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Video: 2014 seniors talk about their college choices

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Catlin Gabel seniors are about to embark on an exciting new chapter in their lives. Five seniors speak here about their college choices, and how they found a good fit for them.

»Link to list of where all seniors are going to college
»Link to article by college counselors about the admission year and college trends

Thomas is going to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago!

Emmarose is going to the University of Southern California!

Chris is going to Princeton University!

Liban's going to Swarthmore College!

Sadie is going to Barnard College!

College list for Catlin Gabel 2014 seniors

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Here's where the class of 2014 is going to college!

(as of 5/22/14)
Amherst College
Barnard College
Bates College
Berklee College of Music
University of British Columbia, Okanagan
Brown University
Case Western Reserve University
Chapman University
University of Chicago
Claremont McKenna College
Colorado College (2)
Colby College
University of Denver (2)
DePaul University
Dickinson College
Hamilton College, NY
Harvey Mudd College
University of La Verne
Lewis & Clark College
Macalester College
McGill University
Montana State University, Bozeman
Mount Holyoke College (2)
New York University (2)
University of Notre Dame
Oberlin College
Occidental College
Oregon State University
University of Oregon (2)
Portland State University
University of Portland (2)
Princeton University (2)
University of Puget Sound (3)
University of Redlands
Reed College
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Rice University
School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2)
Scripps College (3)
Smith College
University of Southern California (2)
Southern Oregon University (2)
Stanford University
Swarthmore College (3)
Tufts University
Tulane University (2)
Union College
Whitman College (5)
Worcester Polytechnic Institute

College counseling materials presented at parent community meeting with senior panel

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College counseling was not the main focus of the meeting. This was part of a 15-minute discussion.

The PFA parent community meeting on April 17 featured a panel of seniors talking about their Catlin Gabel experiences. Following their Q&A with parents, college counseling director Kate Grant talked briefly about the college counseling process and the state of college admission this year.

Kate showed three slides, which are posted below as a PDF and outlined here

  • What parents can do to help their children early on
  • College counseling calendar for 2013-14
  • List of colleges that have accepted CG students this year. ( Note: Many students are undecided as of this date. Decisions are due May 1.)

» Here is a link to a page with recommended reading that Kate mentioned.

Video: college admission expert Robin Mamlet

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The college counseling department presents the second annual State of College Admission event

Robin Mamlet, co-author of College Admission from Application to Acceptance and former dean of admission at Stanford University, Swarthmore College, and Sarah Lawrence College spoke with parents at an all-school college evening on Monday, September 7, 2013. Our second annual State of College Admission event covered many of the issues on the minds of students and families as they consider their plans beyond Catlin Gabel.


Video: 2013 seniors talk about their college choices

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Our seniors are stoked to be going off to college! Several seniors discuss their college choices, and why they've found a good fit for them.

» Link to all colleges and universities accepting Catlin Gabel seniors this year.

» Link to Lark's "Headlines" article about the college counseling program.

» Link to video of senior panel speaking at April PFA Parent Community Meeting

Ben's going to Tulane!

Marina's going to Stanford!

Terrance is going to Brown!

Kanaiza's going to Wesleyan!

Hannah's going to Plan II at the University of Texas-Austin!


Class of 2014 College Counseling Milestones

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Junior Year

January 2013

January 23 - Junior College Night for parents and students:  College admission deans and college counselors discuss the process.

January 24 - Juniors and parents get full Naviance access; parent survey available in Naviance

February 2013

February 5 - Junior College Counseling Workshop for students all day at University of Portland

Early February - PODS meetings begin; topics include college visits, activities resume, essays, research

February 6-April 15 - Individual meetings required of all juniors; counselors will follow up with list of recommended colleges. Begin creating a list of colleges and explore colleges of interest.

February-­April - Family meetings with each junior and parents will follow the individual meetings. Recommended for all juniors and parents.

June 2013

June-August 2013 

  • Begin Common Application during summer (available online August 1)
  • Work on essay questions (available in March)


Ongoing – Junior and Senior Years

  • Meet with college counselors
  • Visit colleges, take campus tours, interview where offered
  • Take standardized tests (See Standardized College Testing handout)
  • Attend college representative visits at Catlin Gabel and in Portland


Senior Year

August 2013

First week of school for students - College Counseling  Kickoff required of all seniorsSeptember 2013

September 2013

Early September‐November 1 - Individual meetings required of all seniors

September-­October - Create and prune college application list. Decide upon any early decision/early action applications. Keep Naviance lists up‐to‐date.

