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College Counseling FAQs

Our college counseling philosophy is simple: the more students understand who they are and what they want to do, the better able they are to recognize the colleges where they’ll learn and thrive. The College Counseling Department understands that navigating this difficult and important task can be challenging, so here is their advice for some frequently asked questions. 


Students receive their college counselor assignment after the first semester of ninth grade. Your randomly assigned college counselor will provide your family with expertise and individual attention throughout high school. In ninth and 10th grade, counselors work with their students on class selection, interest exploration, summer programs, and extracurricular involvement. The college search formally begins in the junior year, when students meet more regularly and more frequently with their college counselor. Seven Hills families benefit from the collective wisdom of four college admissions experts who work as a collaborative team.

Families are often eager to begin visiting colleges! For ninth and 10th grade students, we recommend starting with low-pressure visits to colleges in our area or in locations where your family will already be traveling for other reasons. Your college counselor can suggest a variety of schools that will expose your younger student to all of the options available, primarily to help them understand what types of campuses and programs are out there. Because students benefit more from seeing a variety of schools in terms of size, location, and selectivity, resist the urge to visit only the most highly selective schools or those with the most recognizable names. This also helps to lower the stress around the college process.

Spring Break of junior year is a popular time to start visiting a more targeted group of colleges; by that time, students will have already researched multiple schools and will have a more specific list of schools to visit. The college counselors also teach students how to engage with colleges digitally through virtual visits, information sessions, and workshops.

At Seven Hills, we believe that the college search and application process is a learning journey, not a race. In 11th grade, we meet individually with our students to help them think about the academic environment where they will succeed and the type of community they want to be in. We educate our students about the vast array of options available among the thousands of colleges and universities in the United States and abroad.

Through one-on-one and group meetings, counselors teach juniors how to research colleges using multiple resources. The counselor suggests a variety of schools based on where each student is in their own process. As the student shares their thoughts with their counselor in individual meetings, the list continues to grow and change to fit the student’s preferences as they discover the wide variety of college options and learn more about themselves. Normally, a student’s college list continues to evolve from the middle of junior year through the fall of senior year. 

Although it might be tempting to begin college research, choose your future career, and focus on a dream college as early as possible, younger high school students should not get caught up in this process! We encourage our ninth and 10th graders to join school clubs, pursue interests, do well in school, and get involved in their school and local communities.

The Experiential Learning program at Seven Hills helps to structure some of these activities for students. Doing community service as freshmen and sophomores helps our students engage with the community and hopefully learn more about themselves. The Personal Challenge Project builds in an opportunity for each student to work with a faculty member or advisor to pursue a unique learning experience as they achieve a goal that is important to them. Developing themselves as good students and good people provides younger students with the self-understanding to best prepare them for the formal start of the college process in junior year.

We encourage all students to stay active in the summer by exploring existing hobbies and interests and discovering new ones. Ideally, college applicants will have a handful of activities they genuinely enjoy and have had the opportunity to engage with sincerely. To reach that point, younger students should broadly explore their interests during the summer, perhaps by attending a one or two week academic camp, volunteering with a local organization, playing sports, and traveling with family.

For juniors and seniors, we recommend using the summer to deepen their academic and co-curricular interests, whether through a summer-long job, running a community camp, pursuing a free online college course, or working on an independent art or research project. We also want students to remember that summer is an opportunity to rest, recharge, and enjoy moments with family and friends.

Families should not feel pressured to enroll their students in costly academic pre-college programs or scholar societies. These organizations rarely give students an advantage in the college application process, and students can typically gain similar (or more beneficial) skills and experiences through other avenues. Ultimately, the college application process asks students to reflect on their experiences in high school, so it matters much more what a student got out of an experience than where it took place.

In a holistic admissions review, college admissions officers evaluate a student’s academic transcript (course selection and grades), test scores (if applicable), school, community, and independent involvements, writing skills, and character through all of the application materials. Ultimately, colleges want to admit students that they know will succeed academically at their schools, so a student’s high school academic record understandably is the main focus in admissions review.

Colleges are also building communities, so they are carefully crafting their incoming class of students to represent many different interests, backgrounds, and personalities. A record of involvement helps a college see how involved a student might be at their school and how committed that student could be within their community.

