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 2 news stories.

  • Bridge Years 101

    by Dot Kowal, Director of College Counseling

    What is a typical “bridge year” like? Is it hiking the Pacific Coast Trail, working as a ski instructor in Colorado, and then taking a road trip tour of our national parks? Is a bridge year for students who would benefit from an extra year to mature before heading to college? Is it a good idea for students who would like more time to devote to the college application process? Is it participating in a service trip to Mozambique, Tibet, or New Orleans, or volunteering as a political organizer in a swing state? Is it working as a barista in the morning and at the movie theater at night while you save for college? 

    The answer is: yes. 

    Just as there is a wide range of college and university experiences, there is no such thing as a “typical” bridge year. A bridge year (sometimes referred to as a gap year) can offer students the space and time to travel, work, and/or reflect before heading off to college. While it’s not the right path for every student, bridge years are becoming more common, and some colleges even encourage their applicants to consider taking some time between high school and college to explore interests, travel, work, or serve their communities. A well-planned bridge year can provide valuable experiential learning as students approach the transition from teenhood to adulthood.  

    Although each bridge year is different, all successful bridge years have one thing in common: the student entered the year with a plan. We think that the most enriching bridge years have three elements: travel, language immersion, and some sort of work (paid or unpaid). There are many different organizations that specialize in gap year programs, emphasizing everything from cultural immersion to wilderness skills. Many programs are expensive, but some offer financial aid for qualified students. Some volunteer programs such as AmeriCorps also provide housing. 

    If your student is expressing interest in a bridge year, here are a few things to keep in mind.

    • Some students who take a bridge year choose to go through the college application process during their senior year and then seek deferred college admission after being accepted. Colleges handle this in one of three ways: some allow deferral in most circumstances; others require approval of the student’s bridge year plan; some do not allow students to defer and ask them to reapply during the next admission cycle. 
    • A few colleges are now building a bridge semester into their admissions process. These schools may offer students admission for the spring semester, with a school-sponsored study abroad bridge program during the fall semester. This can be a great way to enjoy some of the benefits of a bridge year while also working with your chosen college’s admissions process. 
    • Whether students participate in an organized program or design their own bridge year, they should have a clear understanding of the logistics: how much financial support, if any, parents will be able and willing to contribute; how students will manage travel arrangements, etc. Have these conversations early and often when planning out the shape of the year.
    • Some parents fear that after a bridge year, students will lose momentum and have a hard time getting back into a scholastic routine. We have heard from many students that the opposite is true -- after a year in the “real world,” they are excited to get back to academic life, refreshed and eager to apply what they’ve learned to their studies. 
    • Recognize that bridge years, especially those that involve a lot of travel, are not an option for all students. For many, taking time off to work and save money before enrolling in college is a necessity. Please be sensitive and aware of the issues of privilege associated with bridge years. 
    • Just as students should have a solid answer to the question “why do I want to attend college?” they should also have a strong understanding of what they want to get out of a bridge year. The best candidates for a bridge year are self motivated and eager to learn more about themselves. 

    In getting this article together, I came across this survey conducted by the American Gap Association 2015. Study participants were asked about the impact their bridge/gap year had on their lives. The graph below illustrates the statements that participants agreed with most. 

    The study demonstrates that bridge years can truly shape the trajectory of a young person’s life, especially in terms of self knowledge. If your child is curious about bridge year options, the first step is to have a family conversation about the desired outcomes and realistic expectations. Next, be sure to contact your college counselor to get a sense of bridge year options and possibilities. We can point you to a variety of resources and consult with you about whether a bridge year would be a good fit. 
    Read More
  • Talking About Wins and Losses

    Tis the season for festive decorations, tasty treats, joyful celebrations...and also, a bit of heartbreak and unexpected angst. As many of our seniors start to receive acceptances, deferrals, and rejections from the colleges they applied to Early Decision or Early Action, they experience a range of emotions that can be hard to get a handle on at times. 

    In recent weeks, Nichelle and I met with our College Counseling Connections and Exploratory groups and with senior parents to talk about how to to mindfully discuss college decisions with friends and family. We asked both students and parents: what would you like your family and your peers to know about how you’d like to talk about this subject? We have compiled their advice below, along with some of our own tips for talking about wins and losses in the college application process.

    Parents say:
    • They aren’t asking about college decisions because they are being nosy; they are asking because they care.  
    • They want to be kept in the loop, because your college choice will ultimately involve them, as well. 
    • They recognize that getting into college is just one part of a long journey. The college decision is not the end, it is the beginning of the next phase. 
    • There is no one perfect college, and really, chances are very good that you will find a place to thrive, even if it’s not your first choice. 
    Seniors say: 
    • Be thoughtful about when and how you share your news with others. You don’t need to bury your joy, but be aware that others around you might be grappling with disappointment. 
    • If a friend wasn’t accepted to their dream school, please don’t try to cheer them up by trash talking the college or trying to “put things in perspective.” It’s okay and normal to feel some sadness in the wake of a rejection. 
    Dot and Nichelle say:
    • Be prepared for people to ask about college applications and the future. If the topic makes you anxious or upset, come up with a standard response to let people know that it’s not a conversation you are comfortable having at this time. 
    • Check your decisions at home, not at school, and especially not in the middle of class. 
    • Be mindful about posting about wins and losses social media, and if you find that seeing everyone else’s college application process play out on Instagram makes you feel bad, take a social media break. 
    • Don’t share other students’ news and don’t be nosy. 
    • Resist the temptation to “figure out” why a college decided the way it did. There is so much we don't know about each individual's process, and this is a futile effort. 
    • Try not to let college talk dominate all of your conversations, especially during the holiday season. Be open with your friends and family about how you are feeling, and agree on an approach to sharing news and asking for updates. 
    • If you get deferred by a school that you applied to Early Action or Early Decision, take heart! This is good news; it means that the school wants to see more from you. Strategize with your counselor on how to put your best foot forward in the Regular Decision pool. 

    Above all, students and parents should take heart in the fact that we are all on the same team. We want our students to take pride in their acceptances and to handle their rejections with grace, and we are all rooting for every student’s success. With a little empathy, a little tact -- and perhaps some extra holiday cookies -- we will all get through this tricky season feeling supported.
    Read More

College At-A-Glance

2500 Farmers Lane 
Santa Rosa, CA 95404 
(707) 545-1770

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.

Sonoma Academy admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. We do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.