Thus, the College Counseling Office at PDS provides many resources to students and parents throughout their four years in our Upper School. We officially assign students to a counselor during the fall of their junior year; however, students and families can meet with a member of our College Counseling team to discuss questions and concerns anytime. Our hope is that this information will help lessen early anxiety and familiarize families with the basics of both how to prepare for the college search and application process on the horizon.
Our college counselors all have a background in highly selective admissions and spend many weeks traveling to conferences and college campuses each year and maintain their membership in several professional organizations. In addition, they stay on top of the most recent college admissions trends and forge strong connections with admissions representatives and other college counselors throughout the country.
The process of researching, applying to, and being accepted by colleges can be an exciting time for students and their families. The following dropdown menu can be helpful as you have questions regarding our process and policies.
- Our Philosophy and Process
- Transcripts and GPA
- Academic Planning
- Activities and Summer Programs
- Standardized Testing
- Useful Links
- Recommended Reading
How does our office work with families?
Prior to 11th grade
We officially pair students with a primary college counselor during the fall of their junior year; however, all PDS students and families can feel free to meet with a member of our College Counseling team before then for personalized guidance. We are always happy to address time-sensitive questions; however, the best time to schedule a more general consultation with one of the counselors is January through August so that we can focus on helping the seniors during the fall (the busiest part of their application process!). To ask questions or schedule a meeting, please contact your grade level point person:
9th grade, Darling Cerna (email@example.com)
10th grade, Allison Anderson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
11th and 12th grade
Highlights of the PDS College Counseling program for juniors and seniors include:
- Regular individual meetings with a primary college counselor, with whom students are paired in the fall of their junior year
- Guidance from the entire PDS College Counseling team, who collectively have over 50 years experience working in highly selective college admissions and college counseling
- College seminars during junior year, covering all aspects of the college admissions process
- A college essay “boot camp” during the summer before senior year
- College application workshops and individualized support on writing application essays and filling out applications
- Advice on building and shaping a balanced college list
- Help planning for and navigating standardized testing
- Mock interviews to help students feel more prepared to meet with college admissions representatives
- Monthly newsletters to help keep everyone on the same page
- Programming for parents throughout the year
- Support for first generation college students
- Guidance in the athletic recruiting process
- Visits to Princeton Day School from college admissions representatives from many different colleges around the country and around the world
While students will work with their primary college counselor most directly, our team works very closely together and students will get to know all of us during their work with our office. We typically spend many weeks traveling to conferences and college campuses each year and maintain membership in several professional organizations. (And we’ve continued to do so virtually during the pandemic.) We commit to staying on top of the most recent college admissions trends and forge strong connections with admissions representatives throughout the country - and we love passing the knowledge gained from these interactions along to our PDS families.
How can we begin researching colleges?
We believe that it’s generally best to hold off on visiting colleges prior to the summer before junior year, as tastes and preferences can change dramatically from a student’s freshman to senior year. If your child is eager to learn about colleges sooner, we recommend that you start slowly with casual visits to campuses located close to home or in places where you’ll already be traveling (when applicable and safe to do so). In addition, over the last year, colleges have recently created more robust virtual “visit” options, which offer a helpful way to start your research. By the end of your child’s junior year, we suggest that you aim to visit a variety of places, virtually or in person: small versus large, urban versus rural, etc. The College Counseling office has put together this tip sheet, which we invite you to review when you’re ready to think about college visits.
How To Request an Official Transcript
If a student needs an official transcript sent (to a summer program, internship, etc), they must fill out a request via our Transcript Request Form. Should you have any questions or additional concerns after filling out the form, please contact the PDS Registrar, Kevin Graham, at email@example.com.
If you are a senior and you need an official transcript sent to a college, please speak with a member of the College Counseling team (do not fill out the online request). College Counseling sends transcripts to colleges for seniors and will discuss the procedure for this with all students in the fall of their senior year.
A member of the College Counseling team can provide students or parents with a copy of an unofficial transcript at any time.
Student GPAs and Rankings
PDS does not calculate an official GPA for students, nor do we calculate rank-in-class. Thus, AP and Honors courses receive no additional "weight" in a GPA. We can guide you in how to calculate an unofficial, unweighted GPA for use when it's absolutely required, such as the athletic recruiting process or applying to the service academies.
When students apply to college, we'll send their official transcript - displaying all the courses they've taken with their grades - along with comprehensive recommendation letters to help colleges better understand our school and a student's strengths in the context of our school.
