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| June-July 2013

Education Insight: How to Prep for College Success

What to Look for in a College-Prep High School

By Rachael Mason

Historic home in College Park, Georgia

When it comes to your child’s future, you can't be too prepared.

That’s especially true when it comes to selecting a high school with a college-preparatory curriculum. The competition for top private and public universities is intense, so finding the school that will best position your child for college is more crucial than ever.

There are many factors that go into choosing a high school to best prepare your son or daughter for college. Here are four important questions to keep in mind.

How Does the School’s Curriculim Prepare Students for College?

Not all schools that list themselves as college-preparatory schools are the same. Different schools take different approaches to preparing their charges for college. Visiting school websites and following up with admissions personnel can give you a good grasp of a school’s academic focus.

The Rabun Gap Nacoochee School, a day and boarding school just north of Clayton, offers “a rigorous, traditional liberal arts-based curriculum centered on critical thinking and problem-solving skills,” says Director of College Counseling Cheryl Barber.

Charter schools, like independent schools, have varied approaches when it comes to getting students ready for college. “It is our view that not every child learns in the same manner,” says Andrew Lewis, executive vice president of the Georgia Charter Schools Association. “The most powerful aspect of a charter school is that it empowers parents with the ability to have options” when it comes to a public education. Those options include KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) schools, which aim to provide underserved children with the skills to succeed in college and beyond. The idea at KIPP schools in metro Atlanta, Lewis says, “is that all children will go to college.”

The Association’s website,, is a good place to begin your search for charter schools.

Does the School Have a Strong College Counseling Program?

Many schools offer college counseling departments that work closely with students to help them develop personalized plans for college preparation, from school selection to choosing the right extracurricular activities.

“I advise parents to find a place where students can thrive, primarily in the classroom, but also in other areas of school life,” says Gavin Bradley, director of college counseling at Pace Academy.

Counselors at Pace meet with students beginning in junior year to begin helping them prepare to take required standardized tests including the ACT and SAT. The counseling office works with students to help decide which colleges to apply to based on their academic and personal profiles. They also help students complete and submit application requirements.

Rabun Gap counselors meet with students one-on-one throughout grades 9 through 12, and conduct weekly college seminars during junior and senior years. Counselors also travel with students on various trips to college fairs and college campuses.

College counselors at Greater Atlanta Christian School (GAC) work closely with students and families throughout the high school experience. “Our counseling approach is intentionally personal and concerned about the best fit for each student,” says counselor Lori Davis. “We also try to monitor the stress our students are under during this difficult process, and keep a close eye on their grades.”

How Does It Prepare Students for the SAT?

The SAT, a standardized test that measures critical thinking and mathematics and writing skills, is a vital part of any student’s college application process. When compiling information on a prospective school, be sure to ask about its SAT scores and preparation resources. Does the school have a history of strong average test scores? Does it provide students with materials to help them prepare for this important test?

Rabun Gap offers an SAT prep workshop for a fee, and individual academic departments offer weekly tutorial sessions on standardized testing. GAC offers an elective SAT prep course. “We also have really strong relationships with several tutors in the area,” says Davis, “and we try to make available to our students and families opportunities to work in group settings” as a less-costly alternative to one-on-one tutoring.

Students at Pace prepare for standardized tests by studying a wide range of subjects. “Pace students test above the state and national averages on the SAT, so we do not incorporate formal test preparation into our daily curriculum,” Bradley says.

What Else Does the School Do?

In addition to college counseling programs and SAT preparation, many schools offer specialized research labs or one-on-one programs to help give students an extra advantage.

The Academic Resource Center at Pace helps students develop strong study and time-management habits. GAC offers a learning center staffed with research specialists who work to address students’ different learning styles.

Ultimately, a parent’s goal should be to find a school that helps the student present his or her best self to colleges and universities.

“What are colleges looking for?” asks Davis of GAC. “Strong grades in a challenging curriculum; often good performance on standardized tests; personal thoughts and values expressed in their writings; recommendations from teachers and counselors; and how have they spent their time. What matters to them? What have they done with the resources they have had?

“We offer students numerous opportunities that prepare them not only for the next steps, but to live as a confident, globally aware and responsible adult,” she continues. “We believe that we … are able to help guide them to places where they will be happy, challenged, and intellectually stimulated—where they not only succeed, but many times stand out among the best and brightest.”

What You Can Do

Aside from lending your college-bound teen a hand with his or her homework, here are some ways you can help nudge your student in the right direction.

  • Check in with your child’s college counseling department or guidance counselor to ask about his or her academic progress.
  • Encourage your child to polish her resume by pursuing community service opportunities, like a church mission trip to another country.
  • Likewise, help your child choose extracurricular activities that complement each other and illustrate personal growth and commitment.

Helpful Resources

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