College Prep – An Interview with Jeri Williar, Director of College Placement and Counseling at Admiral Farragut Academy, a private boarding and day in St. Petersburg which prides itself on 100% college acceptance and a matriculation that sets each student up for success. Williar earned her bachelor’s in Sociology from Eastern Illinois University and her master’s in Counselor Education from the University of North Florida. She has over thirty years of experience in college admissions, college registration, high school college placement,and guidance counseling.
Here Williar explains how she helps each student be prepared for the next step and choose the college or university that’s right for the individual.
“Everyone has a path to follow,” explains Jeri Williar, the Director of College Placement and Counseling at Farragut. “It doesn’t matter so much as to how you get there, ultimately it’s about finding the right match and that you are happy. Everything else will follow.”
Explaining the College Application Process Early
Every college or university is unique with its deadlines and application requirements and Fall is the most intense time for seniors. The process can be extremely overwhelming, but if they are prepared throughout high school it can ease the process. I think parents of students of all ages should have an idea of how the system works because college admissions has changed so much over the years. There are more and more people applying so there is more competition and there are more expectations, but choosing a college is also about setting realistic expectations for each student’s abilities and achievements.
Showing a Steady Course Progression
College admission is based on the student’s selection of courses, the rigor of those courses, and the student’s progression. For example, if a freshman student takes two or three honors courses and does well, then the following year the student needs to continue to build on that foundation and take three or four honors courses and maybe an AP course. Once that student becomes a junior, he or she should add a couple more AP courses and maybe a Dual Enrollment course, and so on until graduation. This is much more important than all A’s in lower level courses and reaching a coveted 4.0 or higher.
Having an Attitude for Success
I believe that a student’s longevity at a school, loyalty to the culture, or desire to be involved are all important factors that set a student up for success. Students with these mentalities and personal connections become happier and therefore are more invested in everything they do. They become invested both inside and outside of the classroom with their teachers, their coaches, and their peers, which in turn means they take on more leadership roles, their grades improve, and they gain the confidence to take a more rigorous course load. It’s just as important you choose the right fit for your student in high school, as it is choosing a college.
Improving Test Scores and Being Realistic
The other part of it is test scores. At Farragut, our students begin to take the PSAT in 8th grade to prepare them for the SAT their junior and senior year. Sometimes students will do really well in the classroom, but their test scores aren’t strong. This is when it’s even more important to help them find the right fit. There are so many good schools in the United States (according to a study featured in the Washington Post there are around 5,300 colleges and universities), and there’s a good fit for everyone. It’s just about looking at all the aspects of what the student wants in a school, where they want to be, and what they want to major in which can help them narrow down the right fit.
Choosing the Type of College/University
Each student needs to take in account what type of school they are interested in. An ivy league school, a state school, and a service academy are all looking for different things that set the student apart. Today, an ivy league school is also looking for students who are finding their niche and then doing well in that niche. For example they are joining a few clubs, growing within those clubs, and eventually gaining a leadership role. It’s not about being involved in anything and everything.
Thinking Quantitative and Qualitative
When you look at college admissions, you must be aware of the quantitative and qualitative parts. The quantitative part is the numbers part. Colleges publish their average GPA and their admitted student’s average test scores. I encourage families to look at this data and be realistic about it. This is always the first thing we look at with students at Farragut when they’re choosing a school. We compare these expectations and where the student is at numerically. Sometimes they’re right there, sometimes they’re below it. Sometimes if we’re lucky they’re above it. If they’re below it, it helps them understand the difficulty level of them getting accepted and that maybe this school isn’t the right fit. The qualitative part is the student’s extracurricular activities, sports, college essay, and recommendations. If you’re close to reaching the quantitatives, then the qualitatives could be the tipping point that gets a student in. For example, a student applying to the University of Florida would need an average GPA of 4.3 and test scores somewhere in the 1200s. So a student with a 3.8 and an 1100 on the SAT, is probably in the second or third percentile. That doesn’t mean the student won’t get in, because they’ll still have a fighting chance because UF will look at that qualitative part.
Finding the Right Fit
To me, the most important part of college guidance and counseling is for each student to find the right match. I refuse to rank schools. I encourage each student to self explore; who they are as people, if they want a big or small environment, if they want to live in a specific geographical area, if they want to play a specific sport, or earn a specific degree. I have each student at Farragut find five to six schools that meet their profile and then I have the student to rank them as 1.) a match, 2.) a reach, or 3.) a solid choice school. I ask them to stop and think about all the factors that would make that next step a positive experience.
As a parent, it’s important to put your student’s best interests first, because a happy student will be more successful than one that is not passionate about their degree or college. If you’d like to learn more about college prep at Admiral Farragut Academy, visit www.farragut.org/academic/college-prep.