College Counseling:  The Process

Independence and Choice

Control – who has it, when – often becomes a major theme in life for Upper School students and their parents. This is part of a normal growth process, of course, but is not without its worries and hurdles. The college search and application process can seem like a heightening of worries about choices and “paths.” But what makes the college process so fulfilling, ultimately, for students AND parents is that this process enables students to “take control” in a wholly positive manner.

You, the student, are the driver of this process. Your parents certainly have significant input; counselors, teachers, coaches, and many others may play a significant guiding role. However, that guiding role is guided by YOUR evolving definition of your preferences, desires, and purposes in your college choice. After all, it is you who will be attending and living at this school.

There are over 3,000 four-year colleges and universities in this country. Hundreds of them would be great schools for you. The empowering process of you making your college choice is as important, or even more important, than what that choice is. As you navigate the search process to end up with a list of (about) seven to ten schools, you’ll have plenty of help – from your college counselors and your parents. But it is ultimately your ownership of the process which will make it truly affirming, for you and your family.

Starting this process requires some serious self-assessment. While it is useful to think about what you might enjoy studying, it’s also important to consider all aspects of your life. Once you better understand what you want and what you value, you will be able to more clearly articulate who you are as a student and a person. Colleges want to know who you are, what makes you “tick,” and what motivates you. Give thought to how you most enjoy spending your free time. Think about activities, sports or groups in which you hope to continue participating, or ones you might take up for the first time. Keep in mind that for most students, college will be a residential experience. Your happiness (and likely your productivity) will be influenced greatly by the total atmosphere of the campus. Again, all colleges have strong points to offer, but your job is to choose those which most appeal to your interests.

This also is a time to be adventurous in your thought. Consider potential fields of study beyond those you already have experienced. Think about schools in areas with which you are unfamiliar. There is little risk in thought, and you may discover some options you never thought possible. And at the same time, you will likely end up with choices already familiar to you. The key is to work toward conclusions that you own; made because they best fit your talents, interests and plans for the future.

Your EPS Process and Writing Coaches are committed to supporting every step of your thinking and planning. Your college search and application process require substantial thought, organization and commitment. It is not, however, too complicated for you to handle. This can, and should be, a fun and exciting period in your life. Go into this process with optimism and enthusiasm and you will find it to be a positive experience.

9th and 10th Grades:


You should focus on transitioning to Upper School and developing study habits that will make your high school and college careers smooth. The best preparation for college that you can do during the these two years is to focus on coursework, get involved in activities you enjoy, and try out new experiences.

You should spend your ninth and tenth grade years exploring and discovering what you enjoy, what intrigues you, what challenges you. Counselors are happy to meet with you and your parents any time during these years.

Students and parents often ask about which extra-curricular activities, and how many of them, students should be involved in. The answer is – there is no “right” type or number. Our counseling team is known to say frequently:

Colleges do not want a student who has a long list of activities and volunteer hours, but who cannot articulate a meaningful interest in any of them. They want students who are engaged, who have active minds, and use their time productively inside and outside of the classroom.

Communication and Information

As you formally start the College Counseling Process in your 10th Grade year, there are two communication platforms you need to be familiar with.

This is our primary method for communicating with you outside of meetings. You will receive both email and meeting requests with important information.

Naviance Family Connection
This is our online college counseling and application tool; it has a powerful search engine and is also your personal site for information and documents related to your college search and application process.

Eventually, the documents that support your application – transcript, school recommendation, teacher letters of recommendation. – are sent to your colleges via Naviance.

Important Dates

PSAT at EPS (October)
The PSAT is offered on the EPS campus in both the sophomore and junior year.  It is offered as an opportunity for students to become familiar with what a standardized exam feels like.  The most significant outcome of the PSAT is the diagnostic reports students receive with their results.  These are very helpful in showing to students what to focus on when doing future test prep. The scores are not sent to colleges, but used as an early indicator of how a student might perform on the SAT.  In the junior students with extremely high scores may qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program.

Work Party #1: The Writing Process and College Criteria (April)
During the college counseling process a number of different work parties are held.  Students are fed a pizza dinner and give the opportunity to work on different aspects of the college search and application process.  They also have access to the our team to have their questions answered.  The first work party is focused on familiarizing the students with our Naviance search and application platform, and preparing them for our visit day to local colleges.