How many APs is “enough”?
The short answer is that there’s no answer! That’s because “challenge” in one’s schedule is not all about AP courses (which are simply classes that follow a specific College Board-prescribed AP curriculum). PDS offers students many additional opportunities to challenge themselves academically beyond classes that carry the AP label. We encourage students to challenge themselves with a strong course load while recognizing that “challenging” oneself means different things for different students. Students should also be able to meaningfully engage with their classes without spreading themselves too thin or taking on a load that makes them completely overwhelmed.
Do I need to take six majors to stand out to colleges?
It is far better to learn effectively and do as well as possible in five academic majors per year than it is to struggle through six. If students want to sign up for six academic majors, they will have to request special permission. The process for doing so is outlined for students during course selection time.
Is it better to get a B in an advanced-level course or an A in a regular course?
This question, though asked often, reduces the admissions process to a formula, and there is no magic formula when it comes to college admissions. For some of the most highly selective schools, the answer is probably “get the A in the advanced-level course.” It’s important to remember that there is no universal set of criteria for all colleges. In general, students are best served getting the highest grades they can in the strongest course load they can balance in a healthy way. They should pursue schedules that challenge but don’t overwhelm or create tremendous struggling. This will mean different things for different students.
What activities should I be doing?
This depends on the individual student. Some students will stand out to admissions committees because of the sheer number of substantial activities they pursue; others will because they have focused on one or two activities and taken these to impressive heights. Overall, students’ ability to talk about what they’ve learned and how they’ve grown through their activities matters much more than what they have done.
Thus, students should pursue activities that truly interest them and in which they find purpose and fulfillment, rather than those that simply pad their resume: when a student has an area of interest that they enjoy deeply and want to take those interests to a new level or find a new application for them, that doesn’t have to mean forming a club or becoming co-Head of an existing one - maybe they fulfill their volunteer hours engaged in something related to that area. Maybe they teach it to younger or older individuals. Maybe they start a blog. Colleges also take into account that many circumstances, including a student's family responsibilities or need to maintain part-time employment, will influence their ability to engage in school activities. This isn’t just about college by the way...it’s about seeing how interests can grow and become organic parts of a fulfilling future!
What about summer programs?
Students should aim to incorporate a mix of relaxation and productivity into their summers. The best summer experiences are those that encourage students to pursue something they enjoy more deeply, expand their horizons, and take on new leadership and responsibility. Part-time jobs, structured programs, camps...there’s no right or wrong answer as to what a student “should” be doing. For example, students need not participate in intense academic experiences or travel far from home to try to impress the admissions committee. Certainly, those experiences can be worthwhile and wonderful for a student - but they are not necessary for college admissions (and they can also be quite costly). In short, it depends on the student. The important thing is how students can learn more about themselves through such experiences and talk about this insight. If you have questions about a particular summer program and its fit/value for an individual student, please feel free to ask one of the college counselors!
What steps should I take if I want to become a recruited athlete?
The recruiting process, particularly for Division I athletics, can start during the student’s sophomore year, depending on the sport. Athletes who hope to be recruited at the Division I level should be proactive and make sure that their high school and club coach(es) know of these plans. They should meet with their coach(es) during their sophomore year to discuss a timeline and next steps specific to their sport. We also encourage you to speak to one of the college counselors - and your current coaches - to discuss this topic in more detail. ID camps and tournaments during the academic year and during the summer can help students to get on college coaches’ radar screens. For those thinking more along the lines of Division III, these conversations and outreach to college coaches usually happen a bit later (usually during the student’s junior year).
What is the PSAT and when does it take place?
The PSAT is an opportunity for students to practice for the SAT under real testing conditions. Scores are not used for college admissions purposes. Detailed information will be emailed to parents in September of their child’s sophomore and junior year about this test, for which all students are automatically registered through PDS (parents may opt their students out). Students can take the PSAT at PDS twice, once in October of their sophomore year, once in October of their junior year. The sophomore test is purely for practice. The junior year test is primarily for practice as well, although junior year results are also used for National Merit Scholarship qualification.
When should students take the SAT or ACT for the first time?
We recommend that most students plan to take the SAT or ACT for the first time during the winter or early spring of their junior year (December-March). Depending on a college’s exact deadline, students typically have until the fall of their senior year to complete standardized testing. College admission offices have no preference for the SAT versus the ACT.
