The Road to College - Finding the Best College for You

October 26, 2020

The Waterford School College Counseling Office guides, supports, and serves our students as they consider an exciting variety of undergraduate options. Waterford’s College Counselors have extensive experience in secondary education and college admissions and have developed a program to educate and encourage students to take responsibility for meeting deadlines and making important decisions. Waterford Upper School students engage in a four-year curriculum that guides students and parents through an exciting process of college exploration—a process that ultimately results in acceptances to top colleges well-suited to student interests and passions.

Waterford’s college counselors begin working with students as they enter Upper School, developing a relationship with students that allows counselors to provide informed guidance and support to students throughout the college process. The Waterford School counselor to student ratio is 1:29, considerably lower than the national (1:450) and Utah state (1:350) ratios (National Center for Education Statistics).


Director of College Counseling Sari Rauscher meets with students.

Sari Rauscher, the Director of College Counseling at the Waterford School, earned her BA at Dartmouth College in Government, where she also competed as a two-time NCAA All-American in Alpine Skiing. She has gained college counseling expertise through the Harvard Summer Admissions Institute, annual professional development conferences, and working with hundreds of talented Waterford students. She has visited over 50 colleges and admission offices in her fifteen years of college counseling at Waterford School. Sari has served as a National Delegate for the National College Admissions Association (NACAC) as well as on the Board of the Rocky Mountain Association of College Admissions Counseling. She currently serves as Chair of the Utah RMACAC College Fair.

Sari began at Waterford School in 1998 as part-time ski coach, while doing post-grad pre-medical coursework, and soon started teaching Senior English electives and Class X Writing Colloquium. She liked it so much she stayed, coaching, teaching PE, English electives and ancient history, and serving as community service advisor and college counselor. She became Director of College Counseling in 2004. She enjoys a good read about U.S. history and explorers, and has recently taken courses in Contemporary China and India. She enjoys hearing from Waterford alumni, and staying up to date on interesting new opportunities in higher education and careers. She enjoys outdoor adventures with students, and makes time for hiking, mountain biking, running, and skiing with her husband and two daughters, Waterford students in the Class of 2022 and 2024. She is a fan of Waterford sports teams, and especially Waterford Ballet, Music and Theater programs.

Nick Grenoble, College Counselor

Nick Grenoble graduated summa cum laude from Connecticut College in International Relations and Economics and has a certificate in College Counseling from UCLA. He brings eight years experience in college counseling, educational services, and tutoring. Prior to his role at Waterford School, he served as the College Preparation Services Coordinator for Jackson Hole and Teton County communities for over five years—offering workshops, classes, presentations, and individual college counseling through the Teton County Library, as well as serving as college counselor for many Jackson area families.

Nick is well-versed in the college application process, testing, financial aid, and connecting electronically and in person with teens. He has a passion for student growth through the transition to higher education. We feel fortunate to have him on our team. He has a warm and engaged approach with students, and values Waterford’s commitment to excellence.

Kimi Miyashima
Kimi Miyashima

It All Starts with Academics

Colleges Look for a Rigorous Curriculum

Colleges recognize Waterford’s academic program as rigorous and complete.

The Waterford School curriculum is the rigorous, challenging, inclusive program colleges are looking for on a college application. Colleges report that course choice and grades are the most important factors in college admission. The standard curriculum at Waterford School is considered rigorous and complete. Students may choose to enrich their curriculum with selected Honors and AP courses. Beginning in ninth grade, students look ahead to future course selections, registration, and planning with teachers, deans, and college counselors.

Waterford School students possess the kind of academic preparation and experience that colleges seek. Highly selective colleges and universities recognize Waterford’s academic program as both robust and rigorous. College admission offices collect data on their admitted students to determine the types of students who will succeed at their schools. School report forms, the school profile, counselor reports, and teacher recommendation letters provide much of this information, in addition to student grades, activities, and test scores. Year after year, college representatives pursue Waterford students because of their demonstrated success at colleges across the country.


  1. Course load and grades on transcript, specifically:
    • rigor of curriculum
    • reputation and standing of school curriculum based on school profile and school history
    • grades earned in each course each trimester
    • grade trend (overall GPA matters less than individual grades and trends)
  2. Standardized Tests: SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests, AP scores.
  3. Student’s approach to academics, qualities as a student: what will teachers say about them?
  4. Extra-curricular activities: What interesting things are they doing, showing “passion” for (can truly be  anything!)?
  5. Essays, supplementary essays, application coherence and presentation
  6. (At some colleges) Student’s “demonstrated interest” in the college.

