for EFC calculator).
The calculator asks for information from federal tax returns and financial data. When prompted, show
―Detailed Output‖ and use ―Institutional Methodology.‖ After receiving the information, the calculator
will immediately indicate an estimate of how much the family will be expected to spend on college
tuition next year. If the calculator indicates a figure that is less than the total cost of attendance at a
college, then that family will likely be eligible for need-based aid.
After determining this estimate, the next step is learn more about the specifics of financial aid and to
begin the process of applying for assistance.
Note to Parent(s)/Guardian(s)
The NCS College Guidance Office advocates that students take the ―front seat‖ in researching
colleges, communicating with university officials, and, of course, in completing the admission
application. Where a parent/guardian is most helpful during this process is with the financial aid
applications. Most of the information and applications from the federal government and from
individual institutions will be addressed to the student, but it is appropriate and ethical for
parent(s)/guardian(s) to complete the forms. That said, students should have a sense of their personal
obligation in the process, especially in the case of loans that are borrowed in the student’s name.
Financial Aid and Early Decision Programs
Many students prefer to apply regular decision, allowing them time to compare financial aid packages.
Financial aid and early programs can be complicated because the FAFSA is not available until after an
early decision has already been made. Students who are interested in financial aid, however, should
not rule out an early application.
First, complete the calculator online at www.finaid.org to determine an estimated eligibility for aid.
Then contact the college’s financial aid office to determine the best way to proceed. With so many
students applying early, colleges work very hard to be fair to students who will need financial aid.
Colleges are committed to enrolling students of varying socio-economic backgrounds. A student who
demonstrates interest in a college by investigating an early application will often find that the financial
aid office will be interested in giving her an ―early read‖ on her application for financial aid.
A student who decides to apply early will be asked to complete the PROFILE (and any college specific
forms) in early fall. If offered admission, the student will receive a preliminary financial aid award in
mid-December. The components of this award will not be confirmed until the student completes the
FAFSA. Early decision schools report that the preliminary awards rarely change after receipt of the
information from the FAFSA.
Most early action schools will not make financial aid decisions until the spring, along with regular
decision candidates. Again, follow up with your college’s financial aid office to determine their
procedures and if an early read is possible. In addition, the College Guidance Office will contact and
work with the college for students who considering an early application and financial aid.
Financial Aid for International Students
International students (non-U.S. citizens/residents who entered the U.S. with either an F-1 or J-1
student visa who will return to their home country upon completion of their studies) are not eligible for
U.S. government loans, grants, or work-study programs. However, some universities will offer meritbased scholarship money to international students.
International students interested in researching scholarship opportunities should register with
www.fastweb.com, and pay special attention to citizenship requirements when applying for awards.
Also visit www.iie.org, the Web site for the Institute for International Education, which offers
information specifically to students who are not eligible for federal aid.
The standard form for U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents applying for financial aid is the Free
Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It is the only form used for federal financial aid; it is,
however, usually required by colleges for consideration for institutional aid. All families interested in
being considered for aid should therefore plan on filing the FAFSA. Depending on the institution,
students may also be required to complete the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE, as well as forms
provided directly from the college.
All financial aid documents must be accurately completed and punctually submitted directly to the
appropriate processor. Many college financial aid deadlines are in February. Early decision candidates,
however, must adhere to even earlier deadlines.
Students can begin work on the FAFSA as early as the fall of their senior year by requesting a Personal
Identification Number (PIN) from the federal government. Parent(s)/guardian(s) can also get a PIN.
They are obtained online at www.pin.ed.gov. The PIN is considered an online ―signature.‖ When
applying for a PIN, students should remember the pass-phrase they have provided; in the case of a lost
PIN, the pass-phrase will be used as a reminder. Students will receive the PIN via e-mail—do not
forget the PIN! Applicants for financial aid must complete a FAFSA each year they attend college, so
it is important to remember the PIN.
The FAFSA can only be completed online. No paper applications are available.