September-­‐November - Visit with college representatives who visit Catlin Gabel School or hold informational meetings in Portland

September-­November - Essay review with college counselors/selected faculty

Mid-­September - Case Studies Program for students and parents

Mid-­September - Ask two faculty to write recommendation letters; enter into Naviance

September-­December - PODS meetings (topics include Naviance, Common Application process, decision‐making, interviews)

October 2013

Mid-­October - Catlin Gabel Mini College Fair

Late October-Mid-‐November - Catlin Gabel submits supporting documents (transcript, school report, teacher letters) to colleges for early application deadlines. Students submit applications, supplementary materials, and test scores to colleges for early application deadlines.

November 2013

November 1 - First early application deadlines

Early November - All college lists reviewed by college counselors; feedback sent home

November - Financial Aid Meeting

November-­December - Family meetings if desired to review lists

December 2013

Early December - College application list finalized; changes after this deadline must be approved by counselors.

Early December - Senior Parent Potluck

Mid-­December-February 1 - Catlin Gabel submits supporting documents (transcript, school report, teacher letters) to colleges for regular deadlines. Students submit applications, supplementary materials, and test scores to colleges for regular deadlines.

December 15‐20 - Colleges notify students of early decisions. Students enter decisions in Naviance.

January 2014

January 1 - Most regular decision application deadlines

February 2014

February 1 - FAFSA (Federal financial aid form) due at most colleges. CSS Profile and other institutional financial aid forms due at some colleges.

April 2014

April 1 - Colleges notify students of admission decisions. Students share decisions with college counselor and enter in Naviance. Consider wait list offers and discuss what, if any, follow-­‐up is needed.

April - Think about options, talk with college counselors, considering visiting, compare financial aid awards.

May 2014

May 1 - Decide which college you will attend and make a deposit at one school

  • Students notify all colleges of enrollment decisions
  • If offered a spot on a waiting list, talk with college counselors and keep them up-­to-­date if status changes
  • Students update Naviance with college decisions (admit, decline, waitlist, etc.)
  • Thank faculty recommenders

Class of 2014 Testing Recommendations

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How many exams should I take?
Aim for two SAT Reasoning Tests or two ACT Plus Writing examinations. You should test a third time only if necessary.

When should I take the SAT or ACT?
We recommend that you take at least one set of SATs or ACTs in the junior year, starting no earlier than January and completing one round no later than March/April. Students may take the exam again in the fall of the senior year; early fall dates will work for early application deadlines as well as regular deadlines. The SAT Subject tests should be taken in May or June of junior year. (Language subject test dates vary –see SAT website for details.)

What should I do with my scores? How do they get to the colleges?
You should talk with your college counselor about your test scores and read each of your college’s instructions for score reporting carefully. You are responsible for submitting your test scores to your colleges through the College Board/ACT websites. The school cannot submit official scores for you, and the self-reported scores on your application are not usually considered as
an official report.

How much do the tests cost? Are fee waivers available?
ACT and SAT tests cost between $50 - $75 per sitting, with additional fees for late registration, score reports to colleges, etc. Information about need-based fee waivers is available from the college counselors.

Video: 2012 seniors talk about their college choices

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Catlin Gabel seniors are excited to be off to college! Several students talk a bit about where they're going, and why their college choice is a good one for them.

» Link to class of 2012 list of college acceptances

 Eli's going to Harvard!

 Megan's going to Columbia!

Ramtin's going to Dartmouth!

Logan's going to Oregon State University Honors College!

Grace is going to Whitman College!

Confidence for the College Process

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From the Winter 2011-12 Caller

