College counselors prepare for a new class

By May 1, all 198 members of the Class of 2018 will have committed to a college of their choice. For them, it is the culmination of a process that started when they were juniors paired with one of Westminster’s college counselors. In the past two years, the college counselors have helped the seniors navigate applications, essays, college visits, college choices and financial aid.

Notwithstanding the upcoming deadline to reply to colleges, the seniors are in different phases of the college admission cycle. Many who applied early action or early decision have already received replies and decided where they will spend the next four years.  Others, like senior Marlyn Medrano, are waiting for regular decisions to be revealed from mid March through the first week of April.

“Right now, I’m waiting to hear back from schools, but the college counselors still keep up with you and are super helpful,” said Medrano.

As the replies from colleges start trickling in, students, along with their families and counselors will carefully evaluate the choices, plan additional college visits if necessary, and compare financial aid packages before the final decision is made. Though counselors inevitably influence the college choices of their pupils, students always have the final say.

“What we do is to try to help them through it, sometimes we put them in contact with other students who have gone here who are going to that school,” said college counselor Nancy Beane. “We tell them stories from having done this for a long time, but they have to make the choice.”

Guiding the seniors through their final transition in the admission cycle remains a top priority for the counselors. However, the seniors do not occupy all of the counselors’ time or schedule as they did during fall semester.

Waiting in the wings is the Class of 2019.

As of November 2017, the college counselors opened their offices and schedules to the juniors. Nonetheless, Sarbeth Fleming, associate director of college counseling, believes that students should continue to focus on their overall development instead of becoming obsessed with college admissions.

“High school is not about just getting to college but learning a lot of life skills,” said Fleming.

Fall semester of their junior year, students are assigned individual college counselors. The initial meeting is strictly between the student and counselor and is intended to help them establish a rapport rather than jumpstarting the application process.

“Juniors are surprised that it’s not ‘college! college! college!’ in our first conversation,” said Fleming. “Tell me more about who you are as a person, so I can start suggesting colleges that will fit your personality.”

The next meeting includes the junior students and their parents. Beane urges parents to engage in these meetings with an open mind, cautioning against believing that schools that are highly ranked should be their only choice.

“If you think about people who have been highly successful in life with either careers or personally, many of them went to a school that maybe you and I have never even heard of,” said Beane.

Family conferences are followed by another interaction with the juniors in the spring. This serves as a time to guide students through the process of thinking about specific schools.

“We don’t insert our own personal biases into an adolescent’s decision,” said college counselor Anthea Economy. “We help them make pros and cons lists and think through what they like about a particular school [or] what they don’t like about a particular school.”

It is not until the end of the school year that the juniors get a sneak peek into the college application packet—common application and essays. All counselors recommend getting a head start over the summer in order to allow enough time to write stellar essays. With busy summer schedules, it is tempting to subordinate working on applications, which can be a serious mistake.

“From the sidelines, it looks like it will be so easy but when you are out there on that court playing, it is not as easy,” said Beane. “The best strategy therefore is to start early and take small steps while ensuring that students also take care of themselves.”

Often, when juniors meet with their counselors in November, they range from the very savvy to not having any idea about the process but almost all of them share some degree of anxiety.

“I think they are nervous. They are anxious about finding the right school,” said Economy.

Among the juniors, the apprehension, as described by junior Graham Katz, is palpable. Like most juniors at Westminster, Katz carries a challenging course load while balancing activities like his role as head editor for Evolutions— Westminster’s poetry and creative writing magazine.

“It’s very stressful, especially knowing I have to worry about the ACT and SAT in addition to classes like AP Euro and AP Bio,” said Katz.

So, Katz like junior Drew Hockstein, is thankful for the structured process that alleviates some of the anxiety.

“I think college counseling is great,” said Hockstein. “It’s a great resource that a lot of schools don’t have. Westminster does a great job with that.”

With demand far outweighing supply, acceptance rates at several colleges have been declining. Fleming warns juniors against falling for marketing gimmicks intended to prey on their anxiety.

“I think every year there is more misinformation out there and so every year is retraining,” said Fleming. “Unfortunately, there are college piranhas that prey on the college anxiety of not only the students but the parents; [these are] individuals who have never worked on the college side.”

Further, Fleming reiterates that the best way for juniors to approach the admission cycle is with confidence in their counselors and open mindedness to options.

“100 percent of our students get into college and so they won’t be the first one to not get into college,” said Fleming.

The Class of 2019 is indeed in safe hands. With a collective experience of over seven decades, the college counselors at Westminster assure students of guidance and support until each student graduates high school and is accepted into college.  

“If I had any wish to give to my students it would be for them to be open minded about what the possibilities are — possibilities for where you go to school, possibilities for scholarships, possibilities for what you get involved in, possibilities for careers,” said Beane.