As a kid who is hearing back from colleges all over America, it often crosses my mind how the counselors even handle such an intimidating process. It’s very difficult to find the right place for students, especially if they have very specific requirements like location, weather, price, or even prestige. All of those factors play a role in the decision process, but even before you write the applications, you have to narrow down some choices and figure out what is your passion.
How exactly do you do that as a junior, especially with the increased workload and leadership roles? Today, I am here to answer that question, providing insight for juniors as they head into college applying as the Class of 2026. Before I give some recommendations for junior parents, why don’t we take a look at the whole process itself as a foundation?
Now, I, as a student, have NO IDEA about the intricate process that the Jesuit counselors use to prepare juniors for the college selection and application process that will occur in the next couple of months. So why don’t we talk to the big guns up in the College Counseling Office for more information? Well, that’s exactly what I did. In an interview with the college placement team, Mrs. O’Neal, Mr. Shoemaker, and Mr. Fitzsimmons, I was able to get some more background into the process.
Mrs. O’Neal: “We talk to the families every year in January about different things [like] the PSAT and some things that the students should be concentrated on at that time during their high school career.
We have a certain step-by-step process and the first is for them to sign up for their initial college meeting where they’ll meet with both me and Mr. Shoemaker and Mrs. O’Neal. She’s the one who sets that up, and this year, we started on SignUp Genius, which was a big success because I sent the email out just before Spring Break, hoping that we can get quite a few of them signed up prior to the end of the school year. By the time I got home, I had 140 already that had signed up. So by the time I got back from spring break, every spot that we had on there was already filled.”
I then send out a Microsoft Teams invite to each family that gives them a little bit of detail about what we expect them to bring to the meeting with Mr. Fitzsimmons and Mr. Shoemaker. From that point on, they show up and this year, it’s going to either be online or they’re welcome to come in-person or a combination of both. We’d like to be as prepared as possible when they come into the meeting just having started the process.
Mr. Fitzsimmons: “[Junior counselor] Mr. McDaniel meets with all the juniors to come up with an initial college list of 10 schools list. But one of the things that we also talk to them about in the January meeting is that they can spend time doing as a family playing what we like to refer to as ‘The Game.'”
Mr. Shoemaker: “‘The Game is ranking 12 categories of things ranging from like location, academic, prestige, size of the college, public or private, religious affiliation, etc. It’s important because every family member might have different stakes on what they think is important. Oftentimes, when you’re just beginning the conversation, [the family] isn’t talking about it on the same page. So, that’s where sometimes some of the animosity between Mom and son can come in because it’s like I thought he’d be considering this aspect more, but neither party knew what was so important.
The way to play the game is to basically cut those 12 categories out and put them in numerical order, 1-12 of what’s most and least important to you. But what’s most important is that everyone else who’s playing remains silent as you explain why you thought [this category] was there. It gets awkward because then it’s their turn. You pass the cards and Mom, Dad, or little sister who gets to order them in the way that they think it’s important for you and then explain their findings on why they think this is what’s important. And if you compare those results, oftentimes it helps have the discussion.
So you can figure out, for example, prestige was really important to me, but my parents actually said that wasn’t important at all. I thought they always wanted me to go to a really prestigious place. Why are they now saying that’s not important? Or, I had never thought about the cost before and Mom and Dad just told me that’s higher on the list than we thought it would be. I need to be more aware of scholarships and things.
The Game is one of the most important pieces just to get students and families talking to each other about [the college process]. If everyone does the things that we’ve asked that those initial college meetings can be, that much more productive, because if a student has met with Mr. McDaniel and formed an initial list of schools that he might be interested in, if they played the game, if they’ve done the profile activity with Mr. Lingel, then we can go and hear about their Jesuit experience and talk about schools.”
Mr. Fitzsimmons: Mr. Shoemaker and I may add or subtract from the list, depending upon things that we learned during the meeting. We want our students to research the schools and to study for standardized testing and all those things that they could do to prepare. We’ll start meeting with them in some Guidance classes late in the junior year and continue that into senior year.
Recommendations for Junior Parents
The counselors seem to already have a vision in mind, and the reality is that following the outlined process will lead to success, as the team has not only had years of experience to perfectly craft the steps, but also can lead to success like getting into schools like Harvard, Yale, MIT, or wherever incredible school you are looking to go into.
Mr. Fitzsimmons: “The key is for families to follow the process. It becomes difficult if people don’t do the things that we were hoping that they would do and then in the fall, they tell us that they’re confused.
Mr. Shoemaker: “We honestly feel like the thing that happens the most is people skip the steps that they need to focus on right now in the junior year. As you remember, there isn’t a single college to apply to yet. You’re ready to start moving and you’re ready to go forward. So, you want to do the nuts and bolts things like I’m ready to write my specific essay and do my resume and fill out my Common App. But the reality behind it is that we don’t know enough about the where’s and the what’s we’re doing.
We honestly feel like this research piece is where you’re engaging with us and playing ‘The Game.’ If you haven’t met with Mr. McDaniel, having your initial college meeting with us, learning about what schools are out there and what majors are out there, and really reflecting on what you’re looking for out of a college experience, is actually the hard part.
When you reflect back on your experience, I’m sure you’ve seen that. When you think about it, filling out the common app was actually the easy part. That was my name, my address, my phone number, the classes I took, etc. It’s all regurgitated information, simply answering the question. Why or how do you want to go to this university when they ask you? That’s really hard if we haven’t done the research about it.
So that’s what we think are the most important pieces for parents and students in these next few months. And the other key part that’s really helpful to us is in our counselor letters and working with students in the fall is a parent questionnaire that we have them fill out. Mrs. O’Neal’s going to talk about that a little bit.”
Mrs. O’Neal: “There was a link that was sent out on SignUp Genius that we like them to go ahead and do. I’m not sure it necessarily has to be done before the initial meeting. We just would love to have it done prior to the senior year. It’s just a lot of questions that if they spend a little bit of time answering, they could give us some insight on their son that maybe we don’t know or are not aware of. So it’s a really a key piece that if parents can participate in, that that would be helpful.”
With the help of our college counselors and advisors, Mr. Fitzsimmons, Mr. Shoemaker, Mrs. O’Neal, and Mr. McDaniel, your son can truly get a head start on their way to find the fitting college. He has a team around him of helpful counselors who are here to support him and answer any questions along the way. College admissions are a daunting process simply because of what it holds for your future, but the tools put out there, such as the Ten College List, are here to help. Whether it’s the East Coast or West Coast, small school or big school, technical or liberal arts, Jesuit College Prep WILL find the right place for you.
Check back to The Roundup for more coverage of college admissions!