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Exterminating College Process Termites

Exterminating College Process Termites

Kate Peltz
Director of College Counseling
Concord Academy

My husband and I were in the midst of a home improvement project. Everything was going smoothly until we took out a large shrub, could better view a post on our porch, and discovered evidence of insect damage.  More than what I could see, what worried me was the places my imagination took me.  I had visions of swarming termites devouring my porch from the inside out. We did not see evidence of any active critters, but how could we be sure we were not facing a major issue?  My mind raced to dark places, causing me to feel both vulnerable and filled with questions.  How big was the scope of our problem?  Is there such a thing as "normal" wear and tear?  Did every very old home have some insect damage? I longed for an expert; I wanted guarantees.  Then it hit me. 

For parents of juniors in high school, worry about the impending college process is the equivalent of termites.  Instead of a manageable project that might even be fun and informative for both student and parent, learning about, preparing for and applying to college feels threatening and destabilizing.  Here are some examples of what college process termites look like when activated: 

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College Essay Advice Gone Wrong

College Essay Advice Gone Wrong

Tyler Sant
Director of College Counseling
Holy Innocents' Episcopal School

Recently the New York Times published an article titled “How to Write a Good College Application Essay.”  The article would have been better titled “Confusing, Out-of-Context Tips for Writing a Disjointed and Inauthentic College Essay.” 

College admission is confusing.  It’s secretive.  Few people get to see the inner workings of how an admission decision is made.  And not surprisingly when things are confusing and secretive, presumably well-meaning, so-called experts emerge to crack the code for the unwashed masses. 

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Slaying your Senior Summer: Taking Full Advantage of Your Summer Vacation

Slaying your Senior Summer: Taking Full Advantage of Your Summer Vacation

Carter Delloro
Associate Director of College Counseling
The Taft School

With roughly a month remaining in your summer vacation (your timing may vary, depending on where in the world you are), what are some of the things you can do as a rising senior and soon-to-be-college-applicant to make sure you’re making the most of your time?

First off, whether you’re working a job to earn some money, showing off your leadership skills at a summer camp, or participating in some other summer enrichment opportunities, give it your all and end with a bang. You want to live these moments to the fullest, because (as any adult in your life will tell you) you won’t get many more summers to devote to self-fulfillment. Learn as much as you can from whatever you’re doing right now, and it will make you a better person, student and employee in the future. 

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The Property Brothers as a Metaphor for the College Visit

 

The Property Brothers as a Metaphor for the College Visit

Peter Jennings
Director of College Counseling
Concord Academy

For most college counselors, the demands of school year limit TV time, but everyone needs a little escapism: mine, I’ll confess, is Property Brothers. Aided by the twin skills of negotiating real estate deals and orchestrating a renovation, Drew and Jonathan Scott help families find and furnish homes.

Maybe this show isn’t complete escapism. After all, to observe the twins listen, assess the needs, and construct a plan, mirrors much of what college counselors do with their students.

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List-Making and Loving The Child You Have

 

List-Making and Loving the Child You Have

Beth Slattery
Upper School Dean
Harvard Westlake School

When my son was in 7th grade, he placed into the highest-level math group. This was a source of great pride for me…until he failed the first three tests. I distinctly remember battling in my head: do I have him move down to a more appropriate level or do I keep him where he is and hope it gets better? I wish I could say I immediately moved him down, but I did not. He stuck it out the whole year, ending with a mercy B- and having no better understanding of algebra than he had 9 months earlier.  Again, I was at a crossroads. This time, I chose the right path for my son. He repeated Algebra (meaning he was no longer in the highest-level math class) and regained his confidence in math.

This incident was about much more than math; it was about deciding to accept the child I had (one who simply didn’t belong in the highest-level course) or spend time wishing he were different, wishing he was the kind of kid who DID belong in the highest-level course. This dilemma comes up all the time for parents at independent schools and is at its worst during the college process, especially as it is time to make “the list.” How many times have kids said “My parents want me to apply to [name any school with a single digit admit rate]”?

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Stop Making Sense

Stop Making Sense

Blythe Butler
Co-Director of College Counseling
Catlin Gabel School

“...and you may ask yourself, ‘How did I get here?’”  - Talking Heads 

We are all storytellers.  Some of us use literature to make sense of the world.  We put together stories or theories based on evidence and experimentation.  We tell ourselves stories to explain why people act the way they do, or how events in the past can inform our current world.  We use stories to make sense of the nonsensical.  

