Many of our seniors are spending this month researching, worrying about, and ultimately making a college choice. Those who were admitted through Early Decision are spared these challenges, but the majority of the seniors are in the midst of it. This particular year has been more difficult than most, because seniors often have not been able to visit the colleges they were admitted to or are trying desperately to squeeze in some college visits now, on top of Capstones, APs, and other responsibilities. I am an old hand at this, having sent three children on to college, and trust me, it’s never been quite like this. We are truly fortunate to be assisted in this process by two dedicated and insightful college counselors in Mr. Teare and Ms. Honan.
The colleges have become very creative and sometimes relentless as they, too, struggle with unknowns. Admission offices will be responsible for yield, but the pandemic has upended the process to a great degree and they cannot be very certain of where they stand. So they invent entire series of online workshops, panels, speeches, tours, and performances to try to capture our imaginations.
This process has taught me anew what it is I am looking for and what my children respond to, and that is personal attention. The colleges that show they know who my kids are and what their interests are become the ones that stand out from the crowd. Some make extraordinary efforts to do so, and some do not. I generally assumed that the smaller colleges would have an advantage in this regard. While there is a degree of truth in that, I have learned that size is not necessarily the key and some larger colleges have figured out how to do this well.
Personal attention has long been a hallmark of a Wardlaw+Hartridge education. When we succeed in helping students overcome challenges and achieve great results and growth, it is usually because we have paid close enough attention to know what makes them tick or what kind of support they need. When we fall short of that mark, it is often because we have not tried hard enough or found the best ways to truly connect with the student. As a parent and as Head of School, I don’t expect perfection, but I do expect the effort. At the college level, so much attention has been paid to selectivity, with the measure of success being the ability to deny the highest percentage of applicants. That measure says nothing about the college’s commitment to truly knowing and elevating its students. When it is your turn to explore the college landscape and find the best opportunities for your children, take the time to think clearly about what qualities are most important and to ask questions that bring insight into how the colleges deliver these qualities. The thrill of being admitted, often against great odds, soon fades, but the ways the college brings out the best qualities of the student, fascinates them and motivates them, is where the value is found. That work is not quantifiable and not susceptible to ranking, but in the end, it is what counts.