Academics

College Counseling

Finding the Right Fit

The overall ethos at Sonoma Academy is very much oriented towards academic and personal growth and evolution. Our college counseling program reflects those same values as our counselors guide students through a four-year curriculum of self-discovery and project planning. This curriculum includes course planning, standardized testing preparation, college research, application tools, and personal statement preparation. Students meet individually and in groups with their college counselor several times in increasing frequency as they approach the completion of their applications. 

Our College Counselors help students build a unique list of schools that match the student’s interests, passions, and strengths, as well as the quality of life they seek at college. By developing one-on-one relationships with all of our students and working with families, we are better able to advise them on appropriate college matches and to advocate for them to admissions offices. What’s most important is that students have a variety of options and the knowledge of self to choose the school that is right for them.

Recommended Reading


  • Tips on Success in College from The New York Times
  • College Unranked: Affirming Educational Values in College Admission by Lloyd Thacker
  • The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College by Jacques Steinberg
  • Harvard Schmarvard: Getting Beyond the Ivy League to the College That is Best for You by Jay Mathews
  • Less Stress, More Success: A New Approach to Guiding Your Teen Through College Admission and Beyond by Marilee Jones and Kenneth Ginsburg
  • Letting Go: A Parents’ Guide to Understanding the College Years by Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger
  • Looking Beyond the Ivy League: Finding the College That's Right for You by Loren Pope
  • The Best 371 Colleges by the Princeton Review
  • Colleges that Change Lives: 40 Schools You Should Know About Even If You’re Not A Straight-A Student by Loren Pope
  • Cool Colleges: For the Hyper-Intelligent, Self-Directed, Late Blooming, and Just Plain Different by Donald Asher
  • Fiske Guide to Colleges by Edward Fiske
  • The Fiske Guide to Getting into the Right College by Edward Fiske
  • The Insider’s Guide to Colleges by The Yale Daily News

List of 3 news stories.

  • Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Early Application (*but were afraid to ask)

    by Dot Kowal, Director of College Counseling 

    November 1 is more than just a day to digest Halloween candy. Our seniors know that for many colleges and universities, November 1 is the Early Decision (or Action) deadline. Applying early to a top-choice school has become an increasingly popular choice for many independent high school students, for a variety of reasons. Some competitive colleges now accept up to 60% of their classes from the Early Decision pool, so some seniors are feeling more and more pressure to take the early route. There are solid arguments both for and against applying early, and, like the whole college process, much depends on each individual student’s situation.

    Understand the Early Options
    Colleges offer several different versions of early application to their prospective students.
    Early Decision amounts to a promise to attend a college if admitted. Students must withdraw all other applications and commit to enrolling at the school. If not accepted, some students are deferred until the Regular Decision reply date. Students can only apply to one school Early Decision. Early Decision replies usually come in early December.
    Early Action is not binding; students do not have to withdraw other applications and do not have to make a decision about whether to accept the offer of admission until the spring. Students can also apply to more than one school Early Action.
    Early Decision II is the same binding contract to attend a college if accepted as Early Decision, but the deadline is later (usually around the Regular Decision deadline in early January). Students hear back from colleges quickly, often by early February.
    Restricted Early Action is offered by a few very elite colleges. Although it is non-binding and students do not have to respond to offers of admission until spring, students are not allowed to apply Early Action to any other schools when using this option.

    Why Apply Early?
    Applying Early Decision or Early Action does have advantages. Applying early signals that you are very serious about that school. Colleges often take a larger percentage of their ED/EA pools because these applicants are safe: They are very likely to attend, and they are willing to take whatever financial aid package they are offered without waiting to compare offers from other schools. And, whether accepted or denied, it can provide some peace of mind for students to have a decision from their dream schools locked away earlier in the process.

    The Downsides of Early
    Early deadlines can add even more stress to an already stressful time, and some students feel pressured to apply early even if they aren’t completely enthusiastic about a school. If a student needs another shot at the SAT or ACT or is hoping for a boost from their fall semester grades, applying early means they won’t be able to include their most recent scores and transcripts. And applying Early Decision means that you are limited to one financial aid offer; you can’t compare packages to maximize scholarships and grants.

    The Early Bird and the Worm
    They say that the early bird catches the worm—but what if you catch the wrong worm? We only recommend that a student apply Early Decision if they are 100% sure that this school is their top choice. It is imperative to visit the campus and to know why it is your top pick; what, specifically, makes it a good fit for you? Being committed to a school that you’re just lukewarm on, or that you love the idea of, is a recipe for regret down the road.

    The Bottom Line
    Applying Early Decision can be a great option for students who are very serious about the college they’re applying to, who have strong grades and test scores and don’t need their fall numbers to bolster their application profile, and who are willing to take whatever financial aid is offered to them. For others, Early Action is a more attractive route, allowing for more flexibility and time to decide. And for many seniors, having more time to thoughtfully compile their applications and narrow their lists makes Regular Decision the way to go.

    Now… back to that Halloween candy!
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  • Show Me the Money: Paying for College

    Many of our students and families agree that their least favorite part of the college application process is perhaps one of the most important: applying for financial aid. Talking about money can be difficult in our culture, but being open, honest, and collaborative can make the process go more smoothly. 

    Start Talking Early and Understand the Landscape. The conversation about paying for college should ideally begin well before senior year. Before students start compiling lists of colleges they are interested in, it’s wise for families to sit down together and have an honest conversation about what is realistic. The cost of college—from the application itself to tuition to room and board—has risen exponentially over the last twenty years. Parents are bound to have some sticker shock when they first begin to look at the price of college today.

