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Summer 2018

Dear Sophomore and Family:

Sophomore year at Seattle Academy is an important time for young people to learn about themselves as students and as people. While we are college advisors, and while we know that college questions really start brewing as students approach junior year, we encourage Seattle Academy sophomores to think more about developing academic and extracurricular pursuits during their second year in high school than about trying to please Anonymous College Admission Office X. (Doing so tends to pay off!) When students make the most of high school, college admission follows naturally and appropriately.
We do not want, however, anyone at Seattle Academy to experience belated and unpleasant surprises related to college admission. Fortunately, our years of experience both in college admission and in college counseling have informed our best practices about how to support students in upper school and in the college process. We would like sophomores and families to start developing a college awareness that informs – but does not frighten or “package” – our tenth graders. So, we offer this short College Awareness Alert for sophomores and families. Keep it in mind, but don’t let it overwhelm, a sophomore’s academic or personal individualism.

As sophomores, you should undertake the following college-related tasks:

  • Do your best in your schoolwork and build good relationships with your teachers.
  • Read the accompanying handouts, one of which is a Seattle Academy-specific reminder of both productive and counter-productive approaches to the college process.
  • Know that in the sophomore spring, a group of college advisors, teachers, and administrators will provide a helpful overview of the years to come, addressing in particular the myths and realities of the junior year. This meeting addresses common questions about course selection and testing. This evening meeting is for parents/guardians on Thursday, March 19.
  • Take the PSAT at Seattle Academy on Saturday, October 13, more details of which accompany this communication. Sophomores will experience a low/no-stakes practice in October with Seattle Academy as home base. For tenth grade, do not study for what is a practice test…for a practice test. In 11th grade, the PSAT test serves as the National Merit competition qualifying exam and another good practice for a regular SAT administration in the winter or spring of junior year. PSAT scores are typically available around winter break.
  • Save your work, building a portfolio of sorts by saving writing, lab reports, and creative work on your computer. This is a better and more confidential way to store work than saving it in one of the applications themselves, such as the Coalition Application, especially while those relatively new application platforms work out their growing pains and privacy particulars.

As sophomores, you might wish to undertake the following college-related projects:

  • Attend one college fair such as the Colleges that Change Lives Information Session and College Fair (register at at the Sheraton Seattle on August 2 at 7 p.m.; the National Association of College Admission Counseling National College Fair ( at which students can also register) on November 2-3 at the Convention Center, and the PNACAC Fair in the spring (date TBA) at Seattle University’s Connolly Center. Generally, participating colleges for this last fair are listed on shortly before the event.
  • Attend Seattle Academy’s annual Guide to College Financing on September 11 at 7 PM in the Theater.
  • Visit a local college or two, just to start getting a feel for various college cultures. A visit to the University of Washington gives a student a taste of college at any large public research institution while the University of Puget Sound exposes students to life at a typical selective national liberal arts college. If you’re not yet interested in visiting colleges, it’s fine to wait until junior year.

Years of experience, both in college counseling and in college admission itself, and cutting-edge research about college search timing appropriate to adolescent development, inform the most appropriate time to kick-off “official” college counseling. While informal college conversations occur before junior year, students (and their eventual college searches) benefit greatly in the interim from the focus on academic and co-curricular pursuits (and not on the college search itself). Students need the raw material gained during these years, less the distraction of the college search. In the meantime, in addition to the information on the College Advising page of the SAAS website, resources are also available at, clicking “I’m a guest” and entering “saas” as the guest log-in. You can read our materials for various grade levels in its “document library.”

College Advising very much looks forward to working with you in the future! Best wishes for sophomore year!

Melanie Reed, Dave Thomas, Misa Kabashima, Stacie Cone, and Taylor Kanemori



We’re still “deep” in our first year or two of upper school. What can we do now?