Class Visit to Local Colleges (April)
The tenth grade class and the college counseling spend a half day at two different local colleges, one small and one larger.  This day is a great way for students to get an idea for what different colleges feel like and might offer.  These visits are referenced at the start of the search process.

11th Grade


In this year, you begin thinking in more specific ways about the college application and search process. You are given guidance about standardized testing (discussed in a later section) and start your search and application process.

Campus Visits
These are recommended throughout the process.  Visiting different types of schools and different school of interest, is invaluable in beginning to get a feel for likes and dislikes connected to campuses and programs.

Even before you know exactly which colleges you plan to visit, it is wise to schedule time in your family’s calendar to make these visits. Our breaks offer potential times for lengthier college trips.  In addition, we have a number of Program Development Days when EPS faculty are in meetings, but students are free. These days provide a good chance to visit one or more of the many colleges within a few hours of Seattle, or even a longer trip further afield. See section below about visiting colleges during the summer.

Many students also elect to visit some campus after they apply and are accepted.  While this is helpful in making a final choice, we caution that the window of time between acceptances and the date to notify the college you have decided to attend is fairly narrow.

Important Dates

Class Meetings (September – May)
During these meetings you receive important information and guidance on beginning your college search and decision process, including context on visits by college reps to the EPS campus, testing, and online resources.

College Counseling Night for Grade 11 Students and Families (October)
This event includes both students and parents and is focused getting students and parents on the same page by on laying out a roadmap for the next for the next year and half of program.  Approximately half of the program is information presented directly by the college counseling team, with the other half dedicated to parent and student questions.

Work Party #1: SAIS College Fair Prep (October)
During this work party students use the Naviance platform to research the schools that will be in attendance a the college fair.  As part of this research students make a plan connected to which colleges and college reps they would like to connect with at the event.

The SAIS College Fair (October)
Each fall, EPS along with 7 other member schools (Bush, Lakeside, Northwest, Overlake, Seattle Academy, University Prep, Forest Ridge) sponsor a college fair for their junior and senior students. About 150 colleges and universities from across the United States (along with a number of international schools) send admission officers to this event.   It provides an excellent opportunity for juniors to gain introductory information on a wide variety of schools, and seniors to make some final contacts.

College Rep Visits to EPS (September – early November)
Each fall, over 60 college admission officers take the time to visit EPS to learn more about the school, its program, and meet interested students.  There is no better way to help yourself in this process than to spend 30-45 minutes speaking with an admission representative. Juniors are encouraged to attend a couple of these visits (not missing more than two classes to do so). Make sure that you have permission from your teachers if you want to attend these sessions during class times.

Standardized Testing Plan (December – January)
This should be done with the help of your counselor, with each student is responsible for all registration deadlines.  Do not wait until the deadlines to register.  Some test sites are known to fill up before the deadline.   As a general rule, all students should take at least one administration each of the SAT or ACT, and if necessary, SAT Subject Tests by the end of the junior year.

Work Party # 2: The Junior Questionnaire (January)
In January, this event is designed to help your complete your Junior Questionnaire. This lengthy (and thorough) questionnaire is designed to spark your thought process and is a critical tool for us to use in both approaching your college search and eventually writing your school letter of recommendation.  It is important for you to complete it honestly, carefully, and thoroughly.

Family Meeting #1: The Roadmap (January – February)
This first meeting will be a time the process coach, college counseling, director, student and parents to set the stage for the search and admission process.   Because the best college “matches” reflect more than just admission numbers and desired fields of study, these meetings last 45 minutes.  They are not intended to answer all questions and are only the starting point for a longer process.  Being ready and willing to share your honest thoughts with your counselor helps make this meeting most productive.

Individual Meetings with the Process Coach (March – April)
During this time you meet at least twice with your process coach.  Meetings are focused on you building a picture of the kind of school that appeals to you. You also discuss your standardized testing plan, and any campus visits you might be planning. The important thing to know is that you don’t need to “know” specific things about college or colleges you’re interested in yet. These meetings are simply the beginning of a conversation that will help guide you in your college search and choices.

Work Party #4 (April)
This Work Party will focus on list-building and writing. You will head into the summer with a start on your personal statement, and with a dynamic, lengthy list of school that you are researching.

