November College Search Guide

Carleton College. | Courtesy photo

The Road to College

By May S. Ruiz

A year ago, when wildfires were raging all over Southern California, I wrote that it would be a welcome relief for the weather to cool down and to get some rain. This summer, the wildfire occurred very close to home and, as of this writing, is in recovery. While we want the hot weather to be over, though, cooler temperatures also mean it’s flu season. And this year, that’s all the more concerning because of the coronavirus pandemic.

We’re experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases in Southern California. Some university campuses which opened this semester had to shut down again after several off-campus parties and football games caused a coronavirus outbreak. Schools in Los Angeles County area are still remote learning until the foreseeable future to ensure the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff.

The pandemic has added yet another stress-inducing element to the college application process. Most of your children are distance learning and some need assistance with their coursework. As I mentioned in last month’s college guide, remote learning means parents are practically home-schooling their kids – one more responsibility on top of their already full plate. Parents can’t reasonably be expected to help their children with all their lessons so tutoring companies (and I don’t mean those offering test prep, which is a multi-billion dollar industry) have become, of late, a booming enterprise. Find one that offers options to fit your student’s specific need and your family’s budget. A company called Mundo Academy provides excellent tutoring services in the Pasadena and San Gabriel Valley area.

If you’re overwhelmed, as most of us are at this time, please reach out for assistance. The CDC has put together a resource kit for parents, divided by age group, to help them ensure their children’s well-being. The site also has links to other resources that cover various concerns. Another CDC webpage is dedicated to helping parents manage stress during the coronavirus pandemic.              


It has been a nerve-wracking seven months, but I hope your children are settling into high school, focusing on their studies, and using all available resources to accomplish all the work required and succeed in each course. The goal is not just to pass, however, but to make the best grade they are capable of getting.

Ideally, they should be up-to-speed in all their classes, but if there’s anything about the course they can’t grasp, they need to seek assistance. Most teachers will agree to a Zoom meeting with students so they have to ask right away or they will fall behind all the more as the school year progresses. Likewise, socially-minded high school and college students have created free tutoring services and learning platforms to help children during the coronavirus pandemic. Two of these organizations include Sailors Learning and Wave Learning Festival, which I have written about.                        

Several universities, led by the UC system, have eliminated standardized test results from their decision-making process. With the pandemic resulting in the College Board routinely cancelling SAT tests, your children’s GPA has become the single most important component of the academic picture they present to the universities to which they will apply. It will show how well they did in high school and how prepared they are to go to college. 

If your children are particularly good at one sport, encourage them to join their school’s competitive team if there’s one this year. Excellence in sports can be used as a hook to get into college; some universities offer lucrative athletic scholarships. They should ask their coach to help them determine the NCAA requirements.

They should have identified other extra-curricular activities they want to participate in, whether they’re in the arts or school clubs. An important thing for them to bear in mind is to make sure they continue that interest throughout high school – admission officers want to see depth of involvement.             


Most universities look at 10th grade as a fundamental year in high school. Your children should have already made a smooth transition from their middle school life and are enthusiastically exploring their various interests and are applying these towards extra-curricular work. They should be actively participating in sports, or arts, their school newspaper, or their yearbook. 

The class deans should be working with your children in evaluating their class performance and workload to make sure they are on track and are making the grade. Together with their class dean, your children should be preparing for standardized testing and junior year course options. 

Additionally, your children can start looking at various colleges offering the course they might consider taking.


This is an important year for your children. They need to be in constant communication with their counselor to ensure they are on track for graduation and college admission. 

Encourage your children to focus on getting good grades. This year’s is the last complete school year marks the college admissions officers will see when your children send in their application.  Their GPA is the most reliable and significant predictor of how well they are ready for college work.

Several high schools in the area have held virtual college fairs and you and your children would have met the representatives of the various colleges to which they might consider applying. Your children should be researching these schools’ requirements and keeping track of the universities which offer the courses they are interested in pursuing.


Your children should have already sent out their application early this month if they were trying for Early Action (EA) or Early Decision (ED). They should notify the universities of any honors they received since mailing their application; they have to make sure their school sends out a recent transcript, and all their standardized test results have been forwarded. 

If the university they are applying to is offering an alumni virtual interview, I would advise your children to plan ahead because the report will become part of their admission file. While it will be held via Zoom, they have to present themselves as if it was an in-person interview. They should dress conservatively and comfortably – no tank tops and no bare midriffs; make eye contact and listen well; be positive – stress their strengths and explain their weaknesses, but don’t dwell on the negative and don’t complain; answer all the questions – if they’re confused, ask for clarification; keep the conversation going; be prepared to ask thoughtful questions of their interviewer; try not to lead the conversation into a ‘trouble’ area – if they don’t know much about current events, don’t direct the conversation there; be honest; send a thank you note.

Most universities will mail out their acceptance letters in mid-December. As your children await word from the college, they might want to keep writing all the supplemental essays required by the universities to which they will apply for the regular decision round. Admission to their EA school isn’t binding so they can still apply to other colleges, thus not limiting their options. However, an acceptance to their ED school is binding and they are required to matriculate if admitted. 

In the meantime, you children should make sure they are doing well academically. Some universities require the first semester grades, or the first quarter grades if they’re applying for EA/ED. In fact, your children shouldn’t let up on academics because a college can still rescind their offer of acceptance if a student’s grades have fallen below acceptable level. 

Likewise, make sure your children are continuing to participate in athletics, if available, and extra-curricular activities. These sometimes help them relieve the stress of the college application process.  

This is also the time to research scholarships.  Some websites that could prove useful are:  CollegeXpress; Fastweb; Free Application for Federal Student aid; National Merit Scholarship Corporation;; Scholarships360; Student Aid on the Web. You and your children should talk to their school’s financial aid officer for guidance on filling out financial aid applications.                


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