As my students compile their college applications, I encourage them to find their stories, pull the threads of their experiences together to identify their values, find colleges that match those values, and share themselves.  I help a student think about why their choice to learn to play the ukulele might have a connection with their interest in engineering, and which colleges might recognize what a ukulele-playing engineer will bring to their campuses.  I watch them identify the stories a college tells to help students understand its culture and learning environment.  I assist them in imagining how their qualities might fit into the class a college is building, mapping out its story for the future.  I try to help them make order out of a process that can seem disorderly.

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'Tis the season! What to do when your early application is deferred to a regular pool.

'Tis the season! What to do when your early application is deferred to a regular pool.

Jody Sanford Sweeney
Associate Director of College Counseling
William Penn Charter School

You may be one of the many seniors who learned from your early decision or early action college that you were deferred. As a college counselor who works with many seniors every December, I know the deep disappointment that can be felt from this news – I feel it myself for my students. At a time when days are festive and bright, you may feel things are dreary and bleak.  What I do know is that everything works out and happens for a reason; it’s just not clear right now.

Take these steps in your college application process and combine some holiday activities that bring you joy as you embark on an exciting New Year. 

Twelve days of holidays!

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It's an Amazon Prime World!

It's an Amazon Prime World! 

Matthew J. DeGreeff
Dean of College Counseling and Student Enrichment
Middlesex School

With Boston, our nearby neighbor, competing with 238 other cities to be HQ2 for Amazon, I was inspired to dust off a short essay that I started two years ago for the ACCIS blog. 

On the Friday night before a major early deadline, I received an email from one of my seniors wanting to know why her early action college had not received her SAT scores, recommendations, school forms, transcript, and school profile. She had just submitted her application, and she expected everything to be in her “admissions portal” that very instant.  Her current application status was unacceptable! I gently reminded her that it takes time to match electronic records, as well as the eye-opening fact that admissions offices do not work on Saturdays and Sundays. I gently suggested that she had to be patient and wait for everything to come together the following week, well after the November 1st deadline. After this exchange, the first of many over the weekend, it struck me that our students have a different set of expectations around timing, feedback, and deliverable goods in their relationships with websites. I call it the “Amazon Prime Effect.” 

We exist in a world where we can order a Pokemon Sun Nintendo 3DS for our child and have it arrive the next day in our mailbox. Websites like Amazon and Zappos offer us instant gratification for our shopping urges, and frankly they have made our lives easier. Uber drivers arrive within minutes of opening the app on your phone, and we can monitor the drivers as they get closer and closer to us. There is no question that this generation of students is used to immediate connections with their possessions, as well as their peers via texting, Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram (they don’t actually speak to anyone if they can avoid it!). Our students have an expectation that the rest of the world behaves in this consumer nirvana where access to almost anything or anyone you want is at your fingertips. 

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What Do We Teach?: The Lessons of College Counseling

What Do We Teach?: The Lessons of College Counseling

Nicholas Soodik
Associate Director of College Counseling
Pingree School

John Allman, the Head of Trinity School in Manhattan, recently made the New York Times for an unusual reason: his end-of-summer letter to families at his school. In it, Allman seeks to establish a new sense of community at Trinity, an environment that attends to both individual well-being and the common good. The letter makes a point to call out the divisive forces that cause disconnection at Trinity and independent schools more broadly. He worries that students view their schoolwork simply as a means to “set themselves on a path of lifelong superior achievement,” and he censures “consumerist families that treat teachers and the school in entirely instrumental ways.”

His language is powerful and his message important. Allman has me thinking about what I do as a college counselor to advance the larger educational goals of our institution – goals geared toward the building of character and citizenship rather than the next big accolade or award. The letter has led me to ask what I want my students to learn as a result of my college counseling. Surely, the whole point is not just to know the difference between early decision and restrictive early action. As college counselors, what do we teach our students? What makes college counseling integral to their high school education? How does it contribute to the common good?

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On Writing That Darn Essay!

 

On Writing That Darn Essay!

