The Biggest Changes in the College Process and How CDH is Here to Help

Greta Cunningham ‘23, Communications Apprentice
September 12, 2022

Laura Nelson and Joan O'Connell, College Counselors

College admissions are always changing. While these changes can be overwhelming, Cretin-Derham Hall is here to help our students and their families navigate the process. The following are four of the biggest changes to college admissions, the information to understand them, and how CDH will help you through them.  

1. Earlier Deadlines

The college application process now begins significantly earlier during students’ senior year. Because deadlines begin November first, students don’t have Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks  to work on all of their applications, leaving them to balance the bulk of the work with the start of new classes and co-curricular responsibilities.

In response to the predicament, Cretin-Derham Hall started offering a College Application Boot Camp in August. 

“Boot Camp gave me an organized list of things that I had to do to apply for college, along with a list of deadlines to meet. It was also helpful to have a place to ask questions. I learned some helpful tips on how to stand out when applying and properly write the college essay,” said Robby Diamond ’23, who participated in Boot Camp this year. 

During Boot Camp, students spend four days in three-hour sessions learning about different parts of the college admissions folder, essay writing, crafting a resume, and scholarship applications. By providing a structured environment for students to begin their applications, CDH creates a less stressful experience for students.

Each year, after Boot Camp is complete, students participate in a feedback survey to improve the program going forward. 100% of students consistently state that they would recommend the camp to the next year’s seniors. 

“I would definitely recommend it for future students because it dedicated time to the application process in my schedule. It would have been very difficult for me to complete every step necessary without the guidance,” said Riley Klaus ’23, who also attended Boot Camp this summer.

CDH first starts addressing the college process with students during their junior year. During the fall, a letter goes out to junior families outlining the steps that will take them through the next two years. Juniors and their families are then invited to a meeting that provides an overview of the process. In the winter, students and their parents or guardians meet individually with their student’s assigned college counselor to start discussing the best educational fit for them and how each piece of their application will be read. During the spring of junior year, CDH hosts an ACT test session during the school day, guaranteeing each student an opportunity to test early on, so they have ample time for additional testing if desired. 

2. Increasing Expense

College is becoming more expensive to attend and apply, but CDH empowers families with the information and resources to navigate financial aid and scholarships.

At the beginning of a student's senior year, CDH hosts a meeting specifically on college financial aid, in addition to addressing the topic during that junior's fall meeting. The CDH counseling staff attends financial aid presentations with the Minnesota Department of Education and college financial planners frequently to provide up to date information to families and assists in connecting them with financial aid offices at different universities. Because college counselors have assigned students and meet with each of their families, they are equipped to work with families’ specific situations. CDH college counselors also send students transcripts for free, rather than requiring students to pay for mailing each themselves as some school do. 

“College counselors can help you develop a college list, as well as look for scholarships and other opportunities. My counselor always had an open door for me to stop in and ask a quick question, so I’d recommend getting to know your counselor,” said Lolo Goddard ’22, who attended Boot Camp when she was a rising senior and is attending Duke University this fall. 

CDH supports students with developing the skills for scholarship applications, such as creating a resume and writing a personal statement. They also provide scholarship support at Boot Camp, plus, one:one meetings, and resource guides they can pick up in the counseling office.

CDH also provides each student with a Naviance account, a college and career readiness software that, in addition to helping match students with colleges and majors, helps them navigate scholarship options and track results. After students receive their acceptance results, CDH counselors are available to help families sort through their options, financial aid packages, and scholarship money. 

3. More Applications

As the number of applications received by schools around the country increases, the number of applications each student sends out personally does as well.

Colleges understand that as students continue to apply to an increasing number of institutions, they are competing with more schools to enroll every student they accept. As such, schools want to protect their yield, the number of accepted students who enroll at their university, and have put an increasing value on demonstrated interest, how colleges determine an applicant's interest in their school.

Different schools have different approaches to assessing demonstrated interest. Some track whether students have emailed their regional admissions counselor, visited campus, attended virtual events, or interacted with the school in another way. Some choose not to directly track students’ interactions with their university but require a “Why Us” supplemental essay when applying. Some do a little of both.

On the other side, students are also faced with the challenging decisions of where to apply and where to eventually attend in a sea of choices competing for their attention.

CDH values giving students the opportunity to interact with different universities to build their demonstrated interest, learn more about their choice schools for supplemental essay writing, and overall empower them with the information to determine the best match for them. 

During the fall of junior and senior year, students are welcome to attend college visits right on campus. After signing up for the schools of their choice, students meet college admissions counselors in small groups, getting to know them personally and asking questions during the school day. The CDH counseling office has long standing relationships with many of these representatives and meets with them while they are in town visiting the school, along with asking them questions for students throughout the year. 

“They want to meet with our students, they want to see who they are, and they want to understand CDH. As CDH college counselors, we meet individually with every representative who visits. It helps us pass along schools that we think students should look at or a fabulous scholarship opportunity they should consider. It's very educational for us, and, in exchange, we help these admissions counselors understand CDH– What's Values?  What’s Spectrum? What kind of student goes here? Do your students go out of state for college?” explained Joan O’Connell, CDH college counselor. “There are schools that are really, really interested in our kids, and, sometimes, meeting the representative makes a huge difference.”

Students can also meet college representatives at the CDH College Fair during the spring of their junior year when the Joe Mauer Field House fills with college visitors for high school students throughout the neighborhood. The spring is also a time to help seniors work with their responses and make the best choice for their future. 

4. New Variables and Options 

In the last couple of years, new buzz words have risen to prominence in the college admissions conversation, such as early decision and test optional. They are just two examples of what makes the college admissions process thick with options that require a potentially intimidating, customized approach for each student’s application. 

Early decision allows students to apply to their top choice school early in a smaller pool of applicants. However, acceptance is binding, and students can only apply early decision to one school, committed as they are to attend if they are accepted. Some schools also offer early action, another chance for students to apply early in a smaller pool of applicants but without being bound if accepted.

Every school structures its deadlines slightly differently, some offering early decision and early action, some offering two early decision windows but no early action, some only offering early action but requiring that students not apply early anywhere else if they participate, and so on.

Early application options can be a great way to show demonstrated interest, potentially increase likelihood of admittance, and hear back earlier, allowing a student to pick their college early during their senior year or giving them more time to decide. However, students must have their applications done early and feel confident in their choices, potentially needing to commit to a school without yet receiving their financial aid package. 

Test optional means students have the choice to submit ACT and SAT scores, rather the test scores being required.  While this creates more freedom in the application process, it can make it challenging for students to decide if it is advantageous to submit their score and how to prioritize re-testing.  

CDH college counselors are available to help students and their families navigate all of these decisions. Between their time attending conferences, meeting with college admissions representatives, and other professional development, counselors have the information to help students sort through the pros and cons of different choices specific to the schools they’re considering. Overall, with email availability and the frequent opportunity to meet one-on-one, students are able to build a personal relationship with their college counselor that allows them to get the best professional advice for their unique and specific situations. 

“Ms. O’Connell helped ensure all the details on the CDH side of the college application process were completed. We are extremely appreciative for the time and effort invested into the college application process by the CDH staff,” said Angela Goddard, parent of Lola '22.

“They took time to craft the school counselor report and teacher recommendation letters, certainly not an easy task. Whatever was written worked miracles. My daughter got into her first choice school,” noted Goddard.

College admissions may be changing, but CDH is here to help.

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