Keep in mind, though, that there isn’t one perfect mix of activities that gets a student admitted to a particular college; a college wants to understand each student’s interests and passions, whether that is being a varsity athlete, a musician, a student government leader, a community volunteer, or a unique combination of interests. The goal should be to select an appropriate schedule of classes, do well in those courses, pursue other interests outside of classes, and develop your place in your community. Maintaining balance and happiness is a priority!

Every October, the college counselors host a Financial Aid Night for any Upper School families interested in learning about college financial aid. Counselors also work one-on-one with students and their families to find colleges aligned with their financial goals. As juniors begin the college research process, we encourage families to be transparent and speak with their college counselor about financial considerations. In addition to posting scholarship opportunities, counselors suggest colleges with specific need-based aid or scholarship programs based on each student’s profile and interests.

The number of applications to submit depends on each student’s individual situation. While we recommend that students apply to multiple “likely” and “50/50” schools, we stress the importance of the student truly loving every school on their list. If students have “likely” schools where they can see themselves being very happy (academically, socially, and financially), then they are guaranteed success in the college process. A student should be confident in the fit of each school — likely, 50/50, and reach — on their college list.

The most effective college search is driven by the student but supported by the parent. Parent involvement in the process comes in many forms — encouraging students to explore their interests, listening to them, reminding them to meet with their college counselor and teachers, and helping them manage their college research, work, and stress. Parents should also keep an open mind about individual colleges, rankings, and admissions statistics throughout the process.

College admissions is constantly evolving, and the reality of your student’s experience could be vastly different from the experience of an older sibling or family friend. Your college counselor is here to help you and your student navigate these changes. Along with informal Coffee with a College Counselor discussions, grade-specific parent programs are held throughout the year to keep families informed about the college admissions process.

Our college counseling program at Seven Hills is structured to guide students and their families through the college process from the very beginning stages. Programming for ninth grade families provides an introduction to college planning while focusing on helping students develop their interests, strengthen their academics, and enjoy high school. We educate families about the pieces of the application and the application timeline, including standardized testing and visiting colleges.

As older students get deeper into the college process, we provide even more detailed information for families so that everyone understands the expectations of the student, parent, and counselor. Every other fall, the college counselors host an evening program specifically for Seven Hills families who are new to the American college system.

For those interested in specialized admissions paths, the college counselors guide students as they navigate these additional processes. We can guide students in creating athletic resumes, coordinating student outreach to coaches, gathering information for art portfolio requirements, registering for auditions, and more. Seven Hills’ faculty in arts and athletics are also resources for students interested in these areas. Students who participate in arts or athletics outside of Seven Hills often consult with their coaches or teachers from those organizations as well — just be sure to keep your college counselor informed!

All Seven Hills students have access to Scoir (pronounced “score”), an online database that helps students conduct college research, access online tours, view historical admissions data, and apply to colleges. ​​Students store their official college list in Scoir, and counselors utilize Scoir to electronically transmit application materials, such as transcripts and letters of recommendation, to colleges. Students receive access to their personalized Scoir account in the fall of sophomore year. Parents are introduced to Scoir during the Fall Junior Parent Night and are invited to create their own parent accounts at that time.

Students and parents are members of a class-specific Schoology group where they receive detailed and up-to-date communications from the college counseling office, including slides and recordings from our events, handouts and resources, local news, summer opportunities, scholarship updates, deadline reminders, newsletters, and more. This is in addition to the countless individual communications from their assigned college counselor.

Here are some of our favorite books and articles from recent years, covering everything from effective college search research and paying for college to the nuts and bolts of application review and how to stay sane during the process. Although it can be tempting to rely on college rankings, it’s impossible to boil down the entire student experience to one number, and many ranking methodologies heavily weight data and opinions that don’t necessarily represent the student experience. We help our students look beyond simple ranking lists to uncover the full story of the colleges they research.

Fiske Guide to Colleges

Applying Sideways 

Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions

Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania

The Truth about College Admission: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together

The Price You Pay for College: An Entirely New Road Map for the Biggest Financial Decision Your Family Will Ever Make

Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges