Getting Started

College Corner

Getting Started Questions & Answers


We hope you find these answers to some of the more common questions about college admission helpful.

What is an academic core course?
Typically, an academic core course belongs to one of the five major academic disciplines: English, mathematics, social sciences, natural sciences, foreign languages.
What standardized tests are required? When?
The great majority of colleges and universities require scores from one or more of the following tests: the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT I); the SAT II (formerly Achievement Tests), a set of subject tests designed to evaluate students’ abilities in specific disciplines; or the American College Test (ACT).

Students at Genesis follow a structured calendar designed to meet all college deadlines:

Sophomores: PSAT (the Preliminary SAT)

Juniors: PSAT (for National Merit Scholarship competition); then SAT I, SAT II (if needed), and ACT.

Seniors: SAT I, SAT II, and ACT (for improvement of scores)

How do colleges use standardized testing?
Standardized tests are rarely the most important factor in an admission decision, but the scores provide one of the very few means by which colleges can evaluate students across the country. Standardized test scores form part of the total picture of an applicant. For example, colleges have higher expectations of students who come from educated, English-speaking homes. Every school uses test scores differently. To get an idea of the range of scores for which schools are looking, consult the guidebooks available from Mrs. Lees or the Library. But do not think that the published ranges are cut-offs; many schools will deny some students with very good scores and admit others with average or weak testing. Scores are merely one aspect of an application.
What can I do to get ready for standardized testing?

Work diligently at a challenging course load. Never miss an opportunity to build your vocabulary. Make sure you have mastered algebraic and geometric formulae and equations.

And, above all, read, read, read. And when you are done with reading, read some more.

How do colleges evaluate extracurricular activities?

Quality, not quantity, is the key. Colleges look for talent, dedication, motivation, and accomplishment. A student who spends a great deal of time and energy on one activity is usually more appealing than a student who joins dozens of clubs just to build a resume. Colleges do not expect students to be Superman or Superwoman, but they do want interesting, devoted, dynamic people.

Extracurricular activities need not be confined to school. In fact, colleges are often quite impressed with students who take the initiative to do something not readily offered them, such as meaningful community service, employment, or creative writing. Identify your talents and interests and pursue them intensely and thoughtfully.

What is a selective college?

Basically, a selective college is one that does not accept all of its applicants. To choose students, the selective college may use a mathematical formula consisting of grades, course selection, and standardized test scores. Or it may consider all of those factors plus more subjective factors like essays, recommendations, and extracurricular activities. The decision-making process is difficult for colleges; many face the task of selecting from hordes of seemingly similar students. In the end, though they may be able to fill their freshman class three times over with qualified candidates, the admission committees admit those students who will be good for their schools, who represent the best “fit” or “match”.

For this reason, Genesis sits at an equally difficult end of the Process. We can only submit good, careful applications and then await decisions. But assessing realistic choices for students, a primary role of the counselor, can help avoid disappointment. We divide colleges into three rough categories of selectivity. The most selective, for example, includes schools like Harvard, Stanford, Duke, Williams, and Northwestern, schools that admit as few as fifteen percent of their applicants. During the second semester of junior year we will help students assemble college lists that include “reaches” (institutions where the student will have a difficult time being admitted), “middles” (institutions where students have a better than 50/50 chance of being admitted, and “likelies” (institutions where the student is virtually assured of being admitted). One word of caution: It is unfair to equate a school’s selectivity with its quality. Selectivity is too often the product of popularity.

When should I visit colleges?

The traditional times for visiting colleges are spring and summer of junior year and fall of senior year. At those times, armed with college lists and with a growing sense of who you are and what you want, you can be very directed and insightful about your time on college campuses.

However, a number of students have found it valuable to visit college campuses on a more informal basis during their eighth, ninth, and tenth grade years, sometimes on vacation, sometimes when they are tagging along while an older sibling conducts his/her search. Keep an open mind. Take special note of what you like and what you do not like about a campus. Use these informal visits as an opportunity to begin piecing together your picture of the ideal college.

When does the college search start?

The official college search process starts at the beginning of second semester in junior year. After that you will have individual college counseling sessions.

However, as with the college visits, take advantage of every opportunity to learn more about colleges and to test and explore your assumptions about your future. Have your eyes and ears open at all times. Don’t wait until your junior year to start paying attention.

If you find yourself with some free time, try looking at college web sites as a fun, user-friendly way to begin your college search. Many of them are linked from our home page. Students have found the Higher Education listing in Yahoo helpful.

Will a summer program give me an advantage?

Many colleges offer academic summer programs for high school students. These programs usually offer something approaching the full college experience – college level classes, dormitory living, etc. – so they can be an excellent means of gaining perspective about college life. We recommend these programs because they are invariably enriching and because they are a clear indication of a student’s academic motivation. That being said, the advantage gained by a college summer program is not necessarily greater than that gained by a significant summer service project or a summer job or a summer spent shooting an original film or any other activity that would show you leading a full dynamic life.

Two additional words of caution about college summer programs: 1) Each program will have a different philosophy about monitoring its students, some quite strict, some surprisingly lax. Make sure to ask about supervision on campus when you research college summer programs; 2) Acceptance to a college’s summer program does not in any way guarantee you admission to the college’s undergraduate program nor does it even give you an edge except in the more general way discussed above. Attend a summer program because you find it intrinsically interesting or significant, not because you have hopes of undergraduate admission.

What about costs, financial aid, and scholarship?

It is a mistake to allow the cost of a college to discourage students from applying. Most selective private colleges assure applicants that if the student is admitted, the school will provide financial assistance commensurate with the family’s need. Families and schools do not always agree about “need,” but parents are often surprised to find that they qualify for significant assistance.

The numbers add up differently for each applicant, and there are no promises that an expensive school will present an affordable package. However, we will help students seek federal and private financial aid as well as merit scholarships.

For those of you interested in beginning your research about financial aid, we highly recommend two sources: DON’T MISS OUT, a very accessible guide to the financial aid process, and, the web site considered the “bible” for all financial aid information.

What if I don’t get into a highly selective school?

The myth holds that the key to future success is gaining admission to a prestigious school, after which life will flow naturally to fame and fortune. It isn’t that simple. Most students thrive best in academic environments where the demands are consistent with the student’s ability. We strongly believe that “fit,” finding the most appropriate “match” for a student, is paramount. We want Genesis graduates to do well in college, to be happy there, and to succeed when they complete their formal education. We think the best road to that goal is paved with reality and with careful selection.