  • Know that every student (and every family member) is on a continuum in the college search… as in life. When the time comes, Seattle Academy will not let you or your student fall behind. A proven record of college advising history, structure, and success informs your student’s process.
  • Support your student in a consistent and/or improving academic close to sophomore year and an equally supportive beginning to junior year. What goes on the transcript comes first, before the “college searching.”
  • Urge students to save writing and record interests and activities for a later extra-curricular résumé.
  • Know that your student’s authentic academic and personal individualism (academic and co-curricular résumés, so to speak) represents best to colleges, not an overly “planned” and “groomed” package of Something that Looks and Sounds Like the Student but Isn’t the Student. Summer activities, for example, need not be expensive and need not be out of the country. The experiences should engage student participants/volunteers, and give them a jumping off point for further (perhaps local?) service.
  • Attend college advising events (everything from subsequent parent nights to talks on college financing).
  • Read College Admission, from Application to Acceptance, Step by Step by Robin Mamlet and Christine VanDeVelde.
  • Read Colleges that Change Lives and Looking Beyond the Ivy League by Loren Pope.
  • Families occasionally have questions about spring break or summer college tours. These visits can, and should, remain informal at this point, not exhaustive tours of all small Northeast liberal arts colleges. Consider doing a “drive by” of a college at your vacation destination. If your student knows they want to see a particular college, that’s great! Plan a trip. If they have no idea, that’s fine, too. If your first college visits occur next spring, or even after your student is admitted to a few of his/her colleges, you are not behind.
  • As a family, choose to address the newness and seeming ambiguity of an otherwise extremely exciting (and at Seattle Academy, extremely well organized and successful) process in ways that model great coping and problem-solving skills for students.
  • Please ask first before securing outside resources for college support other than test prep. Outside college counseling is uncommon and asking if it’s necessary can cut down on confusion for the student and duplication of resources in general.
  • REMEMBER – you have already started the college search process by attending Seattle Academy.

What happens between now and junior year?

  • Students focus mostly on being students. We can’t stress this enough: This deserves and needs more attention than the college search now and in the future. This will pay off in the college search.
  • Approximately 150 colleges and universities visit Seattle Academy annually. Juniors are allowed to attend (we’ll explain as the time approaches).
  • Students attend various college fairs, including the Colleges that Change Lives Tour/Fair, the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) National College Fair, and the NACAC Performing and Visual Arts Fair.
  • Seattle Academy and its peer schools host an invite-only independent school college fair exclusively and intentionally for juniors and seniors and their families with well over 100 selective college attendees.
  • Sophomores and juniors take or retake the PSAT, the outcome of which guides us and families toward possible test prep.
  • College Advisors answer common questions of juniors at meetings in October and lay the foundation for their individual work with families.
  • College Advisors answer questions anytime they arise (all the while ensuring the application process for current applicants gets significant attention… believe us, you’ll be glad for all the attention when your students submit their applications). Taylor Kanemori welcomes general college-related questions from ninth and tenth grade families at.
  • Just before winter break, College Advising transitions from filing applications with the current senior class to working intensely with the junior class with College Kick-Off Events for juniors and their families. These events introduce students and their families to SAAS’ web-based college counseling program and arranging individual meetings to address the college search at the most developmentally and academically appropriate, healthy, and advantageous time.

What should we not do now?

  • Push your student toward college faster than necessary by discussing college ad nauseam. Even if you’re thinking, “C’mon, I know my sophomore is as interested in this as I am!” --- too much, too early, can backfire. For all kids, burnout on activities is real (college “searching” among them). Seattle Academy draws on years of experience to time its process intentionally to maximize the high school period in which kids are developmentally, emotionally, mentally, and strategically suited for the task.
  • Don’t get fixed on any one “thing” --- any one type, location, or selectivity of school. We will insist the eventual college list is (strategically) varied.
  • Recognize that the genuine (not manufactured) academic and personal record is paramount, obvious, and attractive to colleges.
  • Allow the media, the next door neighbor, or the for-profit college “industry” make you crazy or make you feel like you should have done fourteen things already. College Advising is here to tell you when you need to do the first of the fourteen!