By Nancy Donehower

In helping students develop confidence, college counselors build on something our faculty members do every day, in every division: teach resilience. At Catlin Gabel, we often say “the student is the unit of consideration,” and this is taken seriously— students are taken seriously—by the faculty. We don’t expect them to be perfect, but we have confidence in them, and demonstrate that every day.
The college application process differs from the classroom, though, in that it isn’t something you do repeatedly. Because it is a unique experience, that can amplify anxiety at each stage of the process. It should help to know, however, that although the college process seems like something really different and scary for students, the skills it calls for are the same skills students have developed in a variety of contexts throughout their years here.
As the New York Times and other print and web publications seem to remind us almost weekly, the college admissions process is hyper-competitive these days. At many colleges and universities, the volume of applications has been extremely volatile over the last few years, leading to less predictability about the process and its outcomes—on the college side and on the applicant side. In general, colleges have not increased the size of their entering classes over the past few years, so as applicant numbers have increased, the percentage of students admitted has decreased. Consider, for example, Pitzer College in Southern California. A dozen years ago, it admitted approximately 65% of applicants, while in 2012, it offered admission to only 24%. It’s difficult for students involved in the process to anticipate all the twists and turns it may take, but the process can teach valuable lessons about resilience, about having faith and trust in yourself, and about developing confidence in your ability to work with whatever life throws your way.
Throughout their years at Catlin Gabel, students work to acquire the tools that will enable them to be successful adults. They ask questions and they learn how to do research, evaluate various types of evidence, and appreciate and respond to the opposing point of view. They become adept problem solvers who work well in teams and aren’t afraid to try new approaches and have fun with ideas. Our students are not “taught at,” but are treated as responsible collaborators in the learning process. This clearly conveys trust that they are up to the task, and also helps students to develop a strong sense of agency about their own learning.
Most importantly, though, students are given many opportunities to reflect on their learning, which is a key to developing self-awareness. If you know that it’s just part of the plan to stop periodically, ask yourself what went well, what didn’t go so well, and how to be more effective in the future, it builds skills to cope with a project that doesn’t achieve the desired result, and helps develop the confidence to try a different approach next time. In the Upper School, paper conferences that students have with teachers are just one among many ways this approach is implemented. The Agent of Change projects, and co-curricular activities such as Mock Trial and outdoor education program, offer opportunities for experiential learning and subsequent reflection that help students develop confidence in themselves and their abilities across a variety of situations.
Our college counseling process builds on this foundation. We start by asking students to reflect on themselves and what is important to them, and encourage them to find and follow their own paths through the college admissions maze. We encourage students to take advantage of this socially sanctioned time to pause, reflect on where they’ve been and where they are going—to really let their experience speak—and then use that inner voice as a guide for the college process ahead. We also work to inform parents about how a progressive education serves their student, how their students will have several good-fit choices for college, and how the student is at the center throughout the college counseling process.
We offer information, support, and guidance all along the way. We host a variety of programs in which admissions and financial aid directors work directly with our students and parents, providing the most up-to-date information possible and giving students a clear sense of the admissions process. We then work with each student individually, helping develop a list of prospective colleges that has the right balance of optimism and realism. Our students apply to many of the most selective colleges and universities in the country and abroad, but with admission rates under 10% at many of these schools, everyone must have other options. We work intensively with students as they write their applications, helping each one make a strong presentation. We trust them to think carefully about themselves, to evaluate the many, many types of information and opinions that we consider with them as they research schools, and to make thoughtful decisions about which colleges to apply to, and which one, ultimately, to attend. At the end, whether the letters from colleges contain offers of admission or not, we find that our students handle the outcomes well.
To hear our students talk about this process and the paths they follow is inspiring. At a “Life After Catlin Gabel” program in May 2011, several alumni discussed their experiences here, in college, and in the working world. It’s clear that the skills and resilience they developed in classes and co-curricular activities here provided a great foundation for future endeavors.
We’re never going to put the “stress genie” that accompanies the college admissions process back in the bottle. Demographics, the sensationalization of the process by the media, and ongoing recruitment wars among colleges guarantee that this rite of passage for teenagers will remain challenging. But as the lives of our alumni amply illustrate, Catlin Gabel students develop the skills and perspective to cope with those challenges— and go on to create happy and successful lives, no matter what paths they take.
Nancy Donehower has worked in the college admissions field for almost 30 years. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, she holds a PhD in psychology from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. She began her college admissions career at Sarah Lawrence College, then served as senior associate director of admissions at Duke University. Following that, she became dean of admissions at Reed College. Before joining Catlin Gabel in 2008, she was director of college counseling at the Head-Royce School in Oakland, California. Her articles and commentaries about college admissions have appeared in the Oregonian, the Christian Science Monitor, the New York Times, and the Chronicle of Higher Education, and on public radio.  


Visiting Colleges

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As you begin the college search process, it is important to investigate a variety of schools so you can see how you feel about some basic features such as size, location, and campus life. It in not necessary to visit every school you might want to apply to; colleges of similar types can serve as “templates” for others in different parts of the country. The University of Oregon, Portland State University, and the University of Washington can give you a good sense of what life is like at large public universities, so they are reasonable templates for, say, the University of Colorado, Michigan, or Massachusetts. Similarly, Reed, Lewis & Clark, and Linfield can be good templates for smaller liberal-arts colleges like Occidental, Denison, or Wesleyan. You can find out a lot about your preferences by making a few local visits first, then using the information you gather to fine-tune an itinerary in another part of the country.

