Vistamar Experience

Life Planning

Life Planning & College Counseling at Vistamar

Life Planning is a distinctive aspect of the Vistamar experience. It is grounded in our belief that high school should help prepare students for happy, productive, and successful lives. It should arm them with the tools they will need to do meaningful work, be engaged with their communities and sustain fulfilling relationships with others.

College planning at Vistamar is intentionally embedded in this broader context of Life Planning for our students. While much of the discussion around college admissions focuses on “getting in,” we remind students that college is an important next step in a larger life plan. Our students apply to college with a focus that extends beyond just the four year experience. The goal is for students to find and choose a school in which they can thrive and excel, a school that will effectively position them for fulfillment in the arenas of work, community, and relationships. It is our belief that this type of approach helps students experience a less frenzied and more appropriate college search process that is informed by big-picture, far-reaching questions.

It is important that students consider their individual values, interests, goals and strengths when researching college options. The more self-awareness they bring to the process, the better their chances of finding colleges that are the right “fit.”

Learn more about Vistamar School's college matriculations.

What to expect from each year:

List of 5 items.

  • 9th Grade

    As 9th graders, you are acquiring your high school “sea legs,” which entails:
    • Developing reflective practices and increasing self-awareness to help you identify your passions
    • Nurturing and maintaining wellness and balance
    • Connecting with your community and class building
    • Communicating with adults
    • Being proactive and taking initiative
    • Exploring service
    • Planning for a productive summer
    9th graders (or more frequently, their parents!) sometimes want to know “what should I be doing in order to get into a good college?  After all, I’m in high school now.”  Don’t worry! Focusing on the skills in the above list is exactly what you should be doing at this time.  We know that colleges are interested in students who know themselves.  The key questions to ask yourself are:  How do I learn best?  What do I love?  What am I good at? And what matters to me?

    Experience has taught us that colleges are looking for students who:
    • Earn high grades because they are engaged with learning and enjoy it
    • Are proactive
    • Get deeply involved in activities they care about
    • Lead, take risks and embrace challenges
    • Are independent, confident and kind
    Your job this year is to begin to develop these habits.
  • 10th Grade

    As sophomores, this is the first real key year, academically. Your grades matter. It’s also time to “step up” your involvement and leadership in those activities that are meaningful to you and explore further service opportunities. Some additional sophomore steps are:

    • Explore Naviance* tools for self-assessment, including “Do What You Are” and Career Exploration surveys
    • Coach for informational interviews
    • Plan for a productive summer
    • Continue to define who you are, what you love, and what you’re good at
    • Become interesting!
    • Start to find and develop your core “story”…
    • “I am someone who ____________________.”
    In addition to looking for engaged, strong students, colleges also look for students who are making an impact on their current community and who will contribute to the college community in some way.

    Remember the overall goal to keep in mind is a fulfilled and productive life, not just college admission.

    *What is Naviance? Naviance is a web platform that Vistamar uses for college and career exploration and counseling. We keep our student counseling files there, and it provides a wealth of resources for students and parents.
  • 11th Grade

    As a junior, your best academic performance is paramount. Challenge yourself with rigorous classes while staying focused on your health and wellness. In addition to getting great grades, now is the time to immerse yourself in leadership roles and deepen your commitment to a couple of activities that are meaningful to you. Colleges are interested in seeing that you have an impact on your community and will bring that kind of involvement to their campus community as well.

    Junior year is the right year to start visiting college campuses and getting a feel for the kind of places that resonate with you. For tips on visits and what to look for, be sure to check out our Campus Visits and Interviews documents, as well as, the document library on Naviance.

    Because this is the year when you will start focusing more intently on college research, ask yourself:

    • What is my preferred learning style and environment?
    • Where will I blossom and shine?
    • Where will I make a mark and get involved?
    • Where will I connect with mentors and have valuable learning/work experiences?
    • Where will I stay well?



    Take the PSAT exam in October.
    • Debrief after scores are returned, and create a My College QuickStart account on the College Board website to begin self-assessment and college search plans.
    • Attend fall Junior/Parent Life Planning evening.
    • Attend a few college rep visits at Vistamar to begin to get a feel for what’s out there.
    • Attend the Vistamar Multicultural College Fair.
    • Familiarize yourself with Naviance and update your resume on the site.  Also take the “Do What You Are” personality survey.
    DO YOUR HOMEWORK!!!  Junior year grades are the key benchmark for college admissions officers, so this is the year for your strongest academic performance ever. Think harder!


    If possible, consider visiting a few colleges over Thanksgiving break.  This is a good time either for a quick road trip or to see local schools of various types to try to narrow down what style of school feels right to you. Remember to fill out evaluation sheets for all schools you see on Naviance. Sit for practice ACT (offered at Vistamar and at various test prep companies around town) to see if you like this test better than the SAT.


    • Get caught up on sleep, focus on good nutrition, and get some exercise every day.
    • Get ahead on your winter trimester studies.
    • Start thinking about what your summer activities might be: test prep? cash job? interning or volunteering? college visits? course to remediate a low grade? mix of this and more?
    • Visit some colleges if possible and fill out evaluation sheets on them.
    • Make your final selection between ACT and SAT and begin test prep


    • Work to secure best possible grades, as this is your most important year academically.
    • Attend Junior/Parent Life Planning evening in February.
    • Sit for practice ACT (offered at Vistamar and at various test prep companies around town) to see if you like this test better than the SAT.
    • Examine your spring calendar to see if you have time and energy to fit in some test preparation for SAT or ACT exams.  If you have room to prepare, consider prepping for an April, May or June sitting for one of these exams.  DO NOT PREP AT THE EXPENSE OF YOUR GRADES.