To: 10th and 11th Grade Students and Parents
From: Melanie Reed, Dave Thomas, Misa Kabashima, Stacie Cone, Taylor Kanemori, and Jaymie Lewis
Date: Summer, 2018
RE: PSAT Testing and Schedule for Saturday, October 13, 2018

Greetings from Seattle Academy! We write with news of the forthcoming PSAT for 10th and 11th graders. For nationwide PSAT administrations in 2018, College Board has made two dates available, only one of which (the Saturday administration on October 13) is workable for Seattle Academy to preserve as much in-class time as possible.

As a result, as noted on College Advising calendars sent home to 10th and 11th grade families earlier this summer, all of Seattle Academy’s sophomores and juniors will take the PSAT at school on Saturday, October 13. We assume each of our 10th and 11th graders will test and we automatically register each student for the exam, the charge for which is applied to each student’s account. As with all PSATs, College Board does not provide an alternative or “make-up” date for students.*

10th and 11th graders should arrive outside the Gym at the usual time (8:15 AM) on Saturday, October 13, and expect to be involved in testing and test-related activities for about three and a half hours. Each student should bring his/her usual Seattle Academy-required calculator and two sharpened pencils to use in the exam. Teachers and administrators will proctor the exam administration according to College Board guidelines. Jaymie Lewis will reach out individually with additional information for students who will test with accommodations that day.

College Advising will alert 10th and 11th graders via email to practice tests when available in the College Advising office. College Advising will also ensure 10th and 11th graders receive additional information about the exam. The College Board partnership with Khan Academy also has free prep resources available for the revised SAT/PSAT at If students fill out their materials correctly on testing day, College Board plans to email them score access information during the winter. In the past this information from College Board has been available before winter break.

The PSAT is important to sophomores and juniors in different ways. For sophomores, the PSAT is an opportunity to practice standardized test-taking under official College Board testing conditions. For juniors, the test serves another purpose: it is the route through which some enter the National Merit Scholarship Program, an annual process by which especially high testers may qualify for some college undergraduate scholarships. If a junior scores well enough on this PSAT, they qualify as a National Merit Semifinalist or Commended Student, two awards for college-bound students. (The strong student who has an off-day in the PSAT and does not qualify need not worry; the test works in positive ways but not negative ones for college admissions.)

We strongly recommend all juniors plan to prep for and to take one SAT in January, March, May OR June of junior spring as well as an ACT, a test that can advantage students and carries equal weight with colleges. Dates for both are available on the College Board and ACT websites. We will discuss these items at the 11th grade parent evening meeting in early October.

For all 10th and 11th grade families, please be sure that your child has a good night’s sleep and a nourishing breakfast before the October 13th test. If a student brings snacks or water with her/him to the test, we will ask that the student place the food and beverage away from the test to avoid spilling on her/his test (exceptions are made for students with known medical conditions). Per College Board regulations, students will not be allowed to leave the premises to get snacks during the test. As we said above, students with diagnostic evaluations that recommend accommodations on standardized tests may be eligible for PSAT test accommodations. If your student is eligible, you will hear separate details from Jaymie Lewis in Learning Support.

* Very occasionally, if a student has a significant conflict with the PSAT date, they have done the following: called directly other schools in Seattle to see if any of them are offering the test on Wednesday, October 17, the only other date option authorized by the College Board. Only after checking with Seattle Academy teachers to determine whether the student can miss Wednesday the 17th (grades being more advantageous than a practice standardized test, the scores of which colleges don’t see) is the student allowed to test at an alternative location. This is up to the student/family to arrange. If this is the case for your student, please notify Melanie Reed, Dave Thomas, or Misa Kabashima after you or your student made arrangements with another school and with Seattle Academy teachers so College Advising knows your student will not test at Seattle Academy on October 13.

Standardized Testing Overview

How does test prep work?