Emily McDowell
Associate Director of College Counseling
The Williston Northampton School

Why is it so hard to sit down at a computer and write the dreaded college essay?  In a world of social-media-driven culture and 140 word-count-maximum postings, many students are terrified to write a two page essay because it is so daunting in nature.  Here are some tips and tricks that have helped students uncover the ease of telling a 650 word story about themselves.

First, some advice on essay topics with the potential to fall flat or raise “red flags:”

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The Lowdown on Demonstrated Interest

The Lowdown on Demonstrated Interest

Jody Sweeney
Associate Director of College Counseling
William Penn Charter School

Spring in independent schools brings many alumni back to their alma maters. One of my former students was visiting me recently, telling me about his college experience. Seeing him reminded me of a conversation I had with an admissions officer over a decision on one of his college applications. The student had a solid academic profile for the institution and the institution’s acceptance rate was well into the double digits. In my mind, and supported by data, it was a “likely” or even “safety” school for him. So when he logged into his account to receive a waitlist you can imagine the surprise and disappointment – for both of us!

When I asked the admissions officer if he could help me understand the waitlist decision, he said that while the student had a competitive academic profile, strong leadership, and involvement outside of the classroom, he had not connected at all with the institution – no campus tour, no emails, no interview. In other words, my student was a “stealth applicant”; an applicant whose first contact with the institution was the application itself. The student learned the hard way that this lack of connection can disadvantage you in an admissions process.

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Keep Calm, Consider a Gap Year

Keep Calm, Consider a Gap Year

Robert S. Clagett
St. Stephen’s Episcopal School
Austin, TX

For us college counselors, this time of year is, as Charles Dickens would say, the best of times and the worst of times. At the same moment that we are celebrating the joys of some of our seniors, we are sharing the despair of others. But it is the sad reality that most of our students’ lives in the past four to eight years have been geared towards the culmination that the past month or so represents for them.

Even more sad is that reaching the conclusion of this process can bring with it a sense of letdown, an “OK, so now what?” feeling, as if getting into college was not a means to the end of becoming a more fully-developed person, but rather an end in itself. And I suspect it is that mindset that leads to much of the infantile behavior that we see in the early months and sometimes even years of college. As a dean at Tufts has been known to say, “Everyone in the US takes a gap year. It’s called freshman year.”

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Now What?

Now What?

Erika Giaimo Chapin
Associate Director of College Counseling
The Hopkins School

As your college counselors, our most sincere hope is that right now, you’re happy.  You’ve spent a long time researching, visiting, writing, pondering, and waiting, and so now we hope that you’re able to look back on your experience as an applicant with great satisfaction.  No doubt you’ve earned it.  

Let’s start with the bad news: if you’ve approached this process in a balanced way, you have probably been denied at one or more places. Take heart, though.  You’re in good company, as most seniors will have some rejections.  By all accounts, this year was harder than ever for applicants to selective institutions. But let’s focus on the positive.    

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There Is No Wrong Way To Spend An Afternoon

There Is No Wrong Way To Spend An Afternoon

Courtney M. Skerritt
Director of College Counseling
The Hockaday School

Like many independent schools around the country, The Hockaday School recently hosted a College Admissions Deans Panel. This event serves as an opportunity for experienced admission officers to share their expertise with students and parents. While on our campus, when prompted with the question about extracurricular involvement, Kirk Brennan, Director of Admission at the University of Southern California, shared a wonderful anecdote about the joy of watching the clouds roll by. In fact, he told the audience, I wish all of the students would just take some time to do just that. I share this story to tell students that they can watch the clouds and still be admitted to college.  Why? Because there is no wrong way to spend an afternoon.

When meeting with students, college counselors are often asked about the resume. “Does my resume seem too light?” a student will ask or I’ll hear “Have I done enough?” My response is always “What do you love to do?” And we dive into a conversation of curiosities, play, and exploration. It is my hope that a student leaves that conversation with confidence in what they’ve already started to explore and, perhaps, new ideas on ways to get further involved.

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What Have You Done For Me Lately? Advocacy in the College Process

 

What Have You Done For Me Lately? Advocacy in the College Process

Sam Bigelow
Director of College Counseling
Middlesex School

Just as dated as the Janet Jackson 1986 pop smash “What Have You Done For Me Lately,” the concept of the “college placement officer” is of a bygone era. Gone are the days of a college placement officer sitting with a dean of admission and determining who from their senior class can and will be admitted…and who won’t. The term “college counselor” is a title that far more accurately describes the role of the person who, at best, deftly guides students through the murky waters of the college admissions process and serves as an advocate, therapist, and planner as they present their students to colleges. Often, the question of what that advocacy looks like comes up this time of year, when students and their parents anxiously await college news.