By the summer before junior year, we recommend students take both a practice SAT and ACT to help decide which test to take officially. There are many resources available nowadays (in print and online) to allow students to take practice exams. For example, the PSAT offers a chance to practice for the SAT. In addition, some test prep companies offer the opportunity to take practice SAT and ACT tests online or in person under real testing conditions. PDS typically offers a practice ACT in the fall and spring; families are notified of this free opportunity via email several weeks prior. If students are satisfied with their scores on one test, they do not need to take the other one.
As opposed to the PSAT, students must register themselves for the SAT and ACT. A list of upcoming test dates, registration details, and particulars about each test can be found at www.collegeboard.org (for the SAT) and www.act.org (for the ACT).
How should I prepare for the SAT/ACT?
We often get questions about how students should “best” prepare for the SAT or ACT. This can be a difficult question to answer because it really comes down to the individual student. That said, there are a few things we ask you to keep in mind when considering test prep:
- There is an entire industry that has emerged around test preparation and we live in a hotbed area for it. Test prep services essentially fall into three categories: free online classes (such as Khan Academy), test prep companies (such as Revolution Prep, Princeton Review, Catalyst, and Kaplan), and individual tutors. We’ve found that it’s important for the test prep style, schedule of classes/pacing, and format to match that student’s learning style so that they actually put in the time and effort.
- Test prep costs can be significant, but there are affordable options. We’ve also found that the cost of services doesn’t necessarily correlate with their effectiveness. Students, for example, have found great success with the free Khan Academy.
- If costs are prohibitive to your pursuing test prep, please contact a member of the College Counseling team to discuss financial assistance that is available for test prep.
How do I apply for accommodations on standardized tests (for a learning difference, etc)?
Please arrange to speak with PDS’s School Psychologist and Learning Specialist, Samantha Dawson, if your student needs to apply for accommodations. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. This should be done in the student’s freshman or sophomore year.
Additional standardized testing trends and advice
The pandemic fueled an already growing movement among many colleges to de-emphasize the use of test scores in their admissions process. It remains to be seen how this trend will develop over the next few years, and we will continue to communicate with you about what we’re hearing and seeing from admissions offices. In the meantime, a few things we can say for sure:
- Many colleges remain test-optional or test-blind for the 2022-2023 admissions cycle. While some have announced test-optional/blind policies for the next several years (or indefinitely), we’re still waiting to hear about the role testing will play beyond this current cycle at the majority of schools. From what we can tell thus far (and this is supported by our PDS-specific statistics), colleges by and large have embraced not having to consider testing - and “optional” really means optional in this case!
- We strongly push back on students spending hours per week on test prep. This has always been our stance, but, especially in the current climate, we feel that many hours spent on test prep each week is NOT a good use of their time. Students are much better served engaging deeply with their PDS coursework and activities that they truly value and care about.
As of February 2021, the College Board no longer offers Subject Tests.
Frequently visited sites:
www.act.org (to register for an ACT)
www.collegeboard.org (to register for an SAT)
www.commonapp.org (to begin the application process)
www.eligibilitycenter.org (for students looking to be recruited)
For financial aid and scholarship information:
We know that it’s easy to find books, articles, and websites related to the college admissions process. The PDS College Counseling Office also believes that it’s important to understand the stage in a teenager’s life during which the college admissions process takes place. Here are some suggestions for reading if you’d like to learn more about adolescent development, communication with teenagers, and balancing high achievement with health and wellness.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are a few titles that we have found helpful in our work with high school students. Please note that there are TED Talks and other online video clips of many of these authors discussing their research if you’d prefer a different medium. Happy reading!
Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence by Laurence Steinberg
Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain by Daniel Siegel
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid For Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims
Raising Resilient Children: Fostering Strength, Hope, and Optimism in Your Child by Robert B. Brooks & Sam Goldstein
The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children by Alison Gopnik
The New Adolescence: Raising Happy and Successful Teens in an Age of Anxiety and Distraction by Christine Carter
The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids by Madeline Levine
The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults by Frances Jensen and Amy Ellis Nutt
Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good Through College Admissions
Turning the Tide II: How Parents and High Schools Can Cultivate Ethical Character and Reduce Distress in The College Admissions Process https://mcc.gse.harvard.edu/reports/turning-the-tide-2-parents-high-schools-college-admissions
Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania by Frank Bruni