The American School in SwitzerlandThe American School in Switzerland

The College Counseling Program

The comprehensive, four-year TASIS College Counseling program begins as soon as a student enters high school, and each year is characterized by a particular theme: Awareness in grade nine, Discovery in grade 10, Directions in grade 11, and Decisions in grade 12.

Grade 9: Awareness

In grade nine, the primary goal is to provide students with information that sets them up to be as successful as possible as they move through TASIS. Students complete learning-style and career-aptitude assessments on their own, and through class meetings, individual appointments, and evening presentations for parents, students and their families learn about the many different post-TASIS educational opportunities and their varying entrance requirements. 

Through meetings with the college counselors and the academic dean, students begin to establish a four-year academic and extracurricular plan and explore activities, community service, and summer opportunities that may advance their future candidacy. They also take the PSAT for the first time and learn how to use Cialfo, a powerful research and application management platform.

Grade 10: Discovery

In grade 10, students learn much more about the amazing variety of post-secondary options, gaining an understanding of the different types and categories of colleges worldwide and discovering how to meaningfully research college options with an open and curious mind. They are aided in this process by using Unifrog, a one-stop-shop destinations platform designed to support students as they explore interests and begin to think more deeply about their post-secondary plans.

The college counselors hold class meetings to inform students about the nuts and bolts of the International Baccalaureate (IB) and Advanced Placement (AP) programs, and some may wish to make adjustments to their course planning. All students in grade 10 are also required to take the PSAT in the fall. 

Grade 11: Directions

Grade 11 builds upon the foundational work done in grades 9–10 and is a defining year in the college application process. “Students are not in a position to come up with a good list of school names until they’ve gone through the preceding steps,” explains Director of University and College Counseling Greg Birk. “We encourage them to have an open mind, explore, and research broadly. The goal here is direction. By the time they come back for their senior year, they have a clear direction with their application plans, and they are ready to make their first decision, which is where to apply.”

All students attend mandatory college support classes throughout the year, and the College Counseling Office holds group and individual sessions that guide students through a process of self-assessment designed to help them determine a list of colleges to thoroughly research. Students also develop a standardized testing plan (including the TOEFL/IELTS for those who need to demonstrate English proficiency), receive writing support for their personal statements and application essays, fine-tune their course planning, begin procuring letters of recommendation, and identify their strengths as a college applicant. Both students and parents are invited to attend informative sessions with the College Counseling Office and visiting college admissions officers.

Inviting college admissions officers to hold forums on campus and creating opportunities for students to visit schools around Europe are pivotal components of the 11th-grade experience. No trip has a greater impact than the UK university visits trip that the College Counseling Office began offering in 2008, and the students who take advantage of this opportunity tend to vault to an advanced level of the Directions stage.

Grade 12: Decisions

In grade 12, through both college support classes and individual meetings, the College Counseling Office helps students refine their list of colleges under consideration to a list of those to which they will actually apply; provides guidance, feedback, and support for the successful (and timely) completion of all college application materials, including personal statements and application essays; and ultimately helps students make a final decision from the list of colleges to which they’ve been admitted. 

The college counselors also write a highly personalized letter of reference for each senior and help each student determine if he or she could benefit from taking additional standardized tests.

Students who have diligently followed the process find themselves well-prepared for the defining senior year, which can be packed with a rigorous course load, numerous extracurricular activities, and apprehension about the future.

“The thing that we talk about with students all the time is that you’ve got to go through all the steps,” said Mr. Birk. “It doesn't work if you start out with decisions before you've done these other steps. That’s a formula for a stressful, anxiety-filled senior year.”