The FAFSA should be completed no later than February 1. Although the government will eventually
need current tax returns to verify the information submitted on the FAFSA, it is expected that a family
will use their most recent tax returns to complete the FAFSA. In this sense, the data used to complete
the FAFSA is estimated financial information, and the Expected Family Contribution, or EFC (that is
calculated immediately with the online application), is subject to change once new tax returns are
Similar to SAT score reports, students use school-specific six-digit codes to release the FAFSA data to
colleges. Students should confirm codes with the college’s own Web sites and should not rely upon the
FAFSA’s internal code look-up function when submitting the information to colleges. Note that
students can only submit information to a set number of colleges; if the student is applying to more
colleges, she must submit that data at a later date.
After a family submits the FAFSA, a Student Aid Report (SAR) is generated. The SAR is the
opportunity to confirm that the data submitted is accurate. Corrections or updates to the estimated
financial information (for example, with figures from new tax returns) can also be submitted through
the SAR at any point during the financial aid application period.
The government will select about one-third of all applicants for a process called verification, which
means the family must submit copies of federal tax returns directly to the colleges’ Financial Aid
Office. Some colleges put all applicants through the verification process, which also means that the
college must collect a copy of federal tax returns once they are filed.
CSS/ Financial Aid PROFILE
The CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE—commonly referred to as the CSS/PROFILE or simply
PROFILE—is required mainly at private colleges. Colleges that offer significant amounts of
institutional scholarship money are more likely to require the PROFILE than schools which rely solely
upon federal funding for aid.
The CSS/PROFILE is only available online at http://profileonline.collegeboard.com/index.jsp.
Students must list the four-digit College Board codes of all the colleges to which they are applying, as
questions on the PROFILE are customized according to a student’s individual college choices.
The College Board advises registering three weeks before college deadlines, but students are urged to
complete the PROFILE registration at least five weeks before the earliest school financial aid
deadline. There is a charge for the CSS/PROFILE; fee waivers are automatically given to families who
qualify for them upon their online submission of the CSS/PROFILE.
Divorced Parents
For families with divorced parents, be advised that the FAFSA will ask for financial information from
the custodial parent and that parent’s spouse, should the parent remarry. The CSS/Financial Aid
PROFILE will ask for financial information from both parents, but it is the custodial parent whose
resources are primarily tapped.
DC Tuition Assistance Grant (DCTAG) Program
The D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant Program (DCTAG) Program pays the difference between in-state
and out-of-state tuition up to $10,000 a year with a lifetime maximum of $50,000 and/or six years, to
assist DC residents with out-of state tuition fees at any public college or university in the nation.
Undergraduate students who choose to attend private colleges and universities in the Washington, DC,
metropolitan area and any private Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in the nation
are eligible to receive a grant for up to $2,500 a year, with a lifetime maximum of $12,500. All awards
are paid directly to the eligible institution. DCTAG is a grant; it is not based on need or merit and does
not have to be repaid. Applicants must, however, submit the FAFSA in order to apply. Grantees attend
institutions of higher learning in 47 states and the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The application form is available online and families who live in the District should complete it as
soon as possible. Students should also make not of the accompanying ―document checklist‖ paperwork
that is required as part of the application. If a student submits the DCTAG form and does not attend an
eligible institution, there is no penalty. For an application, a list of participating colleges, and general
information, visit the DCTAG Web site at www.seo.dc.gov. Click on ―Higher Education‖ and then on
―Higher Education Financial Services and Preparatory Programs‖
Definitions, Sources of Financial Aid, and Resources
What is need?
To determine family contribution and financial need, colleges review the information a student
provides, keeping in mind the institution’s aid guidelines. Because each college uses different formulas
for determining need, families should expect variation in the amount they are expected to contribute.
The family contribution includes a parent/guardian contribution, student income contribution, and
student contribution from assets and/or benefits. A family’s income, assets, debts, family size, and
geographical location are considered when determining the family contribution. Early in the
application process, parent(s)/guardian(s) with special circumstances (e.g., private school tuition for
other children) should discuss their situation with a financial aid officer at each college where their
daughter is applying.
