College Counseling Blog
Welcome to the College Counseling Blog by Susan Swenson and Chris Teare, Co-Directors of College Counseling, and Russell Althouse, Associate Director of College Counseling.
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.
Chris Teare brings a wealth of experience spanning four decades in various roles to his new position as Director of College Counseling at The Wardlaw+Hartridge School. Mr. Teare began the transition into his new role on Dec. 3, joining current Director Susan Swenson and Associate Director Russell Althouse in the department. Mrs. Swenson will be retiring at the end of the school year.
Mr. Teare had visited W+H to meet with students a few times during his most recent job as Senior Associate Director of Independent School and Counselor Relations at Drew University. Let’s learn more about Mr. Teare in a Q&A:
What would you like our Wardlaw+Hartridge parents to know about you?
I would like Wardlaw+Hartridge parents to know that independent school college counseling is the role I have found most rewarding in a multidimensional career that began decades ago. I graduated from Summit High School and attended Amherst College. My first job, at William Penn Charter School, included college counseling starting in 1983. After earning a Master’s Degree in journalism at Columbia University and working in and on television news, I returned to secondary education in 1987. Having been a college counselor in places as different as Philadelphia, Brussels, Palm Beach Gardens, and St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, as well as an Upper School director in Brooklyn and a head of school in Massachusetts, I have worked with students and parents from a wide variety of backgrounds.
What has drawn you to this opportunity at Wardlaw+Hartridge?
What has drawn me to this opportunity is the progress the school has made under the leadership of your Head of School. Andy Webster and I worked closely together from 1993-99, and have had a strong personal and professional relationship ever since. I admire what he has accomplished at Wardlaw+Hartridge and want to help the students and parents in the community in any way I can.
What are you most looking forward to in your new position?
What I am most looking forward to is getting to know students well, and working in partnership with their parents and my colleagues to achieve the best possible results in the college process.
Do you anticipate any challenges in your new position? If so, what are those challenges?
There are always challenges in a new opportunity, and the first I will face will be in getting to know students and their parents as well as possible. I am joining Wardlaw+Hartridge at the start of the junior college counseling process in order to get to know the Class of 2020 well before they file their applications. Wherever I can help current college counselors Sue Swenson and Russell Althouse with the Class of 2019, I will certainly do so.
What have you learned about W+H when you've come to campus to make presentations?
What I have learned in visiting Wardlaw+Hartridge to do college counseling presentations the past three years, speaking to the entire junior class each January, is that there is a fabulous diversity in the student body, a great deal of ability, and a wonderful sense of humor. I have enjoyed my visits very much.
How will your experience on the college side of admissions benefit you in your new role?
My experience on the college side of admissions will benefit students in my increased understanding of how they are recruited, evaluated, and awarded merit and need-based financial aid. In addition, my professional experience as a college counselor and personal experience as a parent who has helped three daughters go to college will now also include empathy for college admissions officers, who have a tremendously challenging job to do. Now that I have “walked that walk,” I will be better able to “talk that talk” with admissions officers in ways that will benefit our students.
How has the college admissions landscape changed during your career?
The greatest change has been in the way rankings have been used to try to quantify the qualitative and made the college process more and more about data, rather than about the human experience of adolescents at a particularly challenging time in their young lives. As we work together throughout the college process, I will always try to keep the unique individual in front of me at the center of what we do. Numbers matter, but the right fit for a young person to thrive, grow, and graduate from the chosen college means the most, and getting that fit right is a matter that includes factors that cannot be quantified. I contributed a post to Forbes.com entitled, “College Decision Involves Head, Heart & Wallet.” While having a head for numbers, we need to have a heart for feelings, too.
Resilience has been described as “that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever.” In our increasingly turbulent and demanding world, within education and beyond, the need for resilience has likely never been stronger. But what does it look like to cultivate resilience? Using character strengths to expand learning, motivation and performance in the face of challenges can teach us how to “come back stronger than ever” and develop a plan to be at our personal best every day.
What are your character strengths? We all possess 24 character strengths in varying degrees which make us who we are. While often simplified as “grit” or “self-control,” character is more than simply individual achievement or a person’s behavior. It is a broad and complex family of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are recognized and encouraged across cultures for the values they cultivate in people and society. Character is the aggregate of who we are; it’s “what’s inside every one of us.” See below for a full listing of these strengths.
Source: Peterson and Seligman, 2004
A teacher’s job extends far beyond academics. While teachers are hired to develop children’s skills and abilities in academics like reading, writing, history, geography, and math, there is a lot more going on in the classroom than meets the eye. Opportunities abound for students to develop hope, fairness, humor, valor, appreciation, and many other character strengths that lead to fulfilling lives. For some teachers, this is a natural extension of the job they do on behalf of children, though building character strengths in children is the mutual responsibility of families, schools, and communities. The acquisition and internalization of various character strengths are telling and reliable indicators of likely future success and the achieving of a life that is not just materially successful, but also happy, fulfilling, and meaningful.
