Counseling Department Helps Soothe College Application Anxiety

Applying to college is difficult enough, Grace Fischer, a senior at Carmel High School, said. She did not need the added pressure of sending standardized test scores as part of her application.   

“All of the schools I applied to are test-optional,” said Grace, who applied to seven colleges and hopes to study marine biology. “That lessens the stress and helps you focus on your capabilities. An exam does not reflect who I am.”  

The Counseling Department at Carmel High School knows all about college anxiety, Heather Jaffe, Counseling Department Chair, said. The department’s Counselors are skilled at helping students navigate the college application process.   

“Usually, the students are overwhelmed,” Ms. Jaffe said. “We help them to de-stress, compartmentalize and take it one step at a time.”     A college representative from SUNY Binghamton visited Carmel High School to speak to seniors. 

The department has a lot of tools to help students and parents with the process. Students use the Scoir College Network system to help with their search and planning. They work with their English teachers and counselors on college essays and supplemental essays. The counseling department invites college admissions representatives to Carmel High School to give students the opportunity to see a broad range of options.    

“When schools visit, it really helps students to make a connection,” Ms. Jaffe said. “They get a college admissions officer’s card. They can follow up with email. The college gets to know the students, and when they apply, that is a great help. We have increased the number of visiting schools; this year we had Cornell University come to Carmel High School for the first time.”  

Unlike many high school seniors, Dagan Duke has long known exactly what he wanted: to live in New York City and study interior design. The Counseling Department helped him identify five schools that would be a good fit.   

“I started writing my essays in August,” Dagan said. “All of my schools are test optional. For what I want to study, it’s based on my portfolio.”  

The college application landscape has changed dramatically in the last five years, Ms. Jaffe said.  Now more than 80% of colleges are test optional. More than 50% of Carmel students do not submit SAT or ACT scores.  Instead, college admissions officers view students more holistically. They look at the curriculum the students have taken, their grade point averages and their extracurricular activities. It seems to work for Carmel. Last year, the district had several students accepted into the Ivy League.   

The number of applications students submit has changed, too.   

Most students apply to more than 10 schools these days.  With so many applications, the admission rate for colleges is way down. For example, Northeastern University went from a 30% admit rate to a 7% admit rate in the past five years.   

“Our job is making sure we are appropriately advising students,” Ms. Jaffe said. “We must make sure the advice is individualized. Just because a school is good for your neighbor or your cousin, does not mean it is good for you. It is paramount to find the right fit.”