Financial need is the difference between the total cost of attendance and the family contribution. After
the financial need is determined, a college awards financial aid as a ―package.‖ The package may
include scholarships or grants (money that does not have to be repaid), loans (to be repaid after the
student leaves college), and campus employment (money earned while in college). Read the financial
aid offer letter with care before accepting anything. While negotiation is generally not appropriate, do
not hesitate to ask why two schools have offered different packages. In an effort to attract top students
with high need, some selective colleges—Princeton, Harvard, UVA—are eliminating the self-help, or
loan, portion of need-based aid. It is therefore critical to carefully read each award letter to determine
the different elements of the financial aid package.
Need-blind admission occurs when a college or university agrees not to use financial need as a
consideration in selecting students. These institutions accept students based solely upon their academic
and personal criteria. The extent to which a family can finance the student’s education is not a factor in
deciding if a student is offered admission. A need-blind admission policy does not necessarily apply to
the admission of foreign nationals.
Need-conscious, need-aware, need-sensitive admission pertains to a college or university that
considers (or holds open the option of considering) candidates’ financial need in the admission
Merit-based financial aid consists of scholarships and other financial aid awards based on candidate
merit (academic, special talent, competition, etc.), excluding athletic aid. This type of financial aid may
or may not take into consideration the financial need of the candidate.
Demonstrated need is the sum remaining when the family’s estimated contribution (as determined
either by federal or institutional methodology) is deducted from the total cost of attending a college or
Total cost of attendance is an estimate that represents the overall cost of attending school for nine
months, and includes tuition, fees, books, insurance, room, board, and travel.
Gapping occurs when an admitted student is offered a financial aid package that meets less then her
full demonstrated financial need. Either the student must find a way to bridge the ―gap,‖ or she must
decline the offer of admission.
Types of Financial Aid
There are two types of financial aid: need-based and merit-based. Need-based aid represents most of
the assistance available for post-secondary education. Merit-based aid is generally awarded to students
with special skills, talents, and/or academic ability. For specific information on merit-based aid, go to
the Scholarships part of this chapter.
There are two types of need-based aid: grant aid and self-help. Grant aid does not have to be repaid
and does not require a service commitment. Self-help includes loans (which require repayment) and
employment (a part-time job, usually on campus). There are federal, state, institutional, and private
sources of grant aid and self-help.
Need-based assistance
This list includes both grant aid and self-help.
Pell Grants
A Pell Grant is a need-based grant available to qualifying students who are pursuing their first
Bachelor’s degree and are enrolled for at least three credits. To receive this grant, student’s EFC must
fall into a certain range. The ―cut-off‖ and amount of the grant changes annually. The amount a student
receives is based on a federal formula; the lower your EFC, the greater your Pell Grant.
Academic Competitiveness Grant (ACG)
The ACG is a need-based grant for freshman- and sophomore-year Pell Grant recipients who maintain
at least a 3.0 GPA. The ACG, which does not need to be repaid, is available only to U.S. citizens
enrolled full-time in college. The grant provides up to $750 to first year students and $1,300 for the
second year. Its availability depends on a variety of factors.
Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant ( FSEOG)
The FSEOG is a need-based grant for Pell recipients; it provides up to $4,000 per year. Its availability
depends upon a variety of factors.
National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grant
The SMART Grant is a need-based grant for junior- and senior-year Pell Grant recipients who are
majoring in math or science and maintain at least a 3.0 GPA. Eligible degree programs include
physical, life or computer sciences, engineering, technology, mathematics or a critical-need foreign
language. Recipients must be U.S. citizens. Awards range up to $4,000 per year for each of the last two
years of college. Its availability depends on a variety of factors.
Subsidized Stafford Student Loans
A need-based loan available to all qualifying students who are enrolled at least half-time. There is a
maximum amount one can borrow as a freshman; the loan limit goes up incrementally each subsequent
year. This loan is interest-free until graduation. Repayment on the loan begins six months after a
student graduates or leaves school. The interest rate is fixed.