Here are some suggestions for a range of West Coast schools you may want to visit. Mix things up a bit and keep an open mind as you plan an itinerary – you may surprise yourself and find a great match at a school you haven’t really considered before. Schools listed below are roughly divided by size; those labeled “special interest” have distinctive approaches to undergraduate education or specialize in particular academic areas. If you would like sample itineraries for other parts of the country, please e-mail the college counselors. We’ll be happy to offer suggestions.


Small: Reed College, Lewis & Clark College, Linfield College, Pacific University, Willamette University

Medium: University of Portland, Southern Oregon University, Oregon State University

Large: University of Oregon, Portland State University

Special interest: Pacific Northwest College of Art, Oregon Institute of Technology, Art Institute of Portland

Gap year: Benedictine Sisters Volunteer Program, Portland Mercury Internships, Partnerships for Student Achievement, Carpe Diem


Small: Whitman College, University of Puget Sound, Seattle University

Medium: Gonzaga University, Western Washington University

Large: University of Washington

Special interest: Evergreen State University, Cornish School of the Arts, Digipen Institute of Technology

Gap year: 826 Seattle Internships, City Year Seattle

Northern California

Small: Mills College, University of the Pacific, University of San Francisco, Dominican University

Medium: Stanford University, Sonoma State University, Santa Clara University, UC Santa Cruz

Large: UC Berkeley, UC Davis, Sacramento State

Special interest: California College of the Arts

Gap year: 826 Valencia Internships, City Year San José

Southern California

Small: Occidental College, Whittier College, Claremont Colleges, University of Redlands

Medium: University of Southern California, University of San Diego

Large: UCLA, San Diego State University, Cal State Long Beach

Special interest: California Institute of Technology, California Institute of the Arts

Gap year: 826 Los Angeles Internships, City Year Los Angeles

Request a Transcript

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For Alumni who would like to request a transcript, please complete and submit the form provided here:

Forms can also be printed and faxed to 503-203-5123. Questions? Contact the Registrar at 503-297-1894, ext. 316.

Join us for our Case Studies program on Tuesday, September 3, at 6:30 pm

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Seniors and their parents are invited to join admissions representatives from nine colleges around the country to review mock admissions files and discuss the college application process.

Date: Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Time: 6:30 pm

Place: Meet in the Barn, and we’ll split into small groups after a short general meeting.

We anticipate that we’ll finish up by about 9:00 pm.

Prior to the event, please download and print the mock admissions files below!