Family Meeting #2: Student-led (April – May)
At some point between March 1 and the end of May, you and your family will meet with your process and writing coaches.  While each student is in charge of his or her path, keeping everyone informed and giving a forum for all thoughts to be heard is important.  Central to this meeting is an explanation of your College Criteria and a Summer Plan.

  • Summer Plan
    • Summer Activities. Think about how you want to spend your summer. It is important for you, that you have an idea of what you want out of your summer break.  While we don’t recommend specific activities for students, we do recommend that students are engaged in activities that they value highly.
    • Build your Colleges I’m Thinking About List. Coming into this meet, through their individual work and work with their process coach, students should have a minimum of 15 to 20 perspective colleges on their Naviance list.
    • Begin to plan/schedule summer visits to colleges. Most students and/or families find they do not have sufficient time during the school year to see all of the schools under consideration.  Summer visits do not provide an ideal evaluation of student life on campus, but they do help immensely in understanding the area, the programs, and the campus.  Also, admission offices are best set up to host students and their families at this time.  They will provide a great deal of insight to the college through group information sessions, tours, and sometimes individual interviews.  For students trying to narrow their choices, this information is often sufficient. Indeed, colleges receive more visits by prospective students over the summer than during the whole rest of the year. (Most students will make return visits to their top choices eventually before making a final decision on where to attend.)
    • Writing
      It is a good idea to be engaged in the writing process over the summer—writing notes, brainstorming, and drafting your personal statement. In August, you will have  the   opportunity to attend an intensive writing workshop, to kick start your fall writing process.
    • Continue to research schools. Continue to explore schools – search on Naviance, begin to read school websites and other materials more deeply (course descriptions, student life, etc.). Contact your counselor if you’d like to meet, following visits to schools or for any other reason. We are always happy to meet with you.
  • Campus Visits. Don’t find one college you like and quit there.   With further research, other colleges may prove preferable. Also, the one in which you are most interested may not work out.  The more colleges you see the more educated your choices regarding applications will be in the fall.  Do everything possible to make each visit productive.  If an individual interview is available, sign up. If you have a particular interest in theater, try to speak with a member of the faculty in that department. If competing in athletics is a focus, see the coach while on campus. Go on campus tours and listen carefully to any group presentations.  The more information you gather the better.  Also, remember that what seems clear in July may be tough to recall by November. Take good notes, recording your impressions, the name and title of anyone with whom you speak, etc.  At the time of visits information seems clear that you will be able to remember it. Over time, without notes details from college visits will fade. Notes are essential.

Teacher Recommendation: Invite #1 (May – June)
Ask a minimum of one faculty member to write for you before the close of school. Ultimately, you will need to ask a total of two faculty members for recommendations.  Initial requests should be made in person, and followed up with an invitation through your Naviance account.

It is important to look at the requirements of each prospective college or program.  Some may specify from whom they require a letter of recommendation. Generally speaking, you should ask teachers for letters if they have taught you during junior and / or senior years, and know you well as a student. First, you need to ask teachers in person. Next you’ll email them a request via Naviance, which will contain a link for them to upload their letters to your file.  Requests should be made of teachers by October.

Summer Writing & Application Workshop (August)
In this intensive day-long workshop, you will work with your Writing Coach on your personal statement (whether you are in the brainstorming stage or on your second draft), as well as other aspects of your applications, as appropriate (supplemental essays, for example).

12th Grade

The balance of application-writing and coursework make fall and winter terms busy for you – but it is an exciting time for everyone. You begin to hone in on schools of interest, while individual, family, and group meetings provide guidance through the process. The team of college counselors hosts “work parties” during fall term which are specifically geared toward application construction and the essay-writing process.

During the early fall, you should also take advantage of the college rep visits on our campus – we have college admissions officers on campus most days. One of the most difficult parts of senior year is actually not the busy fall and winter, but the months of February and March, when you are waiting to hear from schools. And – though most seniors don’t believe us when we say this in August before their senior year
– the most intense period of the whole year for many students is late April, when they have received decisions from all colleges – and in turn need to make the final decision!

