In an effort to ease high-school anxiety and make applying to college more straightforward, Gunn and Palo Alto high schools are buying into an online database that tracks college information, administrators said recently.
"It's a tool so that students can see where they have a shot getting in. ... Instead of applying to 25 schools, you're applying to five," Kim Cowell, Gunn's assistant principal, said.
By helping students match their profiles to appropriate colleges, the software, created by Washington, D.C.-based Naviance, will reduce unrealistic expectations, Cowell said.
The program's database through which students can match academic interests with specific universities, she said. And a few clicks is all it takes to graph the scores and acceptances — but not the names — of previous Gunn students, she said.
Gunn's guidance department will use the program to help students find the right school, she said.
Palo Alto High School Principal Jackie McEvoy, who used the software previously at San Mateo High School, is supervising a more sweeping adoption at Paly, she said.
The school will use additional features of the program to allow advisors, students, parents and teachers to track college applications online, she said.
Students feel more in control of their high-school experience and less anxious when they can track personal progress, she said.
"What creates more stress for teenagers is unpredictability. The more structure you can put in place to make things consistent, the more you reduce [stress," she said.
Teachers and counselors will be able to post recommendations to let students know the documents are ready and parents can also monitor application progress, she said.
Students can then easily apply to colleges online using the pieces already put together on Naviance, she said.
Paly will likely also use a feature that allows students to assess their learning and study styles, she said.
But it is the searchable database of colleges that should reduce pressure to go to name-brand schools that top "best of" lists, Cowell said.
Gunn's guidance counselors encourage students to pick schools that match their interests and personalities, but "this unfortunately has been a hard sell for some families ... [because some parents are only going to look at Stanford and U.C. Berkeley," she said.
Yet the database will help students focus on interests, she said.
"So if a student wants to major in aeronautical engineering, they would click on [that and find out which schools have that major. Then they would be able to compare their GPA and SATs with those of students who got in," she said.
Gunn and Paly currently share a paper "college book" with previous students' scores, but sorting through the information on a computer will be easier, she said.
The software also contains information about a college's demographics and housing, she said.
Universities provide such data on their Web sites, but Naviance brings it all together and lets students search and compare across hundred of schools, she said.
Each school is paying about $1,530 out of its guidance budget to use the service, and the two shared the cost of daylong training this fall, she said.
Gunn's counselors are already using Naviance, but they are still familiarizing themselves with its many features, she said.
"It's a really powerful tool and it's going to take awhile to get the hang of it," Principal Noreen Likins said.
McEvoy is pushing for faculty mentors in Paly's advisory system to start using the tool by spring, she said.
"Advisory teachers could take their whole advisory [class into a lab and access Naviance and walk through whatever it is they're looking at," she said.
Juniors could begin to research colleges and use Naviance to apply next fall, she said.