College Counseling from the Inside Out

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From the Fall 2009 Caller

By Nancy Donehower

One of the bedrock truths of the college admissions process is counter-intuitive, and a bit surprising: The successful college search and application process should focus on the individual student and not on any one college, or group of colleges.
These days, we live in a culture that encourages us to do our shopping before we know what we want, and this is especially true of the college search process. So many students work from the outside in: bombarded with college information in every medium, they try to make sense of their options by picking up a college guide or set of rankings before they take the time to assess themselves and their goals. The result is that the college search process becomes focused on a loose idea of finding a “good college” as opposed to finding the colleges that are good for that particular individual.
In Catlin Gabel’s college counseling office, Kate Grant and I work instead from the inside out to help students understand that there is no one “best” college, only a set of colleges that will be the best matches for them. With this “inside-out” approach, we encourage students to understand themselves and what they’re seeking before they start to research and compare different colleges. We hope that students see this process as a learning experience during which they have the opportunity for self-reflection and growth of awareness about their individual skills, strengths, and the qualities they prefer in an educational environment. This approach fits well with Catlin Gabel’s educational philosophy, and makes the college application process a natural extension of the individualized education that students have become accustomed to here.
At its core, the college search and application process is about getting to know yourself, working effectively and discerningly with large amounts of information, and learning how to make choices that are right for you. So our juniors begin the process with a retreat that combines various group and individual exercises to encourage self-reflection. This past year, we used a version of the “Fifteen Random Things About Me” task (popularized on Facebook) and a comprehensive written questionnaire to start things off. The discussions and writings that emerged from the retreat were wonderful—helpful to us as we get to know each student, and helpful for the students as a source of good material for those inevitable college essays. We followed up the retreat with small-group college counseling sessions and individual meetings with students through the spring. This way, we could get to know the class as a whole, as well as all the interesting, energetic and distinctive individuals in it.
Based on our knowledge of each student, we’re able to suggest colleges for them to consider, work through the pros and cons of various choices, and help them assemble a final list of colleges to apply to that has the right balance of optimism and realism. Both the small group meetings and our individual student meetings will continue through the fall of the senior year, so that we are always in touch with each student’s progress and are ready to offer assistance each step of the way.
Once each student has a clear idea of what he or she is looking for, the search process becomes more manageable. Students develop individual “yardsticks” with which to compare colleges, and are better able to see how each school they consider does or doesn’t meet the criteria most important to them. This isn’t to say that the decision process is entirely logical (it wouldn’t be half as interesting if it were!), but that students who have taken the time to really think about their preferences have an easier time sorting through the options.
Throughout this process, we rely on each student to make use of the resources and individual attention we offer. We count on each student to take responsibility for himself or herself and for the progression and outcomes of the college search process. We offer help, advice, and skilled advocacy all along the way—as we tell each student, “We’ve got your back”—but a student must engage with us and put time and effort into the process if all is to go well.
As the application process moves into high gear, our “inside-out” approach to college counseling helps each student present a thorough, thoughtful, and engaging written self-portrait on the application materials. The self-reflection exercises and writing that students do as part of the college counseling program dovetail nicely with the self-reflection that occurs when students write the “Who Am I?” essay for the junior English class. By the time our students sit down to write their application essays, each one has a head start on thinking in depth about his or her personal qualities, philosophy, and talents. Each one has already had an opportunity to write a substantial personal essay. This preparation is a significant asset to our students, and as a result, they are generally quite comfortable with the type of thinking and writing required for a college application essay. As you might expect, given the range of interests and talents within any given group of Catlin Gabel seniors, the application essays themselves cover a variety of topics. We enjoy working with each student to craft the essays so that the final application well represents each student’s unique perspective, strengths, and voice.
The positive feedback we receive from college admission officers affirms that our students do a terrific job with their applications. Admissions officers frequently tell us how much they enjoy reading essays from Catlin Gabel students, and we also receive thanks and praise for the wonderful letters of recommendation that accompany each application. (As a general rule, each application is accompanied by one letter of recommendation from a college counselor, and two letters of recommendation from teachers.) These letters further personalize the application, and give admission officers a vivid sense of each applicant. The outcomes of our “inside-out” approach to college counseling are impressive. The variety of colleges our students apply to is a testament to their ability to think for themselves, and to find those colleges that really match the individual criteria each student has determined to be most important. It’s not easy to swim against the tide, and at a time when so much media attention is mistakenly given to rankings, ratings, and simplistic measures of assessing colleges, our students are to be commended for looking beyond these shorthand metrics as they investigate, compare, and ultimately choose the group of colleges to which they will apply.
At the end of each college application cycle, we ask three questions to determine the success of our college counseling program: Do our seniors have options? Are they making good choices? Are they happy and successful at the colleges they choose to attend? The answer to all of these questions is a definite “yes,” and we are proud of the thought, care, and independent judgment our students demonstrate as they navigate the road to college.
Nancy Donehower, co-director of college counseling, came to Catlin Gabel in 2008 after many years of experience in admission in both colleges and independent schools and as a consultant.  


Make the Most of a Campus Visit

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* Borrowed from the "Counselor's Canvas" newsletter published by the Washington University in St. Louis

You can gain valuable information about colleges and universities in which you're interested through brochures, web sites, college guides, and recommendations. But how do you know if a college is a good fit for you?  The best way to find out is to tour the campus, attend classes, and meet members of the campus community.

The key to a successful campus visit is planning ahead. Contact the admissions office to ask about special visit days, office hours, and available activities. Do not make nonrefundable travel  arrangements until you confirm with the admissions office that the campus is open for visitors.

 When you visit, be sure to attend information sessions and tours sponsored by the admissions office, but don't miss an opportunity to just hang out and soak up the atmosphere. Keep an open mind - a visit may confirm what you already know about a school, or it can open your eyes to new opportunities. Take notes and bring your camera. so you can remember all you see and hear.

 If you have time, ask the admissions office to schedule a meeting with a professor in a subject area that interests you; most professors welcome visitors. Check out the surroundings. Visit the classrooms, laboratories, libraries, and studios. Find a spot to study or relax. Can you imagine yourself there?

 Be sure to tour the residence halls. Find out what's available, including fitness centers. laundry facilities. study rooms, music practice rooms, and shops or stores. Have a meal on campus. Ask yourself if you would be comfortable living on this campus.

 Go to the student activities office to see what clubs and organizations are active.  Ask a current student what he or she does at night and on the weekends. Explore community service activities. If you're interested in sports, find out what varsity. intramural, and club sports the college offers. Schedule an appointment with a coach if you have questions about a particular sport.