Freshman Year

Learning, Exploration, and Grades Matter

Course selection is an important part of Freshman year. Waterford college counselors work closely with teachers, deans, and the registrar to ensure that students are taking appropriately challenging courses.


Beginning Freshman year, students and parents have access to Waterford’s online college counseling resources and tools.

Canvas: Waterford’s Learning Management System (to which all parents and students have access). College counselors use Canvas to communicate with students, enroll students in a college counseling course curriculum, and provide best college resources, testing information, suggested readings, and thoughts for parents.

SCOIR: Waterford’s College Counseling Office uses SCOIR, a web-based tool that helps students research and apply to colleges. In January of their Class X year, students will be assigned a SCOIR account. Parents also have access to this tool.


Course selection is an important part of Freshman year, as it is the first year in a student’s academic career that grades factor into their reported GPAs. Waterford college counselors work closely with teachers, deans, and the registrar to ensure that students are taking appropriately challenging courses.


Freshman year is also a time to explore, play, and find passions. Extra-curricular activities are a great way for students to discover interests and distinguish themselves in the college process. During Freshman year, Waterford college counselors recommend:

  • Try something new!
  • Don’t specialize just yet.
  • Be multidimensional in your interests.
  • Use summers also to try new activities.

Sophmore Year

Growth and Challenge: Distinguish Yourself

During Sophomore year, students are encouraged to explore extra-curricular opportunities


The start of Sophomore year is a good time for students to carefully consider their academic trajectory. Waterford School college counselors recommend that students challenge themselves with the most rigorous course of study they can manage. Student GPA also becomes increasingly important, so students need to be mindful of balancing course selection with academic performance.

Academic aspects to consider as they relate to the college process:

  • Colleges value the liberal arts preparation, and appreciate seeing strong coursework and success across the disciplines.
  • Foreign Language: take as many years as you can.
  • Math: If you are interested in engineering, colleges will expect strong math grades and calculus. Interested in business? Math grades and scores are more important than you think.
  • A strong humanities foundation is valued by colleges and employers.


Robotics? Debate? Writing? String Quartet? Soccer? Community Service? No one activity is “the best” for college. During Sophomore year, students should keep exploring while stepping up their involvement in preferred activities. It is also important, however, that students pay attention to balance and health–students may need to drop some activities to keep others going alongside rigorous academics. Waterford School college counselors help students refine their selections and focus on areas where they demonstrate the greatest interest and talent.


PSAT: All Sophomore students take the PSAT on the national test date, a Wednesday morning in mid-October; no registration necessary.


If standardized testing is the weaker part of your application, consider applying test-optional at a college that offers this application program.

Suggested test schedule by class:
Freshman (Class IX): none

Sophomore (Class X):

  • “Practice” PSAT in October
  • AP exams taken in May.

Junior (Class XI):

  • PSAT in October
  • SAT and/or ACT – Register for selected test dates (December-June).
  • AP exams taken in May.

Senior (Class XII):
Possible SAT and/or ACT for 2nd or 3rd time (September-November)
Possible SAT Subject test retake for Math or English Literature

*What’s the deal with SAT Subject tests? A few highly selective colleges require or recommend two SAT Subject Test scores. Many engineering programs will require an SAT Subject Test score in Math 2 and a science subject (physics, chemistry, biology).

Did you know?

In 2021, Waterford School had four National Merit Finalists.

High school students enter the National Merit Program by taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test PSAT/NMSQT—which serves as an initial screen of approximately 1.6 million entrants each year—and by meeting published program entry and participation requirements.

Over the 1.6 million entrants, roughly 15,000 students are selected as National Merit Finalists.

Junior Year

Considering Values, Developing Criteria, Researching…Take Action!

Waterford faculty members provide a Saturday ACT prep course February-April, and Waterford Summer Term has ACT prep on campus.

During Junior year, Waterford School college counselors introduce students to the college search. Students develop personal college criteria based on their strengths and interests and hopes for their college experiences.

In the fall, college admission representatives from top U.S. colleges visit Waterford School one at a time during the school day. Students have an opportunity to meet with representatives and learn more about schools of interest.

The low college counselor to students ratio allows for personalized decision making in the college counseling process; thus resulting in better fit for the students. 

