College Counseling Blog
Welcome to the College Counseling Blog by Chris Teare, Director of College Counseling, and Russell Althouse, Associate Director of College Counseling.
Having worked for decades in Europe, the Virgin Islands, and the mainland United States, I have never seen a school community as diverse and inclusive as the one here at Wardlaw+Hartridge. There is no majority of the population here. The students I see in College Counseling are mainly US citizens, some from families who have been in this country for generations; however, a sizable number of other parents were born in countries such as Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, India, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Peru, Turkey and The Philippines, and a significant cohort of our students are Chinese citizens whose parents are usually still in residence in their home country. The international diversity here is profound. So, too, is the economic diversity, with some families having the resources to plan for college without need-based aid, other families needing significant assistance to send their children to school, as well as on to the best possible colleges.
Despite all of these notable differences in background, this community is remarkably inclusive. One especially impressive aspect to me, still a relative newcomer, is the tradition of Senior Speeches. Throughout the year, each Senior must stand before the entire Upper School – students, faculty, and staff numbering well over 300 people, as well as their parents, hosts, or family friends – to deliver a few minutes of their thoughts about their journeys to the present moment. Some of the students are truly funny. One recent speech had the Performing Arts Center crowd roaring with laughter – before the speaker realized that he had misplaced the final page of his talk. Another top scholar concluded his talk with a rap, one that revealed he would be better served by performing with his musical instrument instead. Others are earnest, heartfelt tributes to family, friends and teachers who have been of great help along the way.
Of the great range of subjects, the talks that I find truly stunning are the ones where students feel safe enough to speak – as some have – about deeply personal topics such as childhood abuse, mental health and gender/sexual identity. The courage and poise of these students impresses me greatly. So too do the maturity and sensitivity of the audience. Quick to joke, especially when nervous or uncomfortable, teenagers can be a rough crowd. But Wardlaw+Hartridge students listen silently and intently to talks on even the most challenging topics. They make it safe for students who have been through profoundly difficult times to speak their truth out loud in the most public of settings. Having worked with adolescents in half a dozen secondary schools in different settings for almost 40 years, I thought I had heard just about everything. But I was wrong. Wardlaw+Hartridge is so inclusive that it is safe to take real risks.
Why does this inclusivity matter in the college process? Because colleges and universities trumpet the diversity on their campuses, commonly mailing out brochures and producing slick videos where a sampling of students representing the United Nations is pictured together smiling, all but holding hands and singing Kumbaya. Our idealistic yet grounded students, especially after visiting college campuses, can see, especially in contrast to Wardlaw+Hartridge, that some of these pictures and scenes are clearly staged. They are not authentic to actual daily life on too many campuses.
Wardlaw+Hartridge’s true inclusivity means that the community sincerely tries to “walk the talk” of international and socioeconomic diversity, preparing our students to be not just successful academically in college, but also to understand diversity in an empathetic way, enabling them to know the value of inclusivity and how they might promote similar characteristics in their college community, wherever they enroll.
At this time of year in the college process, seniors are continuing to receive results from their college applications, and juniors are starting the formal college counseling process through regular small-group seminars and large-format lecture classes. All of our students are undertaking a rigorous inquiry to determine which of hundreds, even thousands, of higher education options would be the right next step to take.
We urge each individual student to take a personal approach to the process, to find colleges and universities that truly will be the best possible fit. Fortunately, there are many such schools for each Wardlaw-Hartridge School student. The key to getting the best results is to conduct rigorous inquiry into each of the following aspects of each college under consideration: Size, Type, Location, Personality, Program, Price Tag, and Probability & Statistics.
We ask students to complete exercises to understand where they would best fit in terms of each of these criteria. For Size, some students are best suited to small classes, personal attention, and the chance to explore courses and activities before committing to a major. Other students thrive in larger settings, without need for as much personal attention, and ideally an already clear major and career path.
