Q & A with the Counselors

What is the busiest time for counselors and students looking at colleges?

Marybeth Green: The senior year during the fall is the busiest time in applications, trying to figure out which schools they want to attend, scholarship applications, financial aid.

What are the most frequently asked questions?

Angelo Giacalone: How can I get money? Where do I apply? How do I apply? What’s the process? And that’s equally from parents as it is from kids.
MG: What schools have my major?

What are the answers to those questions?

AG: It varies from student to student, depending on what they want. We have different resources that we could go to, depending on the student that would help them with those questions, but it’s going to vary, which is why we urge kids to see their counselor on an individual basis, and get to know them. See them early and often.
MG: Typically the higher ACT and GPA give you greater opportunity for academic scholarships. With the Internet these days, there are so many more resources out there that you can access, like the websites of colleges, etc.

Any particular resources you recommend?

Jim Mowry: is a good search engine. You go there and feed characteristics of what you’d like to see in a college and it gives you a list of the colleges that meet all those characteristics. So that’s a good place for a student to start.

What should an average student do every year?

JM: Freshman year you’re basically just taking good academic classes. And all the way through you need to be thinking about your senior resume, so write down things that you and that sort of stuff so that when you’re a senior you can remember those things. It’s just to basically do a good job in your classes. Sophomore year you go onto the PLAN test and the PSAT test, and continue to add things to your resume. And then in your junior year you’re going to take the PSAT and then also in the spring, start looking at ACT or SAT and do that. Also in your junior year, you have to start thinking about narrowing down where you think you’d like to go to college and go visit some campuses. That way in the fall of your senior year you’re ready to start narrowing down and thinking about applications.
AG: That’s one of the biggest things about junior year that a lot of kids forget about is: if possible, you want to go visit some campuses because until you’re actually on the campus, and asking some questions, and seeing some stuff, you’re not actually . Everybody can make their campus look good on the brochure or on a website, but until you’re actually there, you don’t get the feel of it. Mr. Mowry’s right, if in the spring of your junior year you can start doing those visits (and some of those can go into the fall of your senior year), the more organized you are, the better you are.
Christy Schmitt: And I’d like to piggyback on Mr. Mowry’s about what you should do freshmen year. I absolutely agree that they should be taking good, strong curriculum to prepare, but the second thing I think they should be doing is to be aware that colleges want to see what else you were doing besides the academic. And so they should work on identifying what their passion is, what do they like, what group do they want to belong to, and identify one or two activities (sports or clubs) and try to get deeply involved in those so maybe by their junior year they’d have a leadership role which would look good for scholarships and colleges.
AG: And that’s for that resume that comes into play so, so SO importantly. I suggest to kids that once a semester you should update your resume, even if you’re a freshmen, even if it’s just on a piece of paper. It’s tough to remember senior year what I did freshman year and be accurate with it. You want to document EVERYTHING you do because being a well-rounded student is really important.
MG: And along those lines of the academic preparation- that varies from student to student and their abilities. What one student is capable of doing, like how many honors classes they can manage will not be the same for another student sitting right beside you. Some might be able to handle four, another student might just be one. We encourage you to push yourself to what your individual potential is because colleges do like to see that students have taken advantage of what the school has to offer as far as their curriculum goes and taking advantage of whatever AP, honors classes they have and try to do well in them.

What’s an example of a good resume? What do they ask for?

CS: They’re going to ask for your academics first, and then they want to know about things like volunteer or community service, and then they want to know about extra-curricular activities. So a moment ago, Mr. Giacalone referred to documenting. And one thing that freshmen and sophomores might not think about is outside community agency, like their church group or Scouts; they are logging some hours, and at the end of those experiences they should probably ask an adult supervisor to sign off documenting those because those might be hours that three years later they might want to use to get into NHS, or to fulfill that part of a college or scholarship application. In addition, the resume should probably talk about what their aspirations or goals are for their education and career.
AG: Oh, and the work experiences, any honors and awards or leadership offices you might have held. The thing is, the resume is a snapshot of you and putting your best foot forward to sell you. If Mr. Mowry and I are both applying for the same college and our academics are real close, why should they take me over him? What do I have? That’s where your resume is going to sell you. What does he have over me? There’s only going to be a select number of kids that they will choose.

