For Montclair Local


Pat Berry is a writer, editor and college application essay coach. For more information, visit Pat’s website, and follow her on Instagram via @college_essay_coach.

Now that high school seniors have hit SUBMIT on their college applications, attention in high school guidance offices nationwide has shifted — to juniors. For those 11th graders who plan to attend college, most of the application process lies ahead, and the path is bound to be bumpy at times. But according to several independent college consultants I interviewed, maintaining good grades and keeping a calendar of key events and activities will help to limit the headaches.   

Independent college consultants know their stuff. They visit colleges and universities (sometimes dozens each year); they speak with admissions officers; they know acceptance rates; and they work hard to understand the specific academic, social, and cultural objectives of each student they work with.

Not surprisingly, stress is a major issue in the application process, even at this early stage. In fact, some juniors already feel as though they’re behind. Not so, says educational consultant Marcia Kramer of Plan the Path. Kramer advises juniors to focus on today. “Do well in your classes, enjoy your activities and try to keep balance in your life,” she tells them. Kramer, who is based in Montclair, works with both traditional college bound students as well as those who have faced academic and personal challenges.





Being mindful of what’s coming up the pipeline will also help to keep worries at bay. Juniors should spend some time with the 2019 calendar. Which events, like standardized testing, will need some preparation, and which are in-the-moment activities? Carolyn Allison Caplan, aka Admissions Mom, recommends figuring out sooner rather than later whether the SAT or the ACT is the better test for you. (Comparisons are available online.)

“If you’re considering highly selective colleges, make sure to take the SAT subject tests,” Caplan says. She also advises students to finish testing before senior year if at all possible. Caplan is a private college consultant based in Houston (

Juniors should also keep in mind that more and more colleges are becoming test-optional. That said, test scores may be required to be eligible for scholarships, so they should be sure to read each application’s “fine print” before opting out of standardized testing.

Then there’s summer. How students spend the months between junior and senior year matters. But certainly it can be something students love to do, and it doesn’t have to cost anything, says Montclair-based independent college consultant Barbara Gottesman of No Stress College Help. She suggests identifying an activity “that’s both fun and related in some way to what you might want to pursue in college.” Colleges sometimes give high marks to students who hold down jobs during time off.

Most juniors I’ve ever known spend time imagining what college will be like. My oldest kept a notebook dedicated to her college search. She would pull it out during tours and information sessions to jot down her reactions. Later, she’d refer to it as she refined her list. Montclair-based college consultant Robin Abramowitz views touring as a big adventure and vital to the process of building a college list. She helps her students create an initial list of schools based on their interests — “a city school, a school close to home, a big ‘rah-rah’ school, a small school and so on.” But the magic is in visiting campuses and, Abramowitz says, in considering what it would be like to attend each school.

“Talk to students, have lunch in the cafeteria, visit the library, check out the campus bookstore. Be in the moment,” she advises.

Independent college advisor Susan Perlstein, based in San Francisco, helps her clients “keep application anxiety to a minimum by breaking the various tasks on their to-do lists into manageable pieces. For instance, today we might discuss testing strategies,” she says. “Next time we will talk about the criteria they are looking for in a college or what they think they’d like to do over the summer.”

Will tensions mount as deadlines move closer? Sure they will.

But the upside is, by the end of the application process students will be able look back on a year of learning about themselves and defining what they want out of, yes, college, but also life.