Research shows ideally students should not take standardized tests, apart from those practice tests we administer, nor generally prep for them for the first two years of high school. It is best strategically if most test prep can wait until deep into eleventh grade. While this is a hard line to hold, most early prep tends to be inefficient and unproductive. When it’s actually time to prep, coaching toward tests works until it doesn’t, meaning that students should give the tests their due – with appropriate and smart prep for a finite period of time – and not one second more. Test prep can be one-on-one, small group, or online through something like Khan Academy/College Board, which is free to users.  Because students do not have unlimited time and motivation for test prep, studies show that applying time and energy to homework first pays the greatest dividends in college admission (and sometimes carries over to standardized tests).

What are the different standardized tests most college applicants take?

When the time comes, students ideally take a practice test that determines whether one or the other of the following is “their test.” For less than half of the students, however, will there be a clear choice between the following (ACT or SAT) which colleges accept equally. Still, one may feel more comfortable in terms of structure, pacing, and cadence. Other students sometimes choose their tests based on the family calendar, whether one of the tests approved accommodations, whether they would like a science section on the exam (ACT offers, SAT doesn’t). Either way, the student should avoid testing whiplash by picking a test and sticking with it. 

ACT – Has at least equal market share with the SAT; colleges accept it and SAT equally. The ACT is most like the practice test Seattle Academy students took in ninth grade. Like all tests it requires some prep - not ad nauseam, but research shows closer to the actual time of the test and when students have more material under their belts. Though some colleges are eliminating the “writing” portion, for the time being register for it “with writing.” 

SAT – Like the ACT, colleges accept it equally. The SAT is most like the practice test Seattle Academy students take in October of tenth and eleventh grades. Like all tests it requires some prep - not ad nauseam, but research shows closer to the actual time of the test and with more experience/material. In case one or more of your colleges requires it, elect to do the essay section. 

SAT II – Fortunately, because of the considerable prep involved for any student from any high school, the SAT IIs or “subject tests” are less and less required by colleges. As of the last draft of this document, only thirteen colleges required subject tests. These requirements change frequently and College Advising monitors them. Students should not assume they have to take subject tests nor that it is in their best interest to take them or to spend time prepping for them. You will determine this individually with your college advisor when you work together in your junior year. Note:  A few students taking pre-calc as early as sophomore year may elect to take the SAT II “Math 2” exam at the conclusion of that course. All other students can wait to discuss the SAT II until junior year conversations with College Advising. 

Again, shouldn’t I just take subject tests to cover my bases?

Because all students from all high schools require extra, sometimes extensive prep, on the subject tests (which can distract from other schoolwork, activities, and regular test prep) it is wise first to see if you need them. Fewer and fewer colleges outright require them and you want to have as much time available for application-strengthening grades, activities, and life. Your College Advisor can put this into perspective and you can also check regularly updated SAT II requirements at:

When do students test and how many times?

Typically students take one SAT and one ACT in the spring of junior year. Sometimes students prep during the junior spring or toward the end of the rising senior summer, especially on the test that felt or went better for them, retaking that test in the fall. It is not recommended to test more than three times on a single exam, and for most students two attempts is sufficient. 

When is the last time I should test during my senior fall?

Most of the Class of 2018 had at least one application due on or before November 1, meaning that the October test dates were the most useful to and generally latest advisable for them. Not waiting to test too far into the fall and making use of August, September and October test dates are good ideas. Some students also retested in November, using subsequent scores to strengthen regular admission applications. 

When the time comes junior winter/spring, how do I register for tests and what do I do if I have accommodations?

Families register for the tests at (ACT) or (SAT),setting up accounts with usernames and passwords you’ll need to save and re-access when you send your scores to colleges in the fall. If you know or believe you will use accommodations but have not yet checked with Learning Support, contact Jaymie Lewis.

What is test optional admission and how is it useful to me?

Nearly 1000 colleges outlined at openly weigh other factors than testing more strongly when reviewing applications, sometimes do not require tests at all, or allow students to substitute other work (graded paper, etc.) for standardized testing. The good news is that many test optional colleges are already favorites of Seattle Academy students. Test optional admission is ideal when one’s transcript is quite strong and testing doesn’t quite match. Test optional colleges include American University, George Washington University, Lewis & Clark College, Wake Forest University, Wesleyan University and many more.