When applying to college, admission officers take into account more than your GPA and test scores. Your character and the personal qualities you can bring to a college are important, too. Personal qualities are not easy to measure, but admission officers look at items such as extracurricular activities, college essays, summer jobs and community service, as well as letters of recommendation for clues to an applicant's character. That’s why you need to think about your goals, accomplishments and personal values and determine how you can best express those in your applications. Here at Wardlaw+Hartridge, during junior College Counseling classes, we complete a number of surveys, helping students discover their authentic selves and determine what values are most important to them
The Virtues in Action Signature Strengths test is an assessment designed to identify a person’s top strengths. These are character strengths that you feel authentic to you, that you frequently exercise and that you find energizing. If you’d like to take a survey to determine those character strengths that you possess, go to http://www.viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths
I know you have heard this many times since September 6, but please allow me to say it once more: Welcome! We are so glad that you are here at Wardlaw+Hartridge, and we look forward to working with you on your college search.
To date, we will be welcoming more than 100 colleges and universities from across the United States and around the world to our school. The list of visitors represents a diverse cross-section of higher education and will ensure that there is something for everyone! All seniors are reminded they must attend at least two visits, while all juniors must attend at least four visits.
Our visit list includes schools you may know, such as Penn State University (pictured at right), Villanova University, George Washington University, New York University, Gettysburg College, and Dartmouth College.
The list also includes international colleges such as: New York University Abu Dhabi, New York University Shanghai, The University of Toronto, and The University of British Columbia.
There are schools who focus on art-related programs: The New School, FIDM, and the Moore College of Art and Design.
And schools that you may not have heard of before, such as Salem College, Johnson & Wales University, Hood College, Juniata College, and the University of Lynchburg.
I encourage our students to attend a mix of visits in order to explore all of the opportunities available to them in the college process. Do not rule out a school because of the name, or because you have “never heard of it.” Just like each of you is unique, so too are the colleges. What fits you best in a college may not be the same as what fits your friends, and that’s okay.
I hope you will all join the College Counseling Office in welcoming our college and university visitors this year!
Leadership is a term that is used to indicate people who are motivated, actively engaged in groups and organizations, and capable of accomplishing things. A significant leadership role or two can make the difference between a decent application and a stellar one.
Colleges and universities want students to be actively engaged in campus life. They invest in the students they admit, and they want them to succeed. Research on college student success shows that students need to be both academically engaged and socially engaged. Students who have been active in leadership positions in high school are considered socially engaged. An article at eCampusTours.com offers several suggestions for taking on leadership roles at your high school.
Typical Leadership Positions for High School Students
- Academic teams (math team, Model UN)
- Arts (theater, band, choir, MadJazz, dance)
- Athletic teams
- Community service
- Employment (afterschool jobs, internships)
- Peer tutoring
- Political organizations
- Publications (school newspaper, literary magazine, yearbook)
- Student government
Keep in mind that actions are more important than titles. Even if you aren't the captain of the varsity soccer team, you could be its leading scorer. You may not be the paper's editor-in-chief, but you can write award-winning articles. Your commitment and achievement in an activity are far more important than your title. Colleges look for quality of involvement rather than quantity of activities. In other words, it is better to be consistently involved in one, two, or three activities and/or sports over a number of years, than superficially involved in eight, 10 or 12 for shorter periods of time. In this way, you may very well have the opportunity to rise to the position of leader of one of your activities because you will have invested the time to rise to that level.
My advice to college applicants: Think about leadership, and think broadly. Get actively engaged in non-curricular endeavors that you feel excited or passionate about. Be motivated. Take initiative. Demonstrate leadership.
With the various guide books, news reports, and advice from family members, the college process can often seem overwhelming, confusing, and difficult to navigate. However, the college journey doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, it can be a fun and rewarding process. Two keys to making the college process more enjoyable are: Communication and Collaboration.
While the student is always the main focus in the college process at The Wardlaw + Hartridge School, we believe that the college process is a partnership between the student, the family and the college counselor. In order for that partnership to run smoothly and effectively, there needs to be open communication and collaboration.
Your counselor is best able to help you find schools that are an appropriate fit if you communicate the details of what you are looking for in a college or university. For example, if you know that you are looking for a school that offers competitive knitting in an urban sitting, it’s best you mention that early in the process. With good communication, a list of schools can be crafted around your specific needs and any other high priority items of interest you might have.
If there are major items in play, such as geographic location or cost, it is best to have an open conversation about those factors early in the process. It can be heartbreaking for a student to go through the whole process, get admitted to their dream school, and then find out that they are unable to attend because of the distance or cost. While we do not want a student to rule out a school based on cost, because financial aid and scholarships are available, we do want the student to have a realistic understanding of what is and isn’t achievable for the family. Some of these topics are difficult to discuss, and while you do not want to hold your children back from their dreams, in the long run it is best to have these open and honest conversations about the realities of going to college at the start of the process.
By collaborating and communicating during the entire college process, we hope to make the college search process as easy and enjoyable as possible. Our goal is that all of our students find a home that fits them best.
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