What happens to students who wait too long to start preparing and applying?

AG: If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail. That’s the bottom line.
JM: Some schools will have what they call rolling enrollment deadlines, where you can apply pretty far into your senior year. But it really cuts down on places you have an opportunity to go to. A lot of kids don’t want to make decisions and they postpone, postpone, postpone. What you usually hear then is: Johnson County Community College. Because then you can get into a two-year school, or maybe a one-year or maybe you’re not ready to make a decision, and this gives you some comfort that you can go to college and stay at home, and not have to make that decision yet. It could come down to where you won’t get into a four-year school if you delay too long.
AG: But if you can get in, you may be shooting yourself in the foot to get some of that monetary support because scholarship money may be a little more dried up. There are a lot of seniors who come to us who haven’t made those decisions, and their stress level is pretty high.
CS: That’s one of the main things I see. I see those seniors who are stressed in their senior year.

Is there a limit to how many colleges you can apply to?

AG: There is no limit. We try to remind them to keep in mind that with every application there’s a fee. Some can be $25-35 for KU/K-State, and up to $75 for others. They can be very expensive, so they can add up, and the cost of the money you’re sending out with those applications…you really need to try to narrow it down to five at the most.

Do you ever recommend in-state over out of state?

AG: I personally I don’t make a recommendation. The thing that I think, that Dr. Green hit on earlier is-what school has what you want to do? What do you have the best feel for? What I try to tell kids is when they’re picking colleges to pick the one college, their ideal college, that if there were no objectives, if money wasn’t an objective, and being away from home wasn’t an objective you pick that ideal college, then pick a couple of safe colleges that might be a little closer to home but still suit your needs. From my standpoint, that’s the advice that I try to give the kids.
MG: I agree, it’s pretty individual, it just depends on the student. What’s suitable for one student may not be for another.
CS: I think we just try to give them the facts to make their decisions with their parents. For instance, one thing we might mention for in-state vs. out of state, is the difference in tuition. If you think that out of state college has more of what you want, then make sure you discuss early on with your parents how they will handle that out of state tuition.
AG: You know, it’s like what Dr. Green said earlier. It’s so individual. And now there are some out of state schools that are making their packages so lucrative, and based off your GPA and SAT scores, that’s making them even cheaper than some of our in-state schools. Oklahoma State has a great package based off that, and we’ve had a lot of kids go there the last three years. Arkansas, same thing.

How do you get money?

AG: Scholarships are your number one way, no doubt about it. Scholarships are either internal, which are given through the university or college that you go to, or external which are given through corporations or clubs or organizations, stuff like that. We have a really nice listing of scholarships that are on our website that we email out every couple weeks to parents and senior students. That’s a big factor for them and a big help for them. The other thing is there are still families that are need-based, and that’s where the FAFSA or financial aid forms come in. We try to educate them on that and November 17th is our Financial Aid evening up here. It’s a pretty good educational piece for students and parents to get more understanding of what the process is of filling out a financial aid form. I’d say scholarships and financial aid are two big ways that students get money. I think one thing that students need to understand is that trying to obtain scholarships is like having a full-time job. There are a lot of scholarships and a lot of things that you can do. The good thing about that is if you’re doing an essay for a scholarship, after you do the first few and get them proofread by teachers and stuff like that, chances are you are only going to have to do minor tweaks on those essays for upcoming scholarships because a lot of them are pretty broad questions.

What do they ask about on essays?

