Q&A with Lawrence Alexander

LA_1463 With the new school year in full swing, Director of College Counseling Lawrence Alexander is helping Ross students and families navigate the college application process and make informed choices about the students’ academic future. In this interview, he talks about the process and services available.

What are current priorities for the College Counseling department? My goal is to match our talented students with great colleges and universities that fit their academic and personal needs. It’s a comprehensive process that involves consultations with the students and families, college test prep, introducing them to many different schools, developing their college applications, and ultimately, making a very big decision about where they will continue with the next phase of their academic journey.

What does that process look like? The fall is all about the seniors. At this point, they are refining their target list of schools and diving deep into what each has to offer. Typically, they will begin applying within the next few weeks and continue through February. Some students are going for early decision, and that deadline, November 1, is fast approaching.

Throughout all of this, I will be right in step with the students, securing teacher recommendations and discussing their options. Ultimately, we’ll prepare a targeted application that showcases their skill sets, talents, experiences, extracurricular activities, and community service. As our largest graduating class yet, with 85 seniors, the discussions about future direction are diverse and many. This is also, yet again, a very strong class academically, and that is opening up some very exciting opportunities. Visits from colleges and universities started the first week of school, and will continue through the students’ decision process.

In the spring, the fun really heats up with the juniors as they tackle the PSATs and research their possibilities.

There are some important changes happening with the SATs. Tell us about it. The new SAT will make its debut in March 2016, impacting students in the class of 2017 and beyond. Our students can choose to take the current SAT, the new SAT, or the ACT, and it’s important that they choose the test that best demonstrates their strengths. Lisa Rattray, our college test prep teacher, works closely with the students to assess which instrument will be most beneficial in their individual college application process.

The other important shift in the testing landscape is how schools are considering the test scores. Students who are academically strong but may not test well can consider schools that are test-flexible or test-optional. In the first case, you can choose to send ACT, SAT, or AP scores (Middlebury College and NYU are two that accept these). Test-optional schools like Hofstra and Temple may place more weight on writing, academic performance, interviews, and activities.

More and more schools are adopting this approach, so I make sure to explain the significance early on in discussions with students and parents.

What are the advantages of applying for early decision? It can be a benefit for students looking to maximize their chances at acceptance and the amount of financial aid they receive. Some colleges, such as Bates, have suggested that early decision yields 35 to 50 percent of their freshman class. That has a related impact on available scholarships.

The other obvious benefit is that students have plenty of time to consider other options if they are not accepted to their first choice.

How are the visits from colleges going? Great! Again, we’re seeing lots of interest as a result of the students’ academic performance. The College Counseling office develops important connections with the institutions, but it’s the students that really send out the first call with the results of their PSATs and AP tests. These schools are eager to meet our students. The lineup includes more than 50 liberal and visual arts schools, business schools, and engineering colleges, and we’ll also attend the East End College Fair on October 16, where over 150 colleges will gather.

Typically, the representative from a visiting college is the individual covering Long Island, but we are also seeing an increase in interest from the institutions’ international contacts. These meetings with the students are a very important step in the acceptance process. How that works is each person who represents a geographic territory is the first reader of the applications, and then he or she prepares a list of potential students for a committee’s consideration. Eventually they arrive at a short list from which they make final selections.

The students have come out en masse, and the energy continues to build. It really adds to the overall success of the college prep process.

What advice would you offer students and parents who are just wading into the college prep territory? Information and guidance can alleviate the stress, and it’s important to understand that, in this office, they have an advocate who is ready to help every step of the way. Together, we’ll take the mystery and anxiety out of the equation, and create a successful plan to match the students with the best college for their future.