Type has to do with public or private. Students for whom finances are an essential part of their consideration need to be sure to include public, in-state options, due to the lower cost of attendance, as well as access to federal, state, and in some cases, additional institutional aid. Even out-of-state public institutions generally have lower “sticker prices,” and some colleges have special reduced-tuition incentives for particularly strong applicants.
Location is a major criterion for some students: Do they want to be in a city, near a city, or out in the country? Do they want to be closer to home, or do they have the latitude and desire to go farther away? Do they have family in, or experience with, foreign countries, especially where English language instruction is available? Canada and the United Kingdom, in particular, have great options to consider. Do students like cold weather or warm? Mountains, lakes, or oceans? Students have different life experiences and family systems; these factors can come into play.
Different campuses have different personalities or cultures. Is a traditional place the right fit, or is the student more comfortable in a progressive setting? Some campuses, especially in the Southeast, have vibrant fraternity and sorority social scenes, and high-energy football weekends. Communities, usually in other parts of the country, have no Greek life, no football, and traditions of being on the leading edge of social change. Which is right for the individual?
I mentioned Programs above in the sense that some students are Undecided, others have an idea that it will be Humanities or STEM, and still others are well-informed on a very specific major and career path, perhaps in Architecture, Engineering, Nursing or other programs that require a commitment and limited course options from Day One. These decisions take great self-study, summer course work, and internships or job shadowing to be made well.
Price Tag, as above, does have to do with public and private, in-state and out-of-state; however, it also relates to the college’s resources and ability to be need-blind in considering applications, as well as being able to meet 100% of demonstrated need for those students who are admitted. Unfortunately, only about 40 of the 4,000 possible options have enough money to guarantee both aspects of considering and funding students. Need-based aid is one type of support; merit-based or academic scholarships are also possible at some, but not all, colleges.
Finally, in our Rigorous Inquiry, Probability & Statistics will tell us what an applicant’s likelihood of receiving an offer will be. We work hard to help students build a manageable list (ideally fewer than 10 colleges) that have the Size, Type, Location, Personality, Program, and Price Tag that makes them all great fits. Then we examine whether or not the student is Likely to gain admission, will Possibly be admitted, or is making what we all call a Reach (or Far Reach) with less likelihood of success but still an ambitious desire to take a shot at a “dream school.”
Not quite a full year into my tenure here at Wardlaw+Hartridge, I have told colleagues from colleges, universities, and other secondary schools that ours is truly a Global Day School. In my long career, only the International School of Brussels could compete with W+H for the range of students and parents in our community. I currently work with students who are in some cases Chinese citizens, or the children of African, Central and South American, Filipino, Indian, Pakistani, or Turkish immigrants. Our inclusion is remarkable. Moreover, the Global Scholars Program makes sure that members of our community, some of whom have families who have been in the United States for decades or even centuries, travel abroad and engage with the rest of the world. It all adds up to a remarkable educational experience for our globally-interdependent world.
When it comes to helping seniors make college and university choices for the next step in their educational journeys, the first thoughts are usually about American options. However, other countries are also rich with opportunities. In some cases, these are international campuses of stateside universities. Duke University has a campus in Kunshan, China, and a representative from it visited us this year. New York University has a Shanghai campus, and we hosted a representative from that great option, too. Representatives from excellent Canadian universities, of British Columbia and of Toronto, also visited and met with our students this fall. There are also institutions fully based in the United Kingdom that we have invited to come speak with our students. STEM professors from the University of Glasgow and history faculty from the University of Edinburgh have both met with our W+H students this fall.
As a practical matter, universities in Canada and the United Kingdom make admissions decisions exclusively on the basis of academics, measured by rigor of courses, quality of grades, and strength of standardized testing. The other matters that American colleges often include in making decisions – giving advantages to athletes, legacies, donations, and underrepresented members of the population – are not factors north of the border or "across the pond," making these options ones to consider for strong students who do not have those other factors in their favor.