AG: A lot of them say, “What are your goals and aspirations? Why should you deserve this scholarship? Tell us a little about yourself.” Those are various questions; some of them even say, “Write us an essay on your topic.” They just want to see a little bit about you and what your plan of thought is.
MG: You can see the questions for KU. They usually have three questions and you can choose one of the three, and they are already posted.
AG: The thing about a lot of those internal scholarships-you have to apply to the university before you can apply for a scholarship that you want. A lot of that is part of a basic, admissions application.

How do you make your essay unique?

MG: That’s the hard part.
AG: I would agree. That’s the secret—I don’t think there is any one thing. It’s your angle, your creativity. I think, just like Dr. Green said, that like the college for you is individualistic, how you write that essay, that’s individualistic too. You’re selling yourself.
CS: I can think of a couple essays over the years that really stand out in my mind. I would say what the students did is that they picked a unique experience they had and they wrote about and showed their strengths and positive traits through that experience, instead of a generic essay where they’re like, “Well, I’ve done this and this and done that and yada yada yada.” But they made their voice come through very clearly, and the experience was very interesting, and as you read about their experience you got an understanding of the strengths of the student.

What should students look for in a college?

JM: Start with broad stuff—how far away you want to be from home, do you need a big school or a little school, do you want a big town or a little town, how much can you afford to pay, is there a sport or extracurricular activity that I like to do. If I’m a rodeo rider, I want to go to a school that has a rodeo team. And so those are the broad things, the kind of things you can enter into a search engine; give them a geographical area and they will give you the schools that meets those things. So you start broad, and then you start narrowing down, and then you get down to a reasonable amount of schools to visit and then you visit and decide how many of those you will apply to.
CS: One thing I’d like to add to that is that if you know already what you want to study, you should be picking a school that offers what you want. And if you don’t, make sure you pick a school that has quite a broad range as you decide on your major in the next couple of years. So looking at what they have to study is quite an important part.

What do you ask about on college visits?

CS: Very often you might want to ask if you can visit a class, if you happen to know what you’re going to major in, so you can see how that’s run. You might like to ask to speak to some students privately and ask them about what they really like and what was really difficult when they came to that campus. You might want to ask to see some facilities like the cafeteria and the dorms. If you know what you’re going to major in, you might ask to see what your curriculum of study will be. You might want to talk with somebody in financial aid and ask them questions like what the average package for financial aid was for this year’s freshmen. I think a really good question if your visit is early enough, is how they handle AP scores and CollegeNow credits, so you can make some decisions if you go to that college how they will transfer in and what decisions would be best for you.
AG: I think the other question that sticks in my mind is job placement. If I give you all this money for school, what kind of job placement will I have to get into my field? There are placement offices in college that will help place you, or assist you with career fairs, job fairs, etc. Because that’s your ultimate goal after you get out of college, unless you plan on being there your whole life is to get a job.
CS: And I advise my students to ask very specific questions and not just accept a generic, “Oh, we help them and we do a good job,” but a specific “What percentage of your graduates last year were placed in their area of study within 90 days of graduation?” and compare college to college. I also advise my students to think through a list of questions beforehand and bring that, and they do the talking, not the parents. Because very often, some of the people you want to make an impression on that you’re mature enough, that you’re ready, that you’re thinking for yourself might be admissions people that you’re talking to. And they want to hear the questions and the thought come from the student, not the parents. So it’s a great idea to have the parent along, but parents take note and listen, and the student should do most of the talking.
EB: Some schools have started to split their tours so they’ll do a parent tour and a student tour specifically for that reason.
JM: Every school has to have safety data, so you could ask about safety data, especially for young ladies, like if they have an escort services back from the libraries and that kind of stuff. They have to have a record of any crimes committed on campus and security things.
AG: Because I know where my daughter goes to school now, they have that, and it’s awesome. As a parent, that’s a huge deal. If you’re at the library late at night, it’d be great to have someone escort you home instead of walking back to your dorm by yourself.
EB: Other things—internship opportunities, study abroad opportunities if that’s something you’re interested in, what type of programs do they offer. If they have an exchange.
CS: And along those lines, students might want to ask about their honors program. Do they have one? What are the criteria to get it? What does it offer me if I avail myself of the honors program?
AG: Greek life, sorority/fraternity-kids want to know about that. Do they have houses on campus? Or is there a non-house type fraternity? What type of professional fraternities do you offer? And all kinds of stuff like that.
MG: Most importantly, about the sports team. Are they a winning team? *All laugh*
CS: For many it’s important to ask about their policy surrounding alcohol use of their students.