Unsubsidized Stafford Loans
A family’s financial need determines the student’s eligibility for a subsidized or a partially subsidized
loan. On an unsubsidized loan, the student (not the federal government) is responsible for the interest
that accrues; she can choose to pay interest while in school, or defer payment until after graduation.
The interest rate is fixed. This loan is not need-based; any student who completes the FAFSA is
eligible to borrow unsubsidized Stafford loan money, regardless of her EFC.
PLUS (Parent Loans for Undergraduate Students)
Parent(s)/guardian(s) who are U.S. citizens and have no adverse credit history will be able to borrow
up to the total cost of attendance minus other financial aid through the PLUS Loan program. The
interest rate is fixed. Repayment begins 60 days after the second disbursement of the loan (generally
mid-spring semester of the student’s first year). The PLUS loan is not need-based; any family who is
approved can borrow money, regardless of their EFC. However, the parent/guardian must be a U.S.
citizen in order to qualify. If a parent does not qualify for the Plus Loan, the student may be eligible for
additional loan amounts via an Unsubsidized Stafford Loan.
Perkins Loans
This is a need-based loan, as determined by the college. Funds, maximum loan amounts, and eligibility
are administered by the college; priority is generally given to students with exceptional need.
Repayment begins nine months after the student graduates or leaves school. The interest is subsidized
at a low rate.
Federal Work Study
Work study is a need-based program administered by colleges or universities which pay students for
work done on or off campus. Students work part-time during the school year, or any time a student is
enrolled at least half-time. Unlike other employment, federal work study funds help the student as a
part of a financial support package.
The ―student gateway to the federal government‖ offers general information on post-secondary
educational concerns, including financial aid.
This comprehensive site on financial aid offers detailed information on loans and scholarships, as well
as unique tools such as online ―calculators‖ that will project your EFC or the total cost of attending
your college after four years of inflation.
This is one of the many online scholarship search engines. If you complete their survey they will email you updates on scholarship opportunities that are appropriate to your ethnic, cultural, religious,
and geographical background, as well as your intended field of study. Stay away from any sites or
organizations that charge a fee for these types of scholarship search services.
―Your source for free information from the U.S. Department of Education.‖
Include the financial aid office on your college tours and visits. Make an appointment with the College
Guidance Office for help with completing the financial aid forms. Visit libraries in Washington that
specialize in grants and philanthropy, like the Foundation Center (http://foundationcenter.org) or the
College Info Center at the DC Central Library (www.dclibrary.org).
The financial aid section of this handbook explains two types of financial aid: need-based and meritbased. The colleges that have historically been the most popular among NCS girls generally do not
offer merit-based scholarships. These colleges are committed to meeting 100% of demonstrated need
and therefore devote their funds to need-based scholarships. In addition, these colleges find it would be
difficult to choose award recipients, with only a few merit-based scholarships and hundreds of
applicants with exceptional talent and ability.
There are, however, a few exceptions! Below, we have compiled a list of selective colleges that offer
merit scholarships. Some of these scholarships indicate that applicants must be nominated by their high
school. Students interested in being considered for a nomination should communicate their interest
with the College Guidance Office as soon as possible.
Boston College offers the Presidential Scholars Program as its only merit-based scholarship. It is
awarded to fifteen top applicants each year and includes funded summer service, travel and internships.
There is no separate application for this full tuition scholarship, but students must apply early action in
order to be considered.
The Trustee Scholarship at Boston University is a full tuition scholarship that is renewable for each
year. Applicants must be nominated. BU also offers a half-tuition merit scholarship.
The University of Chicago offers merit awards that provide up to full tuition. There is no separate
application process for these scholarships.
Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh offers half-tuition merit scholarships to minority students, to
women in the sciences, and to all-around excellent students.
Over $10 million in scholarships is awarded each year at The University of Delaware. There is no
separate application process, but students should apply by December 1 in order to be considered.
Duke University offers a limited number of merit scholarships, which range to cover full tuition and
are renewable for four years. The Robertson Scholarship, in conjunction with UNC-Chapel Hill, is also
awarded to applicants to Duke.