Throughout the year, the college counseling office runs weekly college workshops for juniors that cover topics ranging from how to research colleges, filling out the common application, and asking for teacher recommendations. Beginning in January, college counselors meet individually with students and parents to develop college lists, review course load, and suggest colleges to visit.


Grades in academic and arts courses are critically important this year–an upward trajectory is the goal, especially if colleges can see growth and maturity since Freshman year (Class IX). Waterford School college counselors recommend that students also develop their intellectual interests through independent work and self-directed study.


During Junior year, students are encouraged to take on leadership roles within their extracurricular activities.

Potential College Athlete? Complete college recruiting questionnaires. Sign up for summer camps, showcases, and/or leagues to feature your talents. Construct a highlight video. Register with NCAA Clearinghouse if you are looking at D1 or D2 programs.

Budding Performing Artist? Draft a resume and gather films of performances. Consider summer experiences where you can test this interest in a short time frame. Begin to prepare for auditions for those looking to major.

Aspiring Visual Artist? Begin assembling a portfolio; write Artist’s Statements for each piece you include; consider summer experiences where you can test this interest in a short time frame.


PSAT: October–All Junior (Class XI) students take the PSAT on the national test date, a Wednesday morning in mid-October; no registration necessary.

December: Review PSAT scores; Practice ACT on Saturday in December

Plan for Spring testing in December-January:

  • March SAT
  • April ACT (or February ACT)
  • May or June SAT
  • June ACT
  • AP Exams held first two weeks of May; plan ahead for busy weeks.


Times have changed–colleges across the nation will take either an SAT or an ACT; students send in their best score(s) on either test.

  • College counselors and a Concordance Table can help you decide which is comparatively better.
  • A handful of highly selective colleges require you to send all ACT or SAT scores you have taken in grades 9-12.
  • ACT requires students to work faster–more questions in less time; ACT includes a Science section. SAT has a “Math without Calculator” section and some questions can be trickier.
Waterford School Entrance Exam Scores (Class of 2020)

How much test prep do I need?

How much test prep should you complete? That depends on where you are applying and how much you feel your scores need to improve.

If standardized testing isn’t where you show your best work, there is a growing list of excellent colleges that choose to be “Test Optional” in their admissions (more emphasis is put on grades, courses, and other work). See for a list. High test scores are generally more important the more selective the college is.

Locally, scores are important at BYU–28 is their average accepted ACT score.

Many colleges give merit scholarship money based largely on test scores, with a wide range of scores earning scholarship at different colleges.

Discuss options with your college counselor. There are many local courses available as well as online and free options. Waterford School faculty members provide a Saturday ACT prep course February-April, and Waterford School Summer Term has ACT prep on campus.

Take Advantage of Summer

College Visits and Summer Opportunities

Waterford Upper School students summit Mt. Olympus on a Summer Term trip to Washington

Summer is a terrific time to reflect, to distinguish yourself, to have new experiences, and to explore your passions. Waterford School offers amazing Summer Term programs on campus and abroad for students to take a deeper dive into areas of interest.

Additional recommendations for summer activities:

  • Visit Colleges! Make a plan–visit over Spring Break and Summer Break
  • Community Service
  • Summer Job
  • A pre-college arts or academic program on a college campus
  • ACT and SAT test prep course (class or online)


Waterford School college counselors help students identify a number of colleges they may want to visit. College counselors provide students with the names of Waterford alumni currently attending the colleges they plan to visit. Waterford School college counselors offer the following advice for making the most of a college campus visit:

  • Visit the college’s website to see when tours and information sessions are offered. Register for tour and information session.
  • Smaller colleges may offer interviews or overnight stays to rising Seniors. Do this if you have time, are likely to apply, and it is offered.
  • Visit no more than two colleges a day. Allow yourself extra time to find parking, the building, and still be on time for the campus tour.
  • Plan to have lunch or a meal in the student center so you can see students interacting, test out the food, and ask more questions of other students.
  • Take the lead in asking questions on tours and in information sessions.
  • Write a journal entry and take pictures on each campus. What was most impressive, surprising, etc. on each campus?
  • Email your college counselor with brief notes about which colleges you were excited about and why, or which you will take off your list and why.

What Questions Should I Ask a Student on a Campus Tour?

Student tour guides will introduce themselves, talk about their major and main extra-curricular activities. Follow up with tour guides and ask about aspects of daily life on campus that interest you.

Also seek out other students during your visit and ask a few questions.

Ask how the student chose this college and what were some of the factors considered.

