It has been almost a decade since Canterbury began its Freshman Focus program. Freshman Focus provides students in grade nine with the opportunity to learn about the college application process. They interact directly with college representatives who offer insight into how various parts of the application are evaluated. One might ask, are freshmen ready to focus on college admission? The answer is yes!

Thinking about attending college can generate a variety of emotions for students and parents. For students, it is exciting to visit the idyllic campuses where students seem happy, and the professors appear ready to engage. For parents, however, it can be bittersweet. Watching a son or daughter take the next step into adulthood can leave one wondering where all the time went. 

Sometimes a bit of fear is mixed in with the excitement--even in the most confident people--particularly when thinking about the application process. Students worry about whether they will gain admission to their colleges of choice. Parents often share that worry and feel unsettled when there is little they can do to subside the worry. 

There is no panacea to alleviate all fear, and there will always be a certain level of uncertainty in the college process, but when you acquire an understanding of the process, it is less much less nerve-wracking. Knowledge is power, so students should

  • ask questions and learn all they can about the application process
  • understand that different colleges have different profiles with different needs and expectations of applicants
  • know if the college that they are interested in is a “good fit.”

I have been connected to the college admission process for more years than I care to admit, having worked in college admission and as a high school college counselor. I’ve seen it all, even students who make it to senior year without understanding how the process works or what they should consider when developing a college list. In those cases, either the student did not have access to a solid college counseling program or the student chose not to take advantage of the program that they had. 

Consider the college’s admission perspective. Who do you think is most likely to embrace the full college experience, someone who delights in finally having access to opportunities and accepts help? Or someone who has had opportunities available but not taken advantage of them? 

Perhaps surprisingly, I do not believe that students who fail to take advantage of the opportunities available are hopeless or unconcerned. Sometimes, it is the students who are the most concerned who seem disengaged. Remember, college admission can be a scary process. Often, students who do not take advantage of a robust college counseling program don’t truly understand how they could be negatively impacted by not fully embracing the process. Some worry that they will not be “good enough” for their colleges of interest and as a result shy away from potentially tough conversations. A few are simply overwhelmed by the thought of keeping up with schoolwork, other responsibilities, and college applications. So, how do you get students engaged? I believe the key is to start talking about college admission early on, in a manner that is appropriate for the grade level. 

Canterbury’s Freshman Focus is a prime example of a program that builds on the belief that starting the college process early, but in stages, increases a student’s ability to plan and prepare for the road ahead. One of the best aspects of the program is the ability to review sample applications. This helps students to not only get a visual of what an application requires but it also generates discussion about the content of the application. Instead of students discussing their own record, they can have an open discussion about the good (and not so good) aspects of an application. This is a subtle but effective means to strengthen a student’s understanding of what is ahead with the hope that they will use the insight to develop their own resumé. 

Another important aspect of the program is the inclusion of college representatives. Being able to hear directly from college representatives so early in high school is a wonderful opportunity. Receiving their insight can prove invaluable, particularly in this format. If tasked with communicating with a college representative in a typical interaction such as a college visit or a campus tour, a freshman could easily feel a little intimidated and not quite ready to be the focus of the conversation. The emphasis during Freshman Focus, however, is on the mock applicants. 

For the college representatives in attendance, they get to meet a population of students that they do not typically have the chance to meet. Having personally spent years in college admission, I know that even as seniors await their decisions, colleges have already started communicating with juniors in an attempt to attract their interest. Having access to a freshman class of students who will leave the program with a much better understanding of the process than many of their peers, is very attractive to representatives who would love to cultivate an interest in their school. 

Participating in Freshman Focus gives freshmen a head start on the college application process as they develop their own academic and extracurricular record so the uncertainty that exists in college admission can be diminished and students can enter their senior year feeling ready for the challenge.