    Be Honest About What’s Feasible. Sometime during the junior year, parents should take a straightforward look at what they can comfortably contribute each year and then communicate that number to their children. It’s best for students to have a clear picture of how much help they might have before applying to schools that would be far out of reach. It’s important to note that not all families can afford to help with the cost of college, and that some students will be responsible for paying for college on their own. If you know that you will not be helping your student pay for college, bring your college counselor into the discussion early on, so you can plan ahead and discuss options before the process is well underway. 

    Estimate the Cost. Each college has a net price calculator on their website, a tool that can be extremely useful as students are assembling their college lists. The net price calculator provides general estimate of what a family can expect to pay for that particular school, based on income, debt, age, number of children in the family attending college, etc, using the aid packages awarded to families in similar circumstances in the previous year. While some schools guarantee to meet each student’s financial need through a combination of grants and loans, most do not.

    Get Organized. Parents of seniors often want to help with the admissions process; generally we counsel that they should let their kid do most of the heavy lifting on college applications. Financial aid is the exception. Until students are 24, colleges assume that parents are helping them to pay for school, so parent help is needed to complete financial aid applications. Parents will need to gather documents (tax returns, investment information) and fill out the required forms (the FAFSA and CSS profile, which is required by some schools, but not all). Although we tell parents that students should be responsible for calling the Admissions Office when questions arise, parents may take the lead on calling the Financial Aid office to have questions answered.  

    Evaluate Offers. Schools vary in how and when they present financial aid offers to applicants. It can be helpful to enter information into your own spreadsheet to compare the cost of attendance and aid awarded from each school side by side. Grants and scholarships are “free money” that doesn’t have to be paid back; other aid might be awarded in the form of loans or work study. If you are having trouble interpreting your offer letter, ask your college counselor for help.

    Emphasize the Positive. There are many valuable lessons to be learned in the financial aid process. Some families find it helpful to break down their monthly budget with their children so that they can get an idea of how college expenses would fit into the bigger financial picture for the family. This can be a great opportunity for teenagers to gain perspective on personal finance and budgeting, skills that they will need in their adult lives. 
     
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  • College Blog: Staying Sane During the College Admissions Season

    Our seniors need no reminders that college application season is upon us. At this moment, the  process may seem never-ending and all-consuming, but in truth, this is a short (albeit intense) period, a time of deep self-assessment and preparation for change. We are here to tell you that everything is going to be okay. But we also know that it’s normal for students and families to feel some stress as they prepare for such a huge leap into the unknown. Here are some tried-and-true strategies to help the whole process feel more manageable and less intimidating.  

    Tips for Staying Sane While Applying to College
    • Organization is key. Get all important dates on a calendar, and be consistent so everyone knows where to look for the most current information. Most importantly, don’t simply calendar deadlines -- build in reminders a few weeks in advance, with regular nudges as deadlines approach. 
    • Don’t procrastinate on the most unpleasant/difficult/longest tasks. Mark Twain once said, “if it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first!” Nichelle and I have given all of our seniors a plastic frog to remind them not to leave the more onerous parts of the process until the last minute -- trust us, you will be grateful to get the challenging tasks out of the way first.
    • Build a balanced list. In conversation with your college counselors and college representatives, decide which schools might be reaches, which are realistic, and which are “safety” schools -- for you. Every student’s situation is different; it’s important to be clear about where you stand and how to set your expectations. Which brings us to...
    • Resist the urge to obsess about ratings and reputation. Constantly obsessing about college rankings and poring over sites that rank schools just adds more stress to the process. Try to think about which schools would be a good fit for you and your goals. And fight the temptation to compare notes with other parents and students -- each situation is truly unique, and what works for one student may not be the right course of action for another. 
    • Don’t talk about college all the time. Set a time once a week to check in, discuss thoughts and strategies, plan trips, etc. Don’t let the college search dominate all of your family conversations (or your thoughts!) 
    • Be mindful of issues of privilege and equity. Each student’s application process will be different, and families should be sensitive to this. Some students’ choices are influenced by cost, financial aid availability, demographics,  distance from home, accessibility of campus, and many other factors. Please keep this in mind! 
    • You are not your resume -- you are a real human being. Some students organize their entire lives around what “they” might be looking for in a college applicant. There is no mysterious “they!” Instead of taking on activities because “they” might like to see them on your application, be authentic and focus on things that feel like a good fit for you.
    • Parents: think consultant, not manager. Many parents think that they are college application experts, because they applied to college just a few short decades ago. However, the game has changed significantly in the last twenty years, and you may be surprised by the number of schools students apply to, the acceptance rates of certain schools, and the types of applicants schools might be looking for. The college application process is a great time for parents to practice shifting their mindset from “manager” of their child’s life to “consultant” available for counsel and help when needed. It’s helpful to let students make important decisions themselves, and to allow them to have some ownership of the process. 
    • College is part of the next phase of your life, but it is not “the rest of your life.” For every person who attended their dream school and went on to achieve great things, there is another person who went to a practical, less-prestigious choice and went on to build an equally illustrious career. We strive to help students find a good fit for college, and we believe that there are many pathways to a successful, fulfilling life. 
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College At-A-Glance

Sonoma Academy Is...

Sonoma Academy is the only private, independent, college preparatory high school in Sonoma County. On our beautiful campus nestled at the base of Taylor Mountain in Southeastern Santa Rosa, our students are able to explore their interests and passions in a rigorous and inspiring environment that develops a lifelong love of learning and prepares them for college and beyond.