If you're unable to make a campus visit, call the admissions office and ask if a university

representative will be visiting your high school, attending a college fair, or holding an informational meeting in your area. You may also wish to request a copy of the university's DVD.


Applying for Financial Aid?

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If you are applying for Financial Aid, there are two essential forms that you will most likely be required to file.

The first is the “Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).” Once completed, the FAFSA is sent to a central processing agency operated by the federal government. The information is analyzed through a standard method, and the results are sent to colleges you have designated on the form. The information is used to determine if you are eligible to receive federal grants, scholarships and/or federal loans. Most private colleges require this form because they want to determine if you are eligible to receive private grants as well as scholarships. The FAFSA can be completed online at You will need to apply for a personal identification number (PIN) before filling out the FAFSA online. You may apply for a PIN at, and you will receive your number within 1 to 3 days.

The second online form is required by many private colleges and universities but is not required by most public colleges and universities. It is the Financial Aid Profile, commonly known as the CSS Profile. Completing the CSS Profile can be done online through the College Board Web site:  After you’ve completed the profile, you will need to request CSS to forward your results to the colleges on your list that require the information.  A list of schools and scholarships requiring a CSS Profile is posted on their site.  A processing fee will be charged for forwarding your results to colleges; the exact amount depends on how many colleges you choose to receive the results. The profile should be completed by November 1st for those applying Early Decision.



Internet Etiquette: Do’s and Don’t’s for Your Students

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* from “Counselor’s Canvas” newsletter published by the Washington University in St. Louis

E-mail, blogging, Facebook, My Space. . . electronic communication and social networking Web sites are becoming a normal part of students’ everyday communications.  E-mail is often the preferred way to get in touch with colleges and universities.  The nature of Internet communication is informal compared to standard business mail, but when is informal too informal?  Here are a few “do’s” and “don’t’s” to help your students with their electronic communication.


  • Remember that your e-mail messages may be added to your admissions file.
  • Choose an appropriate e-mail address.  You may want to rethink addresses like or
  • Give your full name, address, phone number, and high school on each message. 
  • Spell check your e-mail, and use proper punctuation.
  • Use salutations, e.g., Dear Admissions Officer.
  • Be as polite and respectful in an e-mail as you would in a face-to-face meeting or telephone conversation.
  • Use the “reply with history” function to help schools remember the questions you asked in previous e-mails.
  • Before sending an e-mail with a lot of questions, check the school’s Web site and publications for answers.  If you still have specific questions, it is better to call schools so their admissions staff can have a conversation with you.
  • Monitor what is posted on your social networking Web sites (e.g. Facebook, My Space, blogs) to ensure that photos and documents are appropriate and respectful.  Although Admissions Officers may not specifically check student profiles or blogs, it is best to follow these guidelines given the open and accessible nature of the internet. 



  • Don’t use all lowercase or all uppercase letters in an e-mail.  Lowercase is difficult to read, and uppercase feels as if you are SHOUTING.
  • Don’t use “IMPORTANT INFORMATION!!!” or “Please read” as subjects for your e-mail.  These are commonly used for “junk e-mail” or viruses.
  • Don’t send blanket e-mails to a lot of schools at once.  Do some research and then ask specific questions, indicating your genuine interest.
  • Don’t ‘friend’ an Admissions Officer or your student interviewer on social networking Web sites.  It is in your best interest to keep your communications professional during the admissions process.
  • Don’t post inappropriate or offensive messages about any university on any Web site (e.g.,



College Q&A

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As parents, anticipating how our children’s futures unfold is nearly irresistible. Looking ahead to college is a natural consideration for people who value education. Given the expectations about college admission, I invited college counselors Kate Grant and Nancy Donehower to answer questions that we hope will allay whatever concerns you may have so you and your children can concentrate on taking advantage of the enormous learning opportunities right here, right now.

— Lark Palma, head of school

When should students (and families) start thinking about college?

NANCY: You can always be thinking about your education. It’s appropriate in 9th grade to think about the courses you’re taking and make sure the plan you have for study in the Upper School works for you. Those kinds of discussions should go on all the time, independent of the college process.

KATE: We want students to start thinking about college sometime during their junior year. Many start earlier and that’s okay. Some start later and that’s okay, too. Nancy and I work with students in a concerted way in the junior year.

NANCY: As for the nuts and bolts, we give the PSATs in October of sophomore and junior years, so we gently ease students and parents into the college admission process. However, that is not our reason for giving the tests. We offer PSATs twice so our students, who don’t take many multiple-choice tests, gain exposure to this type of testing. The more familiarity they have with the test format, the less anxious they will feel taking the test. But the PSATs have no bearing on the college application process.

Can you outline what juniors do in preparation for choosing and applying to college?

KATE: In the fall of junior year we meet with juniors and their parents to review the process. Then we take the juniors on a retreat in January to begin the self-assessment work that is the bedrock of our college counseling program. During the retreat, the students write free-flow pieces about what they like, what adjectives describe them, what their strengths are, and who has influenced them. We ask juniors to think about their long-term goals and we ask how they see themselves within the Catlin Gabel community. Not only do the self-assessments give us a way to get to know the students better, it also gets each student thinking about what’s important to him or her. Then we explore what kind of learning environment they think is best for them.

Why is all this self-assessment so important?

KATE: The self-assessment is a great exercise that prepares students for interviewing with admission officers and filling out applications. Parents write profiles of their children that provide us with even more information about our students and family expectations.

NANCY: We live in a culture that encourages people to do their shopping before they know what they want. Our position with regard to college counseling is the opposite of that. You can’t find a college that will work for you if you don’t reflect on what kind of person you are, what your learning style is, and what kind of learning environment you need.

Okay, back to the process. What happens next?

KATE: Beginning in the spring, juniors meet weekly with college counselors in small groups, called pods, and in individual meetings. The pods and individual meetings resume in the fall of senior year and continue until winter break. Throughout the fall of senior year, students take SATs, refine their college choices, write essays, ask teachers for letters of recommendations, and submit applications. We help students stay organized, meet deadlines, and complete application materials on time. College applications are generally due at the end of December unless students are applying for early admission or early action (which is a topic for another interview). Most college decisions are announced in April.

What kinds of colleges do Catlin Gabel students attend?

KATE: All kinds and all over the country. Most Catlin Gabel students are attracted to small liberal arts colleges. But we also send kids to big Ivy League universities, state schools, and military academies. There can seem to be a disconnect when students who have been successful in Catlin Gabel’s small, individualized environment want to go to a huge university. But it works out because when they do go to large universities our graduates are so accustomed to personalized education they don’t hesitate to meet with their professors. They ask questions in class no matter how intimidating the large lecture hall might seem.

NANCY: UC Berkeley, for example, is a great school with a huge bureaucracy, but kids from environments that are small like ours can navigate those environments really well. They don’t expect to be slowed by bureaucracy, so they step right in and ask for what they need. They are terrific self-advocates. This is so striking to me. Catlin Gabel kids really understand that they are responsible for their own learning. This school is a great launching pad for any kind of college setting.

How do students decide which colleges to apply to?

KATE: We like students to go home at the end of their junior year with a long list of colleges to explore on the Internet, through visits, or by talking to friends. Things are really fluid with the lists at this point. Juniors should be looking at a range of schools because it is hard to predict how they are going to feel in April of their senior year when they choose colleges. Kids need options. Sometimes students think it’s odd when they have, say, several small schools and one really big school on their list. But that makes sense for a student who is interested in a particular field of study. Looking at small Kenyon College and big NYU is not a contradiction if you’re interested in studying English or theater.

Are visits to colleges helpful?

KATE: Yes, because visits help kids see what they might like or not like, whether they want big or small, urban or rural. But the specific college is not as important as visiting different kinds of environments. That could be done close to home by visiting UO, OSU, Lewis & Clark, Reed, University of Portland, and Portland State.

How do colleges select kids for admission?

NANCY: (Nancy is the former dean of admissions at Reed College.) It’s a very complicated process, and colleges spend much more time on it than students and parents think. There’s a mechanism for assessing the student’s background. It’s like looking through a kaleidoscope. The admission office looks at the opportunities a student has been afforded in high school and what advantage he or she has taken of those opportunities. The most important thing is what students have done within their high school academic program. The colleges look at the school profile and see how challenging the high school curriculum is. Happily, every student at Catlin Gabel has a rigorous program. These kids all have great opportunities.

In small environments like this, when there’s a prominent group of high-achieving kids, the tendency is for average students to think, well, I’m not so-and-so who is a superstar student, therefore I’m not going to get into a good college. That’s just not true. For us the fun of the process is working with students who have lots of different interests.These days, the selective and highly selective colleges are probably looking at candidate pools where 90 percent of the applicants could do the work. That’s when they start looking at less quantifiable factors. What are the personal qualities of the applicant? What is this student like in the classroom? That’s where the teacher recommendations come in.