Thus, in every way, including College Counseling, Wardlaw+Hartridge is globally engaged.
Last week a judge ruled that Harvard has not violated the law in its undergraduate admissions practices. That verdict will be appealed, meaning that the ultimate resolution of this legal challenge may be years away. In the meantime and with the status quo, students and parents will continue to have to understand that the academic criteria of challenging courses, high grades, and high test scores will not, in and of themselves, be enough to earn acceptance to the most selective colleges and universities in the United States.
Increasingly criticized but also still widely used by such institutions are criteria of legacy status, special (usually athletic) talent, development donations, and under-represented socioeconomic groups. In this context, what can a great academic student do, when her/his parents did not attend the institution, when (s)he does not have transcendent talent in a sport, when her/his family cannot donate enough money to build a new facility on campus, or when (s)he is not from a historically disadvantaged group in American society--almost always understood as African-American, Hispanic, and increasingly first-generation, low-income?
One answer is to adopt a Wardlaw+Hartridge School Pioneering Thinker mindset and explore different territories for applications. In this case, it is to look to Canada, the United Kingdom, and other countries where university admission has nothing to do with legacies, athletics, donations, ethnicity, or socioeconomic background. To start at the top level of selectivity, Oxford and Cambridge are often thought of as the Harvard and Yale of the United Kingdom. All four are world-class academic institutions; however, Oxford and Cambridge make decisions purely on academic criteria. They want to see a student's transcript, test scores, and a short essay. That's it. The same goes for other outstanding institutions elsewhere in the UK. These are institutions that put academics, and the ability to score well on SAT, SAT II Subject Test, ACT, and/or AP above all else.
Examples of great universities visiting Wardlaw+Hartridge soon that make decisions in this way are one from the UK, the other two from Canada. Professors from The University of Glasgow in Scotland will be on campus Thursday, October 10, to talk about their offerings in the STEM disciplines, as well as Medicine, Veterinary Medicine, and the Life Sciences. An admissions representative from Glasgow will follow up in visiting us on October 29. That's one opportunity our students should consider. The same goes for the Canadian universities that are coming to visit: on October 24, we will welcome the University of Toronto; on Oct. 25, the University of British Columbia will visit us.
Being a Pioneering Thinker can mean different things in different contexts. When it comes to college applications, it may mean exploring the international landscape for great opportunities that are not usually under consideration in the Boston-to-Washington Amtrak corridor that sometimes dominates our conversations. Pioneering Thinkers once looked across America from the East Coast to seek opportunity; Wardlaw+Hartridge Pioneering Thinkers may well want to look across an ocean or a border.
September is always a busy time in a college counseling office, because students know some universities are already encouraging applications, and the first major wave of deadlines will arrive November 1. In short, there’s a lot to do between now and Halloween.
One exciting aspect of the next two months is how many colleges and universities will send representatives to visit us here at Wardlaw+Hartridge. At present, 105 institutions have scheduled meetings, and we’re in communication with others who may be able to meet with our students. Juniors and seniors who are interested in particular colleges — or are still trying to learn about their options — are guided through a process of identifying which visits to attend and how to sign up for these opportunities.
In part to invite representatives to our campus, also to represent Wardlaw+Hartridge in general, and sometimes to advocate for individual students in particular, college counselors Chris Teare and Russ Althouse visited two dozen campuses in June, July and August. The summer is a great time for us to make visits, because representatives who are in the office have time to talk. They’re not on the road recruiting or behind closed doors reading applications as they are much of the rest of the year.
Colleges and universities we visited this summer were Babson, Bentley, Boston College, Boston University, Bowdoin, Brandeis, Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, Connecticut College, Cornell, Dartmouth, Hamilton, Ithaca, MIT, Northeastern, Providence, University of Rochester, Rochester Institute of Technology, Quinnipiac, Sacred Heart, Syracuse, Tufts, Union and Yale. In addition to campuses, we’ll soon be off to the annual conference of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, where thousands of college admissions officers from around the world will be available for more conversations about Wardlaw+Hartridge and our excellent students
A few final thoughts for now: Head of School Andrew Webster did a masterful job at our opening Convocation by asking students of all grade levels to raise their hands and offer words to live by for our school year together. Among many wonderful observations, my personal favorites were when younger students raised their hands and offered the words, “Perseverance” and “Be Kind.”