Davidson College in North Carolina offers scholar-athlete awards ranging from $2,500 to $15,000
annually. They also offer a Belk Scholarship to outstanding students. Applicants for both types of
awards must be nominated by their high school. Two student leaders are selected to be Terry Scholars
and receive full tuition. Finally, their Romare Bearden Scholarship gives $10,000 a year to art students;
preference is given to African American applicants.
The Hodson Trust Scholarship at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore is offered to as many as
twenty freshmen each year. The award covers full tuition and is renewable for up to four years.
New York University offers awards ranging from $1,000 to $13,000 annually to students interested in a
career in teaching. NYU also offers the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Program for students with
exceptional scholastic ability and a commitment to the principles of MLK, Jr.
Academic superstars vie to become a Morehead-Cain Scholar at The University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill. Program participants receive full tuition, room and board, and a summer stipend. UNC
also offers the all-expenses paid Robertson Scholarship, as well as a full scholarship for student
writers. Students must be nominated for these awards.
Merit scholarships are popular in Ohio! Awards are available at Case Western Reserve University,
Denison University, Kenyon College, Ohio-Wesleyan University, and The College of Wooster.
Rice University in Houston offers the Barbara Jordan Scholarship, which awards $10,000 a year to
students of all racial backgrounds who have shown a commitment to cultural ―bridge building.‖
The Distinguished Scholars Award at Tulane University in New Orleans are given $22,000 a year.
Tulane also has other merit-based scholarships.
Students involved in extra-curricular music activities can apply for a $10,000 annual merit scholarship
to Skidmore College.
The University of Southern California provides awards that cover up to full tuition. Certain funds are
set aside for National Merit Semifinalists, Jewish students, students with an interest in LGBT issues,
and underrepresented minority students.
The University of Virginia offers the Jefferson Scholarship, which includes participation in their
prestigious Jefferson Scholars Program and covers full tuition. Applicants must be nominated from
their high school.
Wake Forest University offers several merit awards, including some for students involved in the fine
and performing arts. Applicants should download the application from the Web site.
The Academic Scholarship and Fellowship Programs at Washington University in St. Louis offer
financial assistance based solely on academic achievement. Awards include participation in an honors
program as well as full-tuition scholarships.
All applicants to the College of William & Mary are considered for the Monroe Scholar Program,
which includes special classes, summer programs, and monetary awards.
Other schools that offer merit awards include Babson College, Bucknell University, Dickinson
College, The College of the Holy Cross, Hofstra University, Indiana University at Bloomington,
Ithaca College, Lehigh University, McGill University, Occidental College, The University of
Richmond, Rhodes College, Smith College, St. Lawrence University, Syracuse University, and the
University of Vermont.
The scholarships below are not limited to any specific school—winners can apply the funds to the
college of their choosing. Competition for these awards is keen. Students interested in applying for
these merit awards are encouraged to work with the College Guidance Office to obtain appropriate
accompanying information, such as transcripts and letters of recommendation. Information is listed
according to the due date.
50 $20,000 prizes
200 $10,000 prizes
Prudential Community Service
AXA Scholarships
Discover Card Tribute Award
Scholarship Program
Up to 10 $25,000 prizes
Ron Brown Scholar
over four years
Gates Millennium Scholars (minorities)
Full scholarships
Leaders & Achievers Comcast Scholarship
950 $1,000 prizes
Jackie Robinson Foundation (minorities)
Up to $7,500 every four years
Nordstrom Scholarship for rising seniors
$10,000 over four years
Coca-Cola Scholars
The Questbridge Scholarship Program offers a hybrid of general funding and college-specific
scholarship money. Students compete to earn monies from the program itself, but these funds are
matched with the student’s admission to one of Questbridge’s partner colleges. The deadline for this
opportunity occurs in early October. Visit www.questbridge.org for more information and for a list of
partner colleges.
Note: All information was accurate at press time; however, organizations can change deadlines
from year to year. A full, updated list of scholarships is available in the College Guidance Office.