Multi-layered Advocacy

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Deferred Early? Don't Fret!

Deferred Early? Don't Fret!

Barbara Tragakis Conner
Director of College Counseling
Foxcroft School

The seasons of college admission are fairly predictable. College Counselors work closely with students through the college exploration and application process in the fall as applications are completed and essays are drafted, edited, and finally submitted with great hopes of inviting admission offers. When these applications are submitted under Early Decision (binding) or Early Action (early notification) plans, admission decisions are typically expected in December or January.

Admission committees often elect to defer an early application when a student’s application would benefit from additional standardized college testing and/or inclusion of the 7th semester grades reflecting work in the senior year, or if they want to consider the application in the context of other applications.

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How Did Your Early Round Go? (Everyone Wants To Know)

How Did Your Early Round Go? (Everyone Wants To Know)

Lauren Lieberman
Director of College Counseling
Shady Side Academy

College counselors across the country are asked this question nearly every December, as the Early Action/Early Decision results are released. As a college counselor for more than a decade in independent schools, I’m taken aback each winter by this question. What is it that people are really asking? My answer has always been, “Great.” To which people respond, “No really, how was your early round?”

Although this is my first year in a new school, I anticipate that it will be no different as we approach the middle of December, and that my colleagues and I will be hit with this question with some frequency. The corollary to this question, of course, is, “I heard you had a great early round,” or the dreaded, “I heard that you/that other school had a really rough early round.”

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California Dreamin': An Update on the UC

California Dreamin': An Update on the UC

Rhody Davis
Director of College Counseling
Viewpoint School

With nine undergraduate campuses throughout the state, the University of California is a higher-ed gem. Founded in 1869, the UC offers 150 academic disciplines and serves nearly 239,000 students. This past year, of the 166,000 or so students who applied, 64% were admitted, making the system accessible to a majority of applicants. 

The application process for the UC has unique requirements. Students will use one application for all nine campuses, self-report high school course work and grades, and file during the November 1-30 application period. New this year are the Personal Insight Questions, which replace the 1,000 word, two-essay Personal Statement that was required in the past. Students now need to submit up to 350 words on four of eight prompts. The UC believes that these more targeted questions will allow admission officers to get to know students better.

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Admissions By Design

Admissions By Design

Joseph Freeman
Director of College Counseling
Beacon Academy

My parents love HGTV, so whenever I go home to visit them, I will consume hours of “Fixer Upper,” “Love It or List It,” and “Design Star.” While I am neither handy nor inclined towards interior design or landscape architecture, I get engrossed by the same inevitable narrative: a homeowner has a vision, competing ideas for achieving that vision are presented, pricey obstacles force the homeowner to revise that vision, designers and contractors work some magic, and a gorgeous result prompts my awe and envy—all in 38 to 40 minutes. Meanwhile, it took me over a month and a couple of shower-door catastrophes to retile my bathroom. By equating my own process to the highly edited version on television, I set myself up for a false comparison. I focused my own renovation too much on the end product, a pretty new bathroom, and not enough on the collaborative design process that would lead me to a realization of my vision.

College admissions and design thinking share much in common. The design process relies on a complex understanding of the user’s (student’s) explicit and implicit needs, prototyping and retesting, devising multiple solutions to the design challenge, empathy, open-mindedness, resilience, flexibility, and collaboration. Just as a team of experts work together to craft a variety of solutions to a design challenge, college admissions also requires collaboration between students, families, college counselors, teachers, advisors, and peers. 

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Getting to “Yes, and…”

Getting to "Yes, and..."

Eric Monheim
Director of College Counseling
St. Mark's School

I typically think of “Yes, and…” as a guideline for ordering food as in “Yes, I’ll have the steak and lobster.” Better yet, “Yes, I’ll have the brownie and the ice cream.”

In truth, “Yes, and…” has long served as a foundational principle of improvisational comedy.  Proponents of Design Thinking have more recently adopted the philosophy.  They argue that “Yes, and…” allows for more out-of-the-box thinking. 

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