Sandy Spring Friends School


College Counseling FAQs

What services does the College Counseling Office provide?

The College Counseling Office supports students and parents in planning for higher education and life after SSFS.  We host a range of programs for students and parents throughout the school year to educate the community on the college application process and help students identify colleges and opportunities and advocate for their admission.  Some of the services we provide include academic course planning, standardized testing guidance, recommendations for college and campus visit planning, and college application and essay support.

Does my child have to take lots of AP classes to get into college?

The short answer to this question is “No.”  Colleges like to see students challenge themselves with AP courses, but they also understand and value the rigor of the SSFS college-preparatory curriculum. It is important to understand that AP courses will only strengthen a college application if you perform well in them.  Students should never feel pressure to take an AP class just for the sake of it, and they should enroll in the classes that are most appropriate for their strengths and interests.  It doesn’t make sense, nor will it help to overwhelm a student by earning C’s and D’s in any course.

At SSFS, certain AP classes may only be pursued after taking the introductory course in that discipline, whereas students might choose between the college-prep level and AP level. For example, students may take AP Chemistry only after completing a full year of Chemistry, but students will choose or be recommended to take US History or AP US History.

What do colleges look for?

Colleges like to see students challenge themselves both inside and outside of class. They look for students who are both engaged in their learning as well as engaged in the life of the community to which they belong.  A student’s overall grades in school will be most important, but almost every application will ask students to submit an essay or personal statement about themselves. The essay gives students the chance to put “personality” behind the application and talk about their interests and why that college is a good fit for them. 

In addition, what a student does in their spare time says a lot about them. Whether a student has pursued a sport, spent years developing a talent, or made a strong commitment to work or volunteering, what counts most to colleges is what their activities have meant to them and how they have shaped who they are.  

What is the difference between the SAT and ACT? How will my child know which one to take?

The SAT is a multiple-choice test that measures critical reading, mathematical reasoning and writing skills. The ACT measures skills in English, Math, Reading, and Science Reasoning.  Both tests are approximately three hours in length with optional writing portions. Each section of the SAT is scored on a scale from 200-800 while the ACT section are scored on a 1-36 scale. Colleges accept both tests equally and do not prefer one over the other.  They just want students to submit the score that best supports their application.

Traditionally, the ACT has been designed to measure academic content knowledge rather than reasoning skills.  In 2016, the SAT was redesigned to align more with academic content knowledge so the differences between the test are not as drastic as they used to be.  SSFS students will have opportunities to take practice tests for both the SAT and ACT to help determine which test might be best for them.

What’s the best way to learn about different colleges?

There are many books and websites filled with factual, objective, and subjective information about colleges. It may be a good idea to purchase one for your home use and you can find them at any local bookstore and online. 

Most students prefer to research colleges online. There are several college search websites that contain up-to-date information about colleges and universities, scholarships, and other college-related services.  

In addition, the College Counseling Office hosts meetings with college admissions representatives on campus throughout the fall from colleges and universities across the U.S. and around the world. College rep visits, as well as calendar information about local college fairs and events, are available from our website, Academics > College Counseling >  Events & Rep Visits

Some resources available to help students with initial college research are provided below. 


  • The Insider’s Guide to Colleges, The Yale Daily News 
  • The Fiske Guide to College, Edward Fiske
  • The Public Ivies, Richard Moll
  • Colleges That Change Lives, Loren Pope
  • Cool Colleges, Donald Asher
  • Barron’s Profile of American Colleges, Barron’s Education Series