In the United States, some institutions of higher learning are publicly funded, whereas others are
privately funded—just like with secondary schools! Public colleges, or state colleges, tend to be larger,
tend to offer a vast array of academic opportunities, and tend to cost less than private colleges. The
name of the college usually refers to the fact that it is a state-affiliated institution. Finally, for state
residents, the admissions standards may be looser and the price tag will be even smaller. There are, of
course, exceptions! The following list illustrates the many different options that exist when it comes to
making a decision regarding private and public higher education.
Note that DC residents may use monies from the DCTag program to help match the out-of-state tuition
price to the in-state tuition price at the public colleges listed below.
Did you know that these colleges and universities are PUBLIC?
Certain programs and one school at Alfred University in Alfred, NY: The School of Art & Design and
four engineering majors (biomedical materials; ceramic engineering; glass engineering science;
materials science & engineering)
Auburn University, Auburn, AL
Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, TN
The University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH
The College of Charleston, Charleston, SC
Christopher Newport University, Newport News, VA
Clemson University, Clemson, SC
Certain colleges at Cornell University: College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, College of
Human Ecology, and the School of Industrial and Labor Relations
Evergreen State College, Olympia, WA
George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA
James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA
University of Louisville, Louisville, KY
University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, VA
Massachusetts College of Art & Design, Boston, MA
University of Memphis, Memphis, TN
Miami University, Oxford, OH
The New College of Florida, Sarasota, FL
Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA
University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Purchase College, Purchase, NY
Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN
Radford University, Radford, VA
Ramapo College of New Jersey, Mahwah, NJ
Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
The University of South Florida, Tampa, FL
St. Mary’s College of Maryland, St. Mary’s City, MD
Temple University, Philadelphia, PA
University of Vermont, Burlington, VT
The College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, VA
A gap year is a year between high school and college, or any time during college when a student takes
an academic leave of absence. During a gap year, students pursue an opportunity that is not necessarily
credit earning, although some students participate in academic studies during their time away from
There are several reasons for pursuing something other than college after NCS. A gap year can be a
time to recharge and refocus after the academic intensity of high school and before the new demands
of university. A gap year is a unique chunk of unfettered time to try new things, travel to far-off places,
devote oneself to community service, and otherwise take a break from the scholastic routine. Gap years
are an opportunity to experience life in the ―real world‖ and reexamine one’s interests, priorities, and
goals outside of the NCS bubble. Some students and parent(s)/guardian(s) appreciate the gap year as a
time to do a little more growing up in order to enter college with a renewed sense of purpose and a
mature, global outlook. Gap years can also be, quite simply, a special and irreplaceable chance to take
time off: one last year of being a kid before buckling down to the responsibilities of college and the
expectations of a career and supporting oneself.
Students who were not happy with their final year in high school might turn a gap year into a postgraduate (PG) year in order to complete a fifth year of secondary school. Athletes in particular might
choose this option as a time to refocus on the recruitment process and present a stronger academic
profile to colleges. Also, students who are unhappy with their college choices as of April 1 might
choose to take a year off in order to apply to different institutions.
Applying to College as a Senior
Students considering a gap year are advised to complete the college application process during their
senior year. After a student has been accepted to colleges and has matriculated and sent a deposit to
one college, she requests deferred enrollment. This is a request to take a year off and attend college the
subsequent fall. This process varies from college to college, and the decision to grant the deferral rests
with the institution. Colleges, however, generally approve all requests, with a few conditions. As with
all college admission decisions, an acceptance can be rescinded at any time if the student engages in
serious misconduct, such as academic dishonesty or incarceration. Colleges might also request that a
gap year student not use this time as a chance to apply to other colleges or earn credits in order to enter
the institution on sophomore status. If a student breaks her contract for any of these reasons, her
admission to that institution for the following year is no longer guaranteed, and she might have to reapply.
Applying to college as a senior and requesting a year’s deferral in May provides students with a chance
during their senior spring to seriously consider the option of a year off. Most students complete all of
their college applications by January; they spend time during the spring conducting research on gap
years and finalizing their options.