What’s the difference between the SAT and the ACT? Which colleges accept which?

JM: Basically it’s just two letters different. Both of them are college admissions examinations. Every college in the United States at this point will take either the SAT or the ACT. Harvey Mudd was the last hold-out, and they’ve capitulated. Some schools will require more testing; if you get to the select schools, they’ll want you to not only take the SAT and the ACT, but also what’s called an SAT II test, and those are subject tests where they’ll ask you to do two or three tests in individual subjects like chemistry, biology, English, history, math, all that kind of stuff. The purpose of that is the selective schools may have a freshmen class of 2,000, but they may have 15,000 kids apply, and they have to decide who to take of the 15,000, so they want more testing information. We recommend to the students that they test in the spring of their junior year and if they’re not happy with their results, maybe you can repeat again in the spring of your junior year or the fall of your senior year so that your score is back in time. And those are important in some schools on whether you’ll be admitted, in other schools it’s not so much whether you’re admitted, but it’s important on whether you’ll qualify for scholarships and the level of class you can enter on. They look at your English scores and decide whether you’re ready for Comp 1, then look at your math scores and decide what math class you’re ready to enter. And if you have low scores, they’ll make you take remedial classes. Schools will use in a variety of ways-admissions, scholarships, class placement. They are important, and normally what we’d like to think is if you go through the curriculum, if you take good, strong courses, then you should do pretty decently on the SAT or ACT. If you really want to try to plug it up, then we’ve got a class now called Test Prep, there are businesses out there that do test preparation, you can get review materials on site on the ACT/SAT website. But it basically comes down to whether you’ve taken a good, strong curriculum and whether you’ve worked hard in school.
AG: Should I take the ACT with writing?
JM: It depends on where you want to go to school. If you get into the Big 10 territory, they want you to take writing. If you’re in Kansas, nobody requires writing, same in Missouri. Nobody in the Midwest requires writing. You start getting up into Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Big 10 country; they want you to do that. With a lot of schools, if you do ACT with writing, they will take the writing portion out of your ACT and excuse the application essay that you’re required to do. Sometimes that might be helpful, especially if you’re applying for schools up in those areas, because you just write one essay on the ACT, instead of an individual one for each school. Normally, if you’re going to stay in this area, you don’t need the writing portion unless you just like to do it.
CS: Which you may want to, if writing is your greatest strength.

What are some other options besides college that students can go to?

Erin Barnett: Students have various options. You’ve got the military. You’ve got junior college. You’ve got technical, or trade, schools. And then there are traditional four-year schools. Every student out of high school should plan for some kind of training after high school; that’s just the way the work force is now. There’s lots of different options depending on what experiences students want, what their goals are.
CS: And for many of the trades she mentioned, there are great apprenticeships available, which is a way to get more training and foot in the door to get into that trade. They should look into that too. I find most people don’t really understand the military option, that they can just enlist, they could go to ROTC in college, they could apply for something like the Naval Academy or West Point and get in that way. There are various options there that they should look into the details whether they’re going into a trade, if they’re going into military, if they’re going to whatever they’re going into.

What’s the difference between applying for military/trade/etc. school and a standard four-year college?