Summer Writing & Application Workshop (August)

Family Meeting #3 (September)
This late-August/early September meeting is vital to review your progress over the summer and plan for the coming months.  There is not a right or wrong place to be at this point.  A good general rule is to have identified a solid nucleus of colleges.   They should each be appealing to you, and hold some realistic chance for admission. It is likely that your list will still change during the fall. Over the summer, many students revise their general criteria enough after looking that they might be eager for some new suggestions.

Individual Meetings with the Process Coach (September – January)
Although the choice of where to attend is always owned by the student, everyone is happy to listen and offer thoughts when they are desired.   Also, your counselor can offer proactive advice for students who are placed on a waitlist.

College Rep Visits to EPS (September – October)
Numerous college admission officers take the time to visit EPS to learn more about the school, its program, and to meet interested students. There is no better way to help yourself in this process than to spend 30-45 minutes speaking with an admission officer. You must sign up for each visit on Naviance. You must also be sure that you contact your teachers 48 hours in advance of the visit and that you have permission from your teachers if you want to attend these sessions during class times.

Be meticulous about following the calendar of college admission officers who visit Eastside Prep, and sign up for each visit on Naviance. The actual meetings vary in content and style.  Some students may be just beginning to look at the institution and eager for general information while others will be following up on an extensive previous visit to the campus.  In either scenario, it is extremely important that you attend these sessions for the schools in which you have interest. Colleges keep records on how students have made contact with them. The visiting representatives are the ones most likely to first evaluate your application.

Prepare Each Application (September – January)
Read closely all of your applications, and then distribute the necessary parts to our office and your teachers. Please note that while this is largely done on-line through Naviance, some colleges require forms that must be submitted in paper.   Take care to follow our in-house deadlines for the receipt of these materials—this “paperwork” process seems pesky, but following it to the letter is important.

Send Official SAT or ACT Scores to Schools (October – February)
EPS will not report any standardized testing results (SAT, ACT, AP etc.).  Most colleges require an official report from the testing agency.  (Note that you are entitled to four free reports each time a test is taken.)

Attend the SAIS College Fair (October)
Each fall, EPS along with other Seattle area independent schools, sponsor a college fair.  About150 colleges and universities nationwide send admission officers to this event. In the senior year, the fair is a good resource to ask application questions and to display further interest.

Submit any Early Action / Early Decision applications (October – November)
Most “early” deadlines are during or near the first two weeks of November. If you are interested in applying early to any school(s) please speak with your counselor at least one month in advance.  Early Action applications are non-binding, while Early Decision applications are a binding commitment to attend that college or university.

Finish and Submit Regular Decision Applications (November – February)
Work well ahead of deadlines to ensure your best product.  Ideally, you will have finished all of your applications BEFORE the December break. Remember that we need to know your schools and deadlines well in advance (keep Naviance up to date!) 

Early Decision/Withdrawal of Applications (December – January)
This is an important step to remember, if you are accepted under ED, your binding early decision agreement requires you to do so and it will afford the colleges the chance to offer a spot to students interested in attending those schools.

Individual Meetings with the Process Coach (January- April)
Although the choice of where to attend is always owned by the student, everyone is happy to listen and offer thoughts when they are desired.   Also, your process coach can offer proactive advice for students who are placed on a waitlist.

Continue to Perform in Classes (January – June)
Your grades will be forwarded to each college to which you will apply.  It is often the last piece of information on you each college will receive, and thus your final chance to impact the decision positively. “Senior Slump” is no laughing matter. Colleges frown seriously on students who let their grades drop precipitously in the spring of senior year, and reserve the right to rescind a student’s acceptance if the  drop is severe  enough and without legitimate extenuating circumstances.

Notify Counselors of All Decisions and Recommenders of Acceptances (December – April)
Although the school sometimes receives notification of decisions, it cannot be assumed.  Inform your process coach of each decision.  Also, teachers who took the time to write your recommendations are sincerely interested in your outcomes.  It is an important courtesy to inform them of your results and to thank them for their efforts on your behalf.

Notify Colleges of your Decision (December – April)
Obviously, the school you choose to attend must receive confirmation of your decision—the National Candidate Reply Date is May 1. It also is extremely important that you inform the other schools that you will not be attending. Colleges cannot act upon wait-lists until they know of the plans of the students they initially accept. In addition, this is a courtesy owed them after their offer to you.