D-113 counselors aim to rachet down college angst
Senior Alexa Soren drops in the Counseling Resource Center at Highland Park High School. Soren used the center's resources to select Duke University. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 16, 2013 4:46PM
HIGHLAND PARK — High school parents tend to fret enough about their students’ college decisions. And one look at the sticker prices of most schools these days is enough to cause a coronary.
So counselors at Highland Park and Deerfield high schools aren’t trying to heighten anxiety levels with a forum geared toward sophomores and juniors, but really to lower stress levels by kick-starting the family’s discussion. That way, the student will have some idea of his or her preferences — large public versus smaller private, Midwestern versus Ivy League — before the first meeting with the college counselor during second semester of junior year. The forum for students, parents and guardians will be held at 7 p.m. Feb. 26 in the auditorium at Highland Park High School, 433 Vine Ave., Highland Park.
“There is so much hype out there about how hard (the college selection process) is, that you have to hire someone to do it, that you can’t do it on your own,” said Aliza Gilbert, college counselor at Highland Park High School. “I think there is a lot of unnecessary angst.”
The speakers will offer the perspective of a large public university, a small liberal arts school and the College of Lake County. Representing the categories will be Jim Cotter, director of admissions for Michigan State University; Ken Anselment, dean of admissions and financial aid at Lawrence University and Debbie Michelini, assistant director of enrollment services at the College of Lake County. Another forum, “Anticipating College Planning,” will be held May 7 at Deerfield High School.
Gilbert said families often start the college search fixated on “name” schools like the Big Ten universities. “There are a lot of other options out there that maybe families don’t think about,” she said.
Gilbert tells families not to focus too heavily on the cost of the institution when they start their investigation. The sophomore year is a time to explore options and perhaps use a family trip as an opportunity to stop by a college and get a feel for the campus.
“Definitely, financial considerations need to be part of the conversation, but at this stage of the game, we advise families not to rule out anything because of cost,” said Gilbert. To gauge family affordability, each college now must offer a “cost calculator” on its website that takes into account family income and what the student is likely to receive in financial assistance.
“If cost is a significant concern, we will always make sure we have some kind of ‘safety school,’ either a school where we know a student will qualify for a merit scholarship or where the tuition, room and board is something the family can afford, without getting financial assistance,” said Gilbert.
In District 113, the college counseling staff begins meeting with students in earnest during the second semester of junior year when the students academic and extracurricular profile is better known. At that point, counselors know the student’s GPA based on five semesters of high school, and either have an actual ACT score or a predictive score based on a practice ACT taken in October of junior year. Gilbert notes there are plenty of test preparation resources available to students with the discipline to do it on their own. She offers parents one novel idea for familiarizing students with the test, short of shelling out money for a test prep program. Pick up an old ACT exam from the Counseling Resource Center. Wake the teen up early on a Saturday morning and at 8 a.m., have the student take the test under the same timed conditions used during the actual exam.