Below are additional sample questions:

Academics and advising:

  • How does the college help First-Year students adjust to college life?
  • How does academic advising work?
  • Have you used the Career Services yet?
  • What kind of internship opportunities are available? Any funded internship or service opportunities?
  • Is access to libraries and open study space sufficient?
  • What is the study atmosphere like?
  • How many hours a week or day do you study?


  • What do you think your school is best known for?
  • What are the hidden gems– what should it be more known for?
  • How would you describe the typical student here?
  • What changes do you see taking place on campus in the next five years?

Student Life:

  • Describe your typical weekday and typical weekend.
  • Influence of Greek life (sororities and fraternities) on social life?
  • How much of a role does the surrounding community play in your life?
  • Are you satisfied with housing, food?
  • What are notable athletics, clubs, community service, etc. on this campus?

Senior Year

Apply, Communicate, Celebrate

The Waterford Seniors displaying their college sweatshirts.

During the fall of senior year, much of the college application work and meetings is individualized. Waterford School college counselors work one-on-one with seniors to finalize college lists, review essays, and complete applications.


Grades in rigorous courses continue to be very important during the first half of senior year, and colleges look closely at senior year course choice. Grades are released around December 1, and sent to colleges as part of a “Mid Year Report” required by Common App colleges. For students who have been waitlisted at preferred colleges, grades continue to be important throughout the winter. Colleges often consider these grades as they decide who to accept from the waitlist.

Again, an upward trajectory is important: admissions officers are judging your most current motivation and preparation to be a college student through course choices and grades earned. Colleges value success across the disciplines, but also look for demonstrated success in your stated field of academic interest.


By Senior year, find an area on campus to be a leader. It could be the classroom, the arts, the athletic fields, robotics, yearbook, etc. Lead through action and not necessarily title. Colleges like to see leadership potential in prospective students.


Many students retake the SAT and/or ACT to maximize their scores after summer preparation. 

SAT: New late August date, October, November.

ACT: Early September, October.

Scores typically take three weeks to report. Most colleges will update scores even after their application is due, but students need to have a strong score by October if applying Early Decision or Early Action.

Can students showcase arts’ talents to colleges?

Colleges value the discipline inherent in time spent in performing and visual arts.

High level arts coursework can help set a student’s application apart, even if students aren’t applying as arts majors.

Students majoring in performing arts or attending conservatory go through a demanding audition process.

Students majoring in visual arts are required to complete impressive visual arts portfolios in photography, painting and drawing, ceramics, or other mediums.

Waterford performing and visual arts faculty help students convey the quality and depth of arts work completed. Waterford School Students have been accepted at and attended the following art schools and conservatories in the past five years (matriculations in bold):


California College of the Arts
California Institute of the Arts
Kansas City Art Institute
Maine College of Art
Pratt Institute
San Francisco Art Institute
Savannah College of Art and Design
School of the Art Institute of Chicago


Johns Hopkins University Peabody Institute
Juilliard School
Manhattan School of Music
New England Conservatory of Music
University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music
Cleveland Institute of Music
Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester
Royal Academy of Music, London
San Francisco Conservatory of Music

The Application Process

The Waterford School College Counseling Office works closely with students to ensure deadlines are met and all documents are appropriately sent to colleges. SCOIR is used to manage the application process.

By October 15:
  • College recommendation requests completed
  • Accurate College Application list recorded in SCOIR
  • Testing plan in place
  • Common Application complete
  • Supplemental essay list compiled and shared with college counselor
  • Early Applications (ED & EA) established and near completion
By November 1:
  • Deadline for Early Decision and Early Action applications at most colleges
By December 1:
  • University of Utah and BYU applications, and many other scholarship applications due
  • All applications near completion
By December 15:
  • All applications complete for January 1 application deadlines
By April 15:
  • Report all outcomes to your college counselor
  • If waitlisted, meet with College Counselor and determine a plan
By May 1:
  • Deposit at the College/University where you plan to attend.
Selective Colleges
Waterford School acceptance rates to top schools

Five-Year Matriculation List, 2017-21:

Where Waterford students are currently attending.