If a student decides to take a gap year in June or later—for example, if offered a spot from a college
wait list for the following year—there is still time to assess options. Gap year programs with earlier
deadlines, however, might no longer have availability. Students who are not happy with their college
choices should not deposit at a college and request a year’s deferral if they intend to apply to other
colleges during in the interim. These students should not deposit anywhere.
Gap Year Programs
The salient feature of a successful gap year is structure. In general, students wishing to take a gap year
can either self-design an opportunity or attend an established program. Many students decide to meld
the two, and think of the gap year as two semesters and therefore at least two opportunities to do
something different.
Dozens of different organizations offer gap year programs for recent high school graduates. The
advantage of working through a program is the ease of doing so. If you attend a program, you
automatically connect with other students, your schedule and all accompanying details are set for you
in advance, and you might be afforded the opportunity to do something in a group setting that is not
customarily available to individuals.
Gap year programs are varied in terms of opportunity, type, and location. Offerings are often but not
always tied to summer or study-abroad programs, although some are exclusively for students taking
time off. Typing ―gap year‖ into Google will also lead your research in interesting directions.
Some programs focus on international travel and language study whereas others offer the chance to
complete community service. Many offer a combination of these activities. Students have the option of
traveling to nearly every continent; in the past, NCS students have also chosen to stay in the United
States. In all cases, students should conduct careful research and assess the program based on:
Reputation—how long has this program existed? Is this program affiliated with a camp, school, or
other organization? Can they provide references?
Type—what is the primary scope and purpose of this program? Do they publish a general or
specific calendar in advance? How much free time do participants have and what do people
generally do in their free time?
Accommodations—where do you live? Do you have a roommate? What do you do for meals? How
will you get around?
Fees—what do you get for the price? What extras are not included—insurance, entry fees, visas,
transportation? How much should you take with you for ―extras?‖
People—how many program participants are involved? What age are they? Where do they come
from? What is the primary reason others cite as having selected this program in the past?
Parent(s)/guardian(s) will also be concerned with other factors, including supervision, safety, support,
and mentoring. Parents should be sure that students will have access to medical care, and they should
research insurance coverage. It is also important to determine how frequently and easily students can
contact people back home, which can be a concern for travels that take students to remote areas. The
degree to which a participant is treated as an adult and not a child—for curfew, etc.—should also be
researched in advance.
The NCS Office of College Guidance maintains a database that tracks programs with gap-year
offerings. Very few NCS alumnae have had direct contact with these programs; however, so follow-up
research is advised. It is critical to speak to references who have completed programs. A few reputable
counselors are able to advise students on different gap year options. One of the best in the country is
the Center for Interim Programs in Princeton, New Jersey. Their associates help with research and
have the benefit of having advised hundreds of gap year students; they can directly speak to students’
individual experiences with particular programs.
Self-Designed Gap Year
The biggest advantage of designing your own gap year option is flexibility. If you self-design your
months or semester off, you choose exactly what you want to do and when. Many students cite their
burgeoning independence as the best part of college—students who design their own gap year will
experience independence most acutely. Students who choose to plan their own gap year should
consider everything listed above in the context of their own design and creativity and proceed
When some people think about self-designing a gap year, they may feel intimidated.
Parent(s)/guardian(s) might be wary of time off without a plan—after 13 years of school, what could
you possibly do with all that free time? A great way to proceed with developing a plan is to reflect
upon and appreciate this as free time. Simply put, what would you do if you had all the free time in the
world? Asking this question will prompt the student to identify an intended project, task, or focus. This
might include taking a class, pursuing a beloved hobby or interest, volunteering full-time for an
organization, interning with a political campaign, obtaining a paid job, or exploring another country
with a friend. Once a dream plan has been created, that goal needs to be established. The following
considerations should be taken into account:
Money—what resources do you have at your disposal? What will your dream gap-year project
cost? Some students decide to work in DC and live at home for the first semester in order to
earn money for an once-in-a-lifetime experience for the second semester.