On the first, the college process requires all sorts of qualities of students and parents. Among them is the ability to persevere through coursework, standardized testing, application and essay writing, financial aid applications, and sometimes disappointment — all leading toward our shared goal of the best possible college fit at the best possible price. “Grit” is a word that also captures this quality. I say to all involved: Hang in There. We’re in this Together.
Regarding kindness, the college admissions Varsity Blues scandal and the awful experience at Sidwell Friends, a Quaker school where parents denigrated other people’s children, calls to our attention that the legitimate stresses of this process will test us in moments of anxiety and frustration. If we can all remember to treat our children, their friends, our teachers, and college admissions officers with kindness, we will all be better in the end. Whenever you are feeling a bit overwhelmed by the college process, or you simply have questions, please call or email us to talk, perhaps by setting up appointment. Always remember: Never Worry Alone. Call for back up. We’re here to partner with you throughout this process.
Here’s to having a great year together. Whenever we can help you help your child, be in touch.
When I was a senior at a small private school not too far from W+H, I had no college counselor, no college counseling classes, no college programs for families and no college reps coming in to visit. We only had my headmaster who asked each of us where we were considering applying, to which he either nodded approvingly or not. The college application process was simple then - complete a separate application for each college and an essay, all on a paper application that I typed. Common App was not used then, even though it existed. I applied to four colleges, knowing which ones I’d get into and which ones I wouldn’t, and that is exactly what happened.
When my children applied between 1989 and 1998, it was certainly more competitive than when I applied, but less so than it is now, and everything was still paper. My first job as a college counselor was in 2000 at an all-girls Catholic school. I taught college counseling classes to freshmen, juniors and seniors. We did not have the internet to use for research or to send student documents to colleges. I was not even able to get emails at school. Now part of that was the school, as I was able to send and receive emails and access the internet from home. Students were still using paper until I came to Wardlaw-Hartridge.
Like many of our students, I have loved my time at Wardlaw-Hartridge, beginning as a parent with the enrollment of my oldest child in first grade, shortly after the merger of our two schools. Kevin looked forward to each advancing year with anticipation. Every school year brought new friends, more knowledge and additional experiences to help him become a better version of himself.
No matter when our students begin at W+H, they will undergo similar events as my son, even though he started here a couple of decades earlier. Boys then had to wear jackets and ties as part of their uniform starting in third grade, detention meant helping the maintenance staff with physical labor around the school’s property, perhaps raking leaves or picking up trash. Research papers were typed on an actual typewriter. For students today, it means a personally modified uniform, doing homework while sitting down in a classroom and papers written on a computer with the ability to cut and paste, spell check and research on the internet instead of books at the library. It’s all part of the natural evolution of progress.
Our seniors will be graduating soon from W+H and beginning their own new adventures in new places with many more new friends. Just like our graduating seniors, I too will be departing W+H and plan to have many new adventures of my own. And just like to word commencement means a new start, my retirement may be a closing of one door, but it is also a new beginning. None of us will forget all we are taking from here, the knowledge, the friends and the memories. Our lives have been enriched by all of the faculty, students and staff, each of whom have enhanced our own lives. I plan to look back on my time here and will consider a quote often attributed to Dr. Seuss as my source of inspiration, “Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened.” Another favorite of mine from Dr. Seuss’s book, Oh the Places You’ll Go, and one that I hope we can all use as inspiration is, “You’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting so…Get on your way!” I wish only the best to all of our seniors as they take the first step toward their own mountain. And to all of the wonderful people with whom I have had the opportunity to work with over my time here, thank you.
