A step-by-step guide for high schoolers planning to attend college and get accepted the right way, broken down year-by-year.

By Stefani Chudnow

Like most other high school students around the country, there are two things Seaholm junior Lexi Greenberger is thinking a lot about: where she’s going to college and how she’s going to get there.

Even though news recently broke about wealthy parents paying or bribing their children’s way into prestigious schools, most students want to earn their own way into higher education. To navigate the right way to get into college, students and parents should take time to learn about ethical practices for acing standardized tests and applying to colleges.


First, know where to turn for help. Local organizations, such as Keller Clinic in Bloomfield Hills, in addition to providing psychotherapy and learning disability assessments, specialize in preparing high school students for college. Students can also turn to college counselors at their high schools.

“I have an open-door policy,” Frankel Jewish Academy college counselor Ella Dunajsky said. “I want students to come in and tell me their concerns and anxieties so I can at least hear it, understand it, help them reflect and then put it in perspective. This process isn’t as overwhelming if I can walk you through it.”

Other resources students might consider are their very own parents. Not only do parents have a significant amount of life experience to pull from, but they can also be incredibly helpful for kids who feel lost and confused.

“I think it’s best when parents ask you what you’re thinking about and also help you do the research on those colleges that they might think you like — because they are your parents and they know a lot,” Greenberger said.

Grades 9 and 10

Picture this. You’ve just started high school, and people are already telling you that you have to put a resume together and start preparing for the ACT. Just a few months ago, you were finishing middle school. Now, people want you to think about college — and you’re not ready. If this sounds familiar, there’s no need to stress.

“I often suggest starting test prep the summer between 10th and 11th grade because then students aren’t busy with homework or bogged down with extracurriculars,” Keller Clinic tutor Claudia Pearson advised. “They can do a prep course over that summer and then have that foundation for when they’re taking the ACT or SAT in 11th grade.”

Something else to do in the summer before 11th grade, Dunajsky said, is to compare test dates with the school calendar. Try to pick dates that don’t interfere with extracurriculars or other obligations. Moreover, if students are less confident in their test-taking abilities, they should schedule two tests back-to-back with a third one in reserve just in case.

Grade 11

Students should dedicate 11th grade to doing the best they can on the ACT and SAT and maintain good grades, all while keeping an active social life. Once 11th grade ends, however, it’s time to start cracking down on researching colleges, picking out favorites and beginning to work on applications.

“The summer between 11th and 12th grade is when you do your essays and get all your applications done, so that when you start 12th grade you don’t have that hanging over you,” Pearson said. “Some students even travel during the summer to research schools to see if they like the programs.”

Picking the top colleges to apply to can be stressful for many students, including Greenberger.

“At first, it was really hard for me because all of my friends wanted to go to NYU and Michigan, but I was content with not going to a huge name-brand school,” she said. “I want to be very sure in my decision because I don’t want to show up and not have the community I was hoping for.”

Dr. Mitch Parker, owner of the Keller Clinic and rabbi at Congregation B’nai Israel in West Bloomfield, recognizes that this anxiety stems from an intense pressure to get into prestigious schools. However, prestigious schools simply aren’t the best option for most students.

“There’s a tremendous amount of pressure in today’s world for students to get into the most prestigious schools,” Parker said. “Part of what we have to do here is help students come up with a realistic goal for a college education. What are their skills? What are their interests? Where do they want to be? Most often, they can get where they want to be without going to Ivy League schools.”

Grade 12 and Beyond

Senior year is when students should start actively sending in applications. While it’s a time to select which college is going to be top contender, it’s not imperative that graduating seniors pick their majors.

“There’s no reason to know what your major’s going to be when you enter,” Parker said. “Some people, if they go into engineering or similar programs, need to know; but for most others, experiment and try different things the first year or two to figure out what you want to do. It’s a time to take fun courses.”

All in all, the journey to college is best summed up by Dunajsky in a motto she’s been telling students for years: “College is not a prize to be won, but a match to be made.”

The right college will find the right student one way or another, and if that student isn’t destined for a typical four-year college, that’s just as valid, she says.

“Every student has his or her own rhythm,” Parker said. “Some are ready to go to college at age 18 and are highly motivated. Others may need a gap year before they go off to college. Some need to go to the work world for a couple of years and figure out exactly what they want to do. Some may decide that they want to go to a trade school. That’s OK, too.”


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