The intangible, personal qualities of students are also important to colleges. The college essays tell the admission office a lot. Kids think the colleges don’t really read the applications and essays, but those are the pieces that will sink a student if they don’t answer the questions on the form or they try for humor that falls flat in the essay. When I worked in the Duke admission office we got an essay from a kid who wrote about turning into a werewolf at night, stalking the countryside and wreaking havoc. We knew he was trying to be funny, but we couldn’t help wondering who we would room this kid with.

Every piece of the application process is important. That’s worth remembering, but not worth making you crazy. For example, a year or so ago, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about a kid who played the tuba getting into Penn and everyone signed their kids up for tuba lessons. People think that little details like this can tip the decision, but they really don’t – at least not to the degree people assume they do.

KATE: When people our age applied to colleges, the colleges said they were looking for well-rounded students. Now they say they are looking for well-rounded classes. They’re putting together a well-balanced class. Part of that might be a tuba player. And it might be kids who are very smart in one area and kids who are very smart in another area. The admission office knows what they’re looking for. That can change year to year. If a college is trying to change its image, the admission office might be looking for something different than in previous years.

NANCY: Generally speaking, the admissions decisions in any given year are the result of three factors: the volume of applicants, the qualifications those applicants possess, and the institutional priorities of a particular college that year. How the college weighs those factors is what you don’t see when you are a student or parent. That can make decisions frustrating and hard to understand

KATE: It’s like pick-up sticks. On the rare occasions when we see a decision that really doesn’t make sense, we call the college and say we don’t get it. But generally it’s not something they can explain. Often students think their lives are over if they don’t get into a certain college, but then they are happy where they end up. That’s the point to remember.

NANCY: It’s really important to change the metric of success in the admissions process. It’s not about how many kids get into Stanford or Harvard. What we need to ask is: do Catlin Gabel students have college options? Are they making wise choices, and are they succeeding at the colleges where they enroll? We can answer those questions with a definite yes – and those are the most important markers of success.

Do the most selective colleges provide the best education?

KATE: The most selective colleges do not necessarily provide the best education. The best education is a match between student interests and learning style, and the environment the college has to offer. Many well-known colleges don’t give the attention to undergraduates that less famous smaller schools do. When the graduates of those smaller colleges go to graduate schools they might be more prepared than graduates of bigger schools.

How reliable or meaningful are college rankings such as those published in US News and World Report?

NANCY: The college rankings are not reliable or meaningful. A lot of colleges agree with that and have tried to take themselves out of the rankings. It’s hard to take yourself out because the information is publicly available.

KATE: The rankings are based on who is admitted and their test scores, the percentage of applicants who are admitted, endowment, alumni giving . . . Each year they change the rubric so the same schools are not in the top five year after year. But what’s really most important, and how we want Catlin Gabel to be judged, is not who gets in, but what is the value added of the education. That’s much harder to assess.

How well do colleges know Catlin Gabel?

KATE: Of all the schools in Portland, we probably have the largest number of college representatives visiting our campus. They know us, they know our kids, and they work to recruit our students. They know we don’t inflate grades. They know how well educated our students are because our graduates perform at a high level and are active in their college communities.

NANCY: We do a good job of meeting people at conferences and inviting them to come to Catlin Gabel. We spend time with people who haven’t visited before and we educate them about Catlin Gabel.

Do the Upper School’s uninflated grading standards hinder our students’ with respect to college acceptance?

KATE: Unequivocally no. Just look at the impressive list of where our students go to college. If you compare the high school GPAs of students at selective private colleges to the GPAs of Catlin Gabel graduates at those same colleges you may see that the alumni from Catlin Gabel have lower GPAs. That is because the colleges know from the high school profiles we send with applications that we don’t hand out 4.0s like candy the way some schools do. We are in good company. Prep schools like Andover, Lakeside, Groton, Exeter, and Milton have grading standards similar to ours.

What advice do you have for anxious students and parents?

NANCY: Breathe! Know that you have very competent college counselors. We have worked with a lot of students and parents over the last 25-plus years. We will do our best to make it a process that everyone feels good about in the end. Allow the students to take the lead. This is their show. Let them star in it.

KATE: And realize that the implicit message when you are overly involved as a parent or hire an outside consultant is that you don’t trust your child to do this on his or her own. We want our students to know that they are perfectly capable of making plans for their lives after Catlin Gabel and we will do everything we can to support them.

This interview was first published in the All-School News when Kate Grant was a college counselor. She has since become the Upper School counselor. Nancy Donehower continues in her role as college counselor.