  • American University
  • ​​​​​​​The University of Arizona
  • Arizona State University
  • Auburn University
  • Bard College
  • Berklee College of Music
  • Boston College
  • Boston University
  • Brandeis University
  • Brigham Young University
  • Brigham Young University, Hawaii
  • Brigham Young University, Idaho
  • Brown University
  • California Institute of Technology (CalTech)
  • University of California Berkeley
  • University of California Irvine
  • University of California Los Angeles
  • University of California San Diego
  • University of California Santa Barbara
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Chapman University
  • Claremont McKenna College
  • Clemson University
  • University of Colorado Boulder
  • Colorado College
  • Colorado State University
  • Columbia College Chicago
  • Columbia University
  • Connecticut College
  • Cornell University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Davidson College
  • Denison University
  • DePaul University
  • Dixie State University
  • Duke University
  • Emory University
  • University of Florida
  • Fordham University
  • Georgetown University
  • Goucher College
  • University of Hawaii – Manoa
  • Hamburg University of Applied Sciences (GER)
  • Hampshire College
  • Harvard College
  • University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign
  • Hollins University
  • Kenyon College
  • Lewis & Clark College
  • Loyola Marymount University
  • University of Miami
  • Michigan State University
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Minnesota    
  • The University of Montana
  • Montana State University
  • University of Nevada Las Vegas
  • The College of New Jersey
  • New York University
  • NYU-Tisch School of the Arts
  • University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
  • Northeastern University
  • Northern Arizona University
  • Northwestern University
  • University of Notre Dame
  • Occidental College
  • University of Oklahoma
  • University of Oregon
  • Oregon State University
  • Pacific University
  • University of the Pacific
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Parsons School of Design
  • Pepperdine University
  • Pomona College
  • University of Puget Sound
  • Purdue University
  • University of Queensland (Australia)
  • University of Redlands
  • Reed College
  • Rice University
  • Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Royal Academy of Music London
  • Rutgers University
  • Salt Lake Community College
  • University of San Diego
  • San Francisco Art institute
  • Sarah Lawrence College
  • Scripps College
  • Seattle University
  • University of Southern California
  • USC-School of Architecture 
  • USC-School of Engineering 
  • USC-School of Business
  • Southern Utah University
  • Southern Virginia University
  • Stanford University
  • Suffolk University
  • Swarthmore College
  • University of Tampa
  • Temple University
  • Trinity University
  • United States Naval Academy
  • United States Merchant Marine Academy
  • Utah State University
  • Utah Valley University 
  • University of Utah
  • Vanderbilt University     
  • Vassar College
  • University of Vermont
  • University of Virginia
  • Wake Forest University
  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • University of Washington
  • Washington State University
  • Wellesley College
  • Westminster College
  • Whitman College
  • Willamette College
  • Yale University
Specialized Programs

Music Conservatories

  • Berklee College of Music

Visual Arts Schools

  • Parsons School of Design

U.S. Military

  • U.S. Naval Academy
  • U.S. Merchant Marine Academy


  • University of Auckland (NZE)
  • Hamburg University of Applied Sciences (GER)
  • University of Queensland (AUS)

College search Resources

It is important to take full advantage of the many excellent online college admission resources


With no end to college admissions books, here are a few Waterford School college counselors have found useful for understanding the higher education landscape:

  • College Guides: The Fiske Guide to Colleges and The Princeton Review’s The Best 382 Colleges are our go-to books for objective data, as well as subjective descriptions and quotes on 300+ colleges you are most likely to attend. Online also.
  • Colleges That Change Lives, Loren Pope. A classic that has been updated and spawned a traveling college tour of “CTCL” Colleges: interesting, excellent colleges you may not have heard of yet that serve undergraduates well. See also his book, Looking Beyond the Ivy League.
  • Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be. 2015 version of Pope, acclaimed in the admissions world, by education writer, Frank Bruni.
  • There is Life After College, Jeffrey Selingo. 2016. What Parents and Students Should Know about Navigating School to Prepare for the Jobs of Tomorrow.
  • College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be, Andrew Delbanco, 2012. Columbia Professor who spoke at Waterford School that year.
  • Admission Matters 4th Edition; Sally Springer, Jon Reider, Joyce Vining Morgan. 2017. What Students and Parents Need to Know about Getting Into College.

Online College Search Tools

Virtual Tours

Cost and Financial Data Searches

  • College Net Price Calculators: Every college is required to have one. Use it to get an approximate figure of how much you will likely pay specific to colleges you are interested in.
  • My InTuition: Quick College Cost estimator for 30 selective colleges.
  • College Scorecard  Dep’t of Education’s resource to compare colleges through required and verified data such as cost, graduation rates and salary data.
  • More student stories, financial aid information.

More Information on Colleges

Scholarships and Financial Aid Information

Career and Major Information

Application Sites