CS: If it’s military, they may still get that four-year degree. Some students decide to go into the military because they want the educational benefits the government will provide. While they’re working a job and getting a paycheck, they’ll also be going to school and getting some assistance with it. If they go to some place like West Point or the Air Force Academy, they come out of there with a four-year degree and an obligation to put some time into the military. If we’re talking a vocational/technical school, instead of a degree they’re coming out with some kind of certificate or license that is what that trade wants to go into that .
EB: The application process is going to vary depending on what route you go, what type of school. Some are going be lengthy application processes, some are going to be simple depending on how strict the requirements are to get into those programs. The more strict they are, probably the lengthier the application process is going to be.
CS: My recommendation would be whatever a student is looking into, as much as possible, whatever they promise you or whatever information they give you…get it in writing.

How do you apply for student loans? Should you do it in the first place? Are they are a good of bad thing?

AG: Loans aren’t necessarily a bad thing-if it’s your way into college, it’s not a bad thing at all. Again, going back to the financial aid presentation, most of that with the FAFSA and the federal aid, you have to apply for that. If you qualify for a loan, there are different kinds of loans: subsidized, unsubsidized. And some of those loans you don’t have to pay back until six months after college. The opportunities are there-to say a loan is bad, no, it isn’t bad, however, you have to be careful about what you’re doing and where you’re getting it from and stuff. The best place to start is with FAFSA and working that out.
JM: And remember, it is a loan, so you do have to pay it back. You don’t want to borrow 200,000 dollars and come out and do a job as social worker that make 25,000 dollars a year because you’re going to have a hard time paying that back.
MG: The good part about a lot of school loans is that they have a very low interest rate.
EB: And some schools are starting to help students make that decision-they are limiting the amount of loan students can take because it has been an issue, some students borrowing more than they may ever be able to pay back with their degree, so you just have to think about that wisely.
CS: There are also fields with loan forgiveness programs, like if you work for this field, or for the government, for example, for two years after graduation, they will forgive this percentage of your college loans. So that’s one more thing students have to look at.
AG: Loan forgiveness programs are getting to be a big thing now because of what it is, and most are three to five years now depending on where they put you. And like Ms. Schmitt said, there are a lot of great areas you can go into. One was education for a while, some were doctors, nurses, mental health professionals, stuff like that. That’s something you also might want to ask, “Does your school offer a loan forgiveness program?” because that will be something important.
EB: Also, going into something non-traditional, like if you’re a female going into a non-traditional female career, like engineering for example (there’s a shortage of females in engineering), some schools will offer really good options for students. Men in nursing, that’s another good area out there for men interested in a career of nursing.

What’s the hardest part of applying and getting ready for college?

CS: I would say for most students it’s just being organized and keeping themselves on a timeline. It’s really not overwhelming if you look at it when we suggest you look at it and lay out a timeline and just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
MG: Try not to procrastinate.
AG: I would say that’s the big thing. Try not to procrastinate, because too many people think of the whole process instead of breaking it down part by part. It is a continuous thing. I think Mr. Mowry said earlier, ‘Freshmen year you have to do this. Sophomore year you have to do this.’ And if you’re sticking with that stuff because it is a PROCESS, it doesn’t seem so overwhelming and you don’t feel stressed in the end.
EB: You have to build time into your schedule for it. And I know for seniors, that’s probably the most difficult thing, finding that time because they have working and school and a social life, but you have to build time into your schedule.
CS: When we refer to starting a bit at a time, that’s why we urge sophomores to take the PLAN test and get an interest inventory and start picturing where in the career world might start looking into. And as juniors, start getting really serious about starting your college search, so that by the time your senior year starts you have it pretty narrowed down and are ready to start the application part of it. Don’t make it harder than it needs to be.
EB: Utilize the counseling staff here. If students or parents have questions, we’re all friendly people.
AG: A lot of parents are easily frazzled by the whole process, especially if it’s their first son or daughter going through it. It isn’t an easy process; there’s no doubt about it, but our doors are open, and keep the lines of communication open. That’s huge.

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Q & A with the Counselors