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The College Admissions Process: Counselor Caroline Rubio on Getting the Right “Fit”

June 1, 2011

by Caroline Rubio – Dublin High School Counseling

In my role as a Dublin High School counselor, I work with high school students on the college admission process, starting as early as a student’s freshman year. College admission planning and counseling is my passion and I recently had the opportunity to apply skills I use every day with my oldest child, a senior at Dublin High. Here is our story (I’ve left out the name of specific colleges our daughter considered and was accepted into because it’s the process that’s important, not the colleges that were part of our decision).

We started talking about college when she was very young, taking her to many different schools as part of family trips (along with her siblings). Seeing a variety of schools of different types definitely helped give her a feel for the type of college environment she would enjoy. She was looking for a residential school, on the smaller side with a liberal arts focus that could provide a teaching credential. Ideally the school would have a strong athletic program (especially football and basketball). She also wanted a school where she could have some flexibility in changing majors (which can be difficult at some schools like the Cal Polys). Bottom line, she wanted a “community” of learners, not a commuter campus.

With all of this in mind we had her do a project at the end of her junior year where she researched 20 colleges of her choice that she would later narrow down to 10 colleges in her senior year. She had taken the proper classes, stretched herself in areas where she has talent and interest, and completed community service, leadership and sports. She is a well-rounded kid who works hard. I had her do all of the testing I ask my students to do, and we discovered that the ACT was by far the better test for her. For some areas, like Geometry where she needed a refresher, we got her some help to prepare. Her test scores kept going up and up, and in the process I discovered how very important test scores are for financial aid at private schools. Colleges to consider had to make sense given her ACT scores, pattern of coursework, GPA and extracurricular activities.

As the time for applying to colleges approached, our family decided that she would pick five schools (approved by me) that she could apply to, and I would pick five. I was familiar with what she was looking for, and college admission is my “thing”, so this was a really fun process for me. She tended to pick California schools (private) and one out-of-state. I picked one in-state that had promised four-year Bachelor’s and credential completion, one public out-of-state (that offered frozen tuition and room/board for the first two years as well as a “finish in four” guarantee), and several private colleges.

The selection process then narrowed from ten colleges to two – and here is where college visits become important. One of the two colleges was a school our daughter wasn’t interested in it at all prior to the visit. The visit was, for her, being a good kid and going along with the family plan. When we visited the campus, however, it turned out to be the perfect fit. The school had all the things she was looking for (six-time division football champs, basketball champs, virtually all kids live on campus, lots of activities, and very satisfied students). The college was the right fit and she was given a half-off tuition merit scholarship which also made the college the most affordable choice. There were other colleges offering half-off for merit, but because those colleges were in California the costs were still prohibitive, and assuming student loans was something we wanted to avoid.

From our list of 10 schools, it really boiled down to one or two really good alternatives given our financial considerations and the necessity to finish in four years, which she will be able to accomplish at the college she chose. Above all, I wanted her to feel comfortable and happy. Now that the decision has been made, it’s a big relief for everyone and she is really excited. She does have another friend going as well who does not attend Dublin High, so that’s nice. She is excited to try new and different activities that this school offers.

This experience helped shape the presentation (read more…) I prepared for the CSF/CJSF conference held recently at Dublin High: about really researching schools and keeping kid’s stats in mind. Some students really do not put a lot of thought into the process about what they are looking for, or needing from, a college – they get blown away by name or reputation – and do not look closely at the “fit”. I felt that all of my daughter’s choices were a good fit for her, and in the end it came down to financial aid and school culture. We are really lucky that our daughter’s college of choice is such a great fit for her and I am confident that she will be very successful there.

More college prep information is available in’s College Primer for Parents.

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