Location—where will this dream opportunity take place? Does it have to take place in a
particular location or is it not tied to any one locale, and how will this impact your design and
planning process?
Accommodations—where and with whom will you live? How will you get around? How will
you feed yourself?
Program—what will you do, day in and day out? Do you need to apply or can you just show up
and pay the fee?
Friends—how can you structure the experience to meet people your own age?
In thinking through these possibilities, it sometimes helps to step back a moment and think about what
would you do if you were to move to DC as a young adult. Extrapolate and do the same for your new
location and gap year plan. For example, imagine that you wanted to study art, live in a vibrant
neighborhood, and meet new friends, all in DC. To start, you might contact a local librarian or search
the internet for universities that offer non-degree courses in the arts. You would ask about the
application process, fees, offerings, and the course schedule. For housing, check out Internet search
engines like Craigslist to search for roommates. It is best to find a furnished apartment with other
same-age students: instant accommodations and instant friends! Finally, you might contact friends or
family in the area to discuss what you have researched online about neighborhoods, public
transportation, and how young adults spend their free time.
The year after I graduated high school, I spent my days not in college classrooms, but in an elementary
school; I lived not in a college dorm, but in an apartment in Chicago; I worked not on papers and tests,
but on lesson plans and tutoring strategies. After graduating from NCS in 2007, I took a gap year to
participate in a full-time youth community service program called City Year. I spent the year tutoring
third graders, as well as running an after-school program for third through fifth graders, and leading
middle schoolers in a weekend service program. It was not your typical year after high school. While
my NCS classmates were adjusting to college life, attending lectures, and completing papers and tests,
I was revisiting vowel sounds and fractions, playing on the playground, and learning how to pay rent.
In this reflection, I am going to try to answer three questions that I get asked a lot about my gap year:
1) Why did I decide to do a gap year? 2) What did I learn? 3) How did it affect my college experience?
1) Why did I decide to do a gap year?
After the seemingly endless cycle of classes, papers, tests, and homework in high school, I was feeling
burned out and I wanted to do something different. I wanted to gain some ―real life‖ experience before
I went on to college and continued with classes, homework, papers, and tests. I had tutored and been
involved in community service during my time at NCS so City Year seemed like a perfect opportunity.
2) What did I learn from my gap year?
It is impossible to put into words everything I learned and everything I gained from taking a gap year
and joining City Year. Although I joined City Year thinking it was simply a tutoring program, I soon
found out that it was much, much more. I did tutor third graders, but I also helped out in classrooms,
ran after-school programs, painted murals, and organized large-scale service days. I lived on my own
for the first time in my life, and learned how to cook, do laundry, take care of my apartment, pay bills,
and maneuver an entire city on public transportation. I met and worked with so many people that I
otherwise would never have had the chance to know—people of varying ages, socioeconomic classes,
education levels, and life experiences. I had experiences that I never could have anticipated. Each day I
went to the school not knowing what to expect and throughout the year I learned so much from my
peers in City Year, my students, and the teachers with whom I worked.
3) How did it affect my college experience?
I know it sounds corny, but my time in an inner-city elementary school gave me a greater appreciation
for the education that I received at NCS. I returned to school reenergized to learn. Having a break from
school gave me perspective on what academics means in the bigger picture. The specific activities that
I participated in during my gap year increased my interest in public education, inner-city dynamics,
and child development. This directly translated into my current major (urban studies and a
concentration in psychology) and into my continuing community service activities in college.
Although some people are worried about returning to school after taking a year off, I found the year
away from school increased my readiness to return and learn.
There are so many opportunities for a gap year—some of my friends, both from NCS and from
college, had a variety of other experiences, including camping for three months with NOLS, teaching
English in India, traveling around South Korea, working with WHO in Geneva, and much more.
Common to everyone that I know that has taken a gap year, regardless of their different experiences, is
that they are definitely glad they did it. I certainly am.
Megan Fauci, NCS ’07, is a member of Columbia University’s Class of 2012.