Ongoing revelations from the college admissions scandal make plain the need for regular collaboration and communication between all those involved in helping a high school student find a college that truly fits, because part of what went criminally wrong occurred when some people involved did not know what others were doing – some of which was just plain wrong.
There were of course those fully “in the know”: certainly the independent agent who bribed college coaches to pretend some applicants were recruited athletes when they were no such thing, and arranged for other people to take standardized tests for students, or correct them in a completely unauthorized and unethical way, as well as, of course the parents who paid for such services. They collaborated and communicated very effectively – in criminal ways.
Others, however, apparently had no idea what was going on. Some of those not in the know appear to have included some of the applicants themselves. Their parents did not communicate what they were doing to cheat the application process. Other students of course did know, and apparently in some cases even bragged about what their parents had done for them. These types of collaboration and communication are not in any way proper.
By contrast, starting 30 years ago and more recently during more than a decade as a college counselor in the US Virgin Islands, I have done everything I could to be in touch with both high school and college coaches of students who wanted to continue their sports at the next level, as well as with the admissions office representatives and, when necessary, the athletic liaisons in the admissions office, to make sure we were all collaborating and communicating ethically in the prospective student-athlete’s best interest.
At Wardlaw+Hartridge, I am continuing that process, as well as obtaining contact information for all independent educational consultants, international agents, and outside/club coaches. In order to help our students in the right ways, all of the adult professionals involved in a student’s college process need to collaborate and communicate ethically. The failures in the college admissions scandal highlight the need for us to commit ourselves fully to doing the right things the right way, because there will be additional scrutiny of applicants in the year to come.
To shift from the professional to the personal for a moment, my youngest daughter is soon to sail with her teammates in the US national intercollegiate championships. She was admitted to her university as a sailing recruit because she actually can help make boats go fast. We have great students at Wardlaw + Hartridge, all of whom take standardized tests, some of whom use outside consultants or agents, and some of whom want to play college sports. In all cases, we all have to communicate and collaborate to help them do the right things in the right ways.
The recent college admissions scandal, where unscrupulous parents in some cases paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to cheat their children’s way into prestigious colleges, has many lessons for all of us who care about the college process. This case has become one for the courts to adjudicate, and some of the parents involved may indeed spend time in jail. One type of rigorous inquiry has helped all of us learn more about how truly bad people can be.
All the negatives here can, however, if we learn the right lessons, inspire us to do things the right way going forward, to find what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature,” while trying to make something positive out of the carnage of the American Civil War.
Where rigorous inquiry comes properly into play in the college process is first in self-examination. Students need to study themselves to gain a maturing sense of who they are, what works for them, what doesn’t work, and what they might most like to learn. Having developed something like an internal gyroscope to keep their balance during their search, they need to begin a rigorous inquiry into their options: Small, medium, or large? Public or private? Urban, suburban, or rural? Close to home or far away? Warm or cold? Liberal Arts or career track/pre-professional? Conservative or progressive? Those are first questions, not the last.
Other questions will be: Can I get in? Can I afford it? If I have to take out some student loans, how much is too much to borrow? Rigorous inquiry means asking a lot of questions.
To engage properly in the process, parents also have to examine themselves: How well do I understand my child? Do I know what he or she loves? What he or she honestly can’t abide? Am I willing to listen to the perspectives of other adults? Can I help my child understand the difference between wants and needs? Can I separate my life and choices from my child’s life and choices? Can I build a partnership with my child’s college counselor through open communication? Can I avoid “pronoun confusion” by never saying “WE are applying to….”?
Rigorous inquiry also challenges those of us who do this work as professional college counselors. We need to be lifelong learners. I first visited a college campus and applied in 1975. Since then I have visited and re-visited hundreds of campuses. I have been to most of Princeton Review’s Best 384 Colleges(some many times), as well as others that have not yet made the cut. In recent weeks, I have gone back to NYU, Fordham, Rutgers, TCNJ, Drexel, and Penn. I will soon go to Marist, Vassar, West Point, and the Culinary Institute of America. In June I will visit DePaul, Loyola Chicago, Northwestern, and the University of Chicago. Everywhere I go, I try to engage in the rigorous inquiry that helps me help our students.
So, having started with scandal, let us conclude with success: Wardlaw + Hartridge graduates go to college. Our challenge is to use rigorous inquiry to help them choose one that’s a great fit.
Over the upcoming spring break, 15 students, Mrs. Barnett, Angel Montanez and I will be boarding a flight to Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu, China as part of our cultural exchange program. We will have two weeks to learn more, firsthand, about a place and people with both a proud ancient culture and burgeoning present-day geopolitical significance. Our first hope is that our students will come back more informed about a country that plays an increasing role in our socioeconomically interdependent world. But we want more for them than this one trip: we want to them to want more travel and study.
In the College Counseling Office, we emphasize the latter point in the context of their upcoming transition to higher education. Study Abroad, usually undertaken for a semester or two during the junior year, has long been of tremendous value to undergraduates who have established their academic foundation at their college, then ventured forth into the wider world for immersive study in culture and language, as well as the academic majors they are pursuing. We hope that the upcoming trip will whet the appetites of our secondary school students for more such travel and study at the college level.
The trip might also be of value for those who will come to consider international options for their matriculation after graduation from Wardlaw+Hartridge. As but one example, New York University has still-young yet thriving programs in both Abu Dhabi and Shanghai; indeed, two W+H graduates are currently enrolled at the latter. In addition, Northeastern University’s N.U. in Program offers first-year students the opportunity the begin their studies in either Australia, Canada, England, Greece, Ireland, or Italy. On top of these possibilities, universities based in the United Kingdom, Australia and other countries in recent years have become especially eager to recruit students who have completed high school in the United States.
Educational experiences in our cultural exchanges, and in our Global Scholars program not only plant seeds for further study abroad; they can also lead to professional choices in decades to come. My new colleague in College Counseling, Mr. Chris Teare, recalls that a singing tour to Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East led, years later, to his seeking jobs abroad, and he decided to teach and provide college counseling at the International School of Brussels. He says a key factor that brought him to W+H is our remarkable internationalism, emphasizing that he did not know – 40 years ago – how much that trip would continue to shape his interest and curiosity about the world.
So, while in one sense we go off soon for just two weeks, we know that the experience our students will share may well inform their choices not only in daily life once back home, but in what they will do years from now, whether in college or in their careers. Those of us in the adult community who have been fortunate enough to travel abroad know that we never read the news quite the same way ever again. With the challenges before us, from climate change to international economics, over choices of war or peace, we at Wardlaw+Hartridge make these trips so our students know firsthand the world well beyond Inman Avenue. Time to pack soon!
It’s appropriate that this month’s blog topic is Ethical Conduct, because a key word thus far in our reading in College Admission, the text we’re using in 11thGrade College Counseling, is authenticity.(Those are the editor’s italics for purposes of emphasis.) To return to my English major/teacher days, I might quote Shakespeare’s character Polonius in Hamlet:
“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
As the juniors and I have been discussing, the way to begin the college process is by reflecting on one’s own educational and life experiences, examining them for what works or what does not; which subjects, settings, and people bring out an individual’s best; always trying to develop an internal guidance system for developing a college list that will have places that have the right size, type, location, personality, programs, and price tag for a unique individual to thrive, grow, and graduate – ideally in four years.
We have also been discussing the way an application needs to communicate in the student’s own voice, and not in any sense be “packaged” to make an impression that is not genuine. Ethical conduct in the college process thus means everyone involved – students, parents, teachers and counselors – being honest with everyone else, including college admissions officers. To be ethical is to be authentic, true to your “own self” and to find a college that fits the real you.
Choose groups to clone to: