College Preparation in High School

At SAS, a team of college counselors works with juniors and seniors every year to assist them in the process of selecting and applying to colleges and universities. The focus is on helping students find colleges that will be the best fit for them: colleges to which they are admissible, at which they will be successful and happy, and from which they will graduate.

Every SAS student is assigned a college counselor in the spring of sophomore year. At that point, the college counselor will work with the student on questions regarding curriculum planning and course registration. In the middle of junior year, the college counselors begin the college counseling process in earnest, meeting with students and families to talk about ideas and aspirations and to begin building a college list. The college counseling office also offers a wide range of programming for parents interested in learning more about college admissions.

The best way for students to prepare for college is to have robust academic and extracurricular lives. All students will benefit from investing themselves fully in a wide range of courses and from becoming meaningfully engaged in several extracurricular activities. But each student’s college interests and search will be unique. The SAS college counselors are here to work with each individual student and family to talk about the journey ahead.

College Counseling

What Colleges and Universities Consider

When admissions officers in the US review applications, they take a broad range of factors into consideration. At most schools, the first and most important factors are grades, course choices and rigor, and SAT or ACT scores. Most schools in the US will then also look at letters of recommendation, student essays, involvement in activities, and the college’s own institutional priorities. US colleges like to see students who are both engaged in the classroom and who contribute to their communities in various ways.

Each year, between 10 and 20 percent of SAS seniors choose to apply to colleges in locations such as Australia, Canada, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and the UK. Each of these countries reviews applications differently. The SAS High School College Counseling website has information about these countries and the factors they use in their admissions reviews.

At most non-US schools, students are required to be certain of their course of study at the time of application. Unlike in the US, where students can apply as “undecided,” there is rarely such a thing as “undecided” in other countries. This means that students must be prepared to launch into a specific course of university study—and to stay with it for three years or until the degree is completed. Therefore, students interested in studying at non-US schools would generally benefit from deciding on their intended course of college study early on. In consultation with their college counselor, they should plan their course schedule with careful attention to the field that they think they might like to pursue in the future.

Most universities in the UK require that students sit for three AP exams (or five, in a handful of cases) related to their intended area of study. So students who are UK-bound should plan accordingly. Students should also look to round out their studies with Advanced Study (AP and AT) or regular course choices that will allow them to demonstrate their dedication to a particular field. The SAS college counselors are happy to provide additional information about course choices and how they relate to admission in the UK.

College Selection and College

US colleges expect each student to pursue a curriculum that is appropriately rigorous—in other words, one in which the student can be challenged and can also be academically successful. This means that, when choosing high school courses, it is important to take a strong academic program—but it is even more important for students to take classes that they enjoy and in which they can earn strong grades.

The minimum SAS graduation requirements are just that: minimums. All students should look at the recommended column rather than the minimum credits column when deciding how many years of study to pursue in a given subject area. Students should speak to teachers and counselors for advice on exactly which courses to take.

When choosing classes, it is important to know that the level of academic challenge will vary from one student to another and from one subject to another. Our Advanced Studies courses—AP and AT courses—are more challenging, asking students to undertake rigorous and sophisticated assignments and to work independently. When choosing courses, students who enroll in Advanced Studies classes must plan on dedicating significantly more time each day. Students should take this into consideration and be realistic about what they can and will do. Most students do not begin taking APs and ATs until eleventh or twelfth grade.

While both AP and AT courses receive a GPA bump at SAS, no US colleges require that students take Advanced Studies courses. US colleges simply want each student to take a course load that is appropriately rigorous. Most schools in the UK require that students sit for three (and, in a few rare instances, five) AP exams in their area of interest, so students who are UK-bound should plan to take at least three AP classes. Schools in Singapore, South Korea, and a few programs at a handful of universities in Australia will also expect to see some AP scores.

It is important to note that, while US colleges are looking for academically able students who have challenged themselves academically, they also want students who have contributed to their school or community. Colleges are looking for interesting people who will become active members of their campuses. They will seek out students who are significantly involved with and can demonstrate that they care about a few meaningful extracurricular activities. Students should, therefore, plan to balance their academic load with their other interests and activities.

Required CoursesMinimum CreditsRecommended
Science2.03.0 – 4.0
Social Studies**2.03.0 – 4.0
Language (level requirement)***Intermediate***3.0 – 4.0
Visual/Performing Arts1.01.0
Physical Education1.5
Health Education0.5
Catalyst project (begins with Class of 2018)0.5
Minimum Total Credits24.0


Students must participate in an Interim Semester course each year they are at SAS—one of which must be a service course. One Interim service course (0.25 credit) is required.

*Math: All students must earn two Math credits, one of which must be at the level of Geometry or higher.

**Social Studies: US citizens (not dual citizens) are required to earn one credit in US History.

***Language: Two years of study of the same foreign language (e.g., Chinese, French, or Spanish at the Novice, Intermediate level) or an equivalent proficiency in another language is required.

GPA Calculation

Students applying to colleges and universities may be asked to submit a wide range of test scores. In the US, the most important standardized tests are the ACT and the SAT. In the UK, students must demonstrate their preparation for a particular subject area by submitting AP exam scores. A few colleges and universities may also ask students to submit Subject Test scores and/or English language proficiency scores from tests such as the TOEFL or IELTS. Students will work with their college counselors in junior year to develop testing plans appropriate to their college aspirations.

We do not recommend that students begin standardized testing until the middle of junior year (unless a particular test is aligned with a student’s course choice, such as a specific AP exam or Subject Test). When it does come time to start the standardized testing process, students may wonder whether they should take the SAT or the ACT. There is no right answer to this question; most students fare equally well on both exams, and colleges and universities accept the two tests interchangeably. We suggest that students sit for a brief diagnostic of each test and see which of the two tests feels more comfortable and better suits their abilities.

Standardized Testing

We recommend that each SAS student take either the SAT or the ACT at least once between December and April of their junior year. There is rarely any benefit to taking the test earlier than the winter of eleventh grade.

The best way to prepare for the SAT and the ACT is to read a lot and to engage fully in classes and homework. Students can self-study for these tests using a range of preparation books—we have many in the high school library—or by taking advantage of free online programs such as those offered by Khan Academy. We also offer practice testing here at SAS every October in the form of the PSAT9 for ninth graders, the Pre-ACT for tenth graders, and the PSATs for eleventh graders. Some students may choose to enroll in a formal test preparation course; however, please be aware that such test preparation is best done six to eight weeks before the test itself. There is no evidence that engaging in test preparation any earlier than this will help increase test scores.

It is worth noting that there are hundreds of US colleges that no longer require any standardized testing as part of their admissions processes. A list of these colleges may be found at

Additional information about standardized testing may be found in the testing section of the SAS High School College Counseling website.

College Application Policies

Each junior will be provided with a comprehensive list of SAS’s college application policies at the junior family meeting, but we would like to highlight two of our policies here:

Maximum Applications

The maximum number of applications SAS will process is 10 per student. This is a lifetime, worldwide limit. Each application that SAS processes counts as a single application, whether the student is applying to a college for the first time or is reapplying as a first year student. The only exception is this: within the limit of 10 applications per student, the University of California and UCAS system applications each count as one. This policy is in the best interest of our students, encouraging them to research colleges carefully, choose colleges of true interest to them, and focus meaningfully on each application—thus enhancing their chances of admission. Universities are well aware of this policy and wholeheartedly support it. Historically, the average number of applications submitted is between five and six.

Disciplinary Reporting Policy

SAS will disclose any disciplinary infraction resulting in an out–of–school suspension when asked about disciplinary infractions by colleges.