    • Register for spring ACT, SAT, and SAT Subject tests.  (See Standardized Testing).  School Code: 053973
    • Use Spring Break for local college visits with the goal being to see a variety of types of schools. Don’t forget to fill out the visit evaluation sheets.


    • Secure summer plans: travel, internships, jobs, courses.
    • Register for summer school at local community colleges.
    • Attend the array of college fairs available in the area.
    • Meet with your assigned Life Planning counselor to begin the discussion of which schools you might like to apply to.
    • Take ACT if this is the test you think you might prefer.


    • Prep for and take AP examinations for current AP courses.
    • Work on college essay strategies (UC and Common Application)
    • Take SAT if appropriate.
    • Review senior year course schedule with your Advisor and your Life Planning counselor and register online for classes.


    • Finish junior year with strong academic performances!
    • Take SAT or ACT if you have not yet done so, OR SAT Subject tests if appropriate for you.
    • Submit preliminary college list to the Life Planning Office via Naviance (“Colleges I’m Thinking About” on Colleges tab).
    • Secure teacher recommendations from faculty who know you at your best.
    • Review transcript for accuracy. If you are a transfer to Vistamar, make sure Vistamar has transcripts from prior institution(s) and that these documents are accurate.
  • College Application Training Camp

    Vistamar School is proud to offer rising seniors an opportunity to get a jump-start on college applications during our annual College Application Training Camp. Held at Vistamar during early August, our training camp is a comprehensive, week-long program when seniors and Life Planners work hand-in-hand to:

    • Create and complete Common App and UC accounts
    • Research colleges and create draft list
    • Draft personal statement or Common App essay
    • Receive feedback from peers and Life Planners on draft essay
    • Create resume or “brag-sheet”
    • Conduct mock interviews
    • Organize supplemental questions around similar topics/themes
    • Do a case study exercise led by a college rep simulating an Admissions Committee meeting
    Attending College Application Training Camp is optional, but most rising seniors attend. And our families tell us year after year that this highly productive week is one more reason that our Life Planning approach takes the frenzy out of the college process.
  • 12th Grade

    This is it, your final year in high school! This year you will change and grow a great deal as you prepare yourself mentally for the next stage of your journey, whether that is college, an interim year, or another path that feels right to you. Remember that your state of mind in the fall is going to be different from your state of mind in the spring, so don’t worry if you don’t feel “ready” for what lies ahead.

    Everyone gets ready for transition differently, and Vistamar promises to honor where you are even as we encourage you to look towards creating a future that will bring you happiness, fulfillment, and success.

    Looking Towards College

    Here are our most important pieces of advice for you if your plan is to go right on to college:
    • YOU should be the driver. This is your future and your choice, within the financial parameters set by your parents. Your Life Planning team will ride shotgun, and we’ll ask your parents to be involved from the back seat, supporting you in the ways you tell them are most helpful to you.
    • To make the above happen, communicate with your parents as much as you can during this process. It is particularly important that you discuss the cost of college and the amount your parents will be able to contribute. Do not rule any college out because of the cost since you do not know before you apply what kind of financial aid you will receive, but go into the process with your eyes open.
    • Designing your college list requires RESEARCH and REFLECTION. We will help, but only you can assess whether a college feels right to you, whether it FITS who you are, what you want, and what you need. Approach the process with deep honesty.
    • LOOK BEYOND BRAND. Rankings, prestige, or whether your next-door neighbor has heard of the school are all extremely poor indicators of the kind of education and experience the school will provide you. You want a place where you feel confident, where you feel that you can be your best self. You want a place where you know you can and will get involved. And you want a place that will give YOU opportunities—to stretch, to create, to connect, to push yourself, and to succeed.
    • The college application process is an exercise in project management. Your ability to complete it successfully is one important indication of your college readiness. Understand the time line, stay organized, and you’ll be fine. In fact, you’ll be more than fine. You’ll be empowered, and will be the architect of your own future.

    Looking Towards a Gap Year

    Are you tired of school? Has learning lost its excitement for you and started to feel routine? A gap year can rejuvenate you, make learning exciting and relevant again, and make your college experience that much better. Here are our most important pieces of advice for you if your plan is to take a gap year:
    • Like with college, you should take ownership of your gap year, and reflect on what will best fuel your interests and motivation.
    • Determine your goals for your gap year, discuss a budget with your parents, and begin researching your options.
    • Attend our Gap Year Fair, which usually happens in February
    • Consider going through the college application process in the fall, then planning your gap year in the winter/spring. It is often easier to ask a school you like to hold a spot for you than it is to apply during your interim year.
    • Be sure to keep in touch! We really want our students to come back to Vistamar and tell current students the story of their gap year.

Meet the Staff

List of 3 members.

  • Gregg Murray 

    Director of Life Planning
  • Lupe Chacon 

    Life Planner/ Director of Tigre Scholars Program
  • Julie Crum 

    Life Planning Associate
Vistamar School is a private independent high school in the South Bay region of Los Angeles.

Vistamar School