Helen Scotte Gordon is the Director of College Counseling at Moses Brown, an independent, college preparatory school in Providence, Rhode Island, founded in 1784 and enrolling 765 boys and girls, nursery through grade 12. Guidance welcomes her perspective to our blog.
The college application process has a distinctly unflattering reputation. As experienced college advisors and guidance counselors well know, most families approach the project with dread.
Seniors worry they’ll fail to meet expectations. Uncertain parents fear the unknown. The media bombards students with worrisome stories about highly-competitive application levels and low acceptance rates. Families wonder how they’ll pay for college. Relentless deadlines loom at every turn.
Sadly, few stop to consider the benefits of the search process. In the college office at Moses Brown, we look forward to our end-of-the-year senior survey, which asks (among other questions): “What did you learn…or how did you grow/change during the college process?” The replies are fascinating—and remind us that applying to college often imparts valuable lessons and insights.
Some replies to our “What did you learn?” query make us chuckle. One young woman answered: “That I will never be applying to college for fun or work as a college counselor.” (Is my job really that unenviable?) Another student, somehow overlooking our second floor suite and constant Naviance messages, wrote: “I learned that there was a college counseling office at school.” One senior quipped: “Do more homework in college.” Our staff favorite, penned by a student newspaper editor, follows:
*Helen, Scotte and Jill (the college office team) are your saviors
Other responses are quite introspective. One young woman appreciated the precious opportunities for family bonding during campus visits. “I loved traveling around and spending time with my Mom,” she shared. Other students recognize a new self-confidence. “I learned that I may not be as bad at writing essays as my English grades suggested,” one young man commented. “Getting into my first choice has made me so much more confident in my academic abilities,” another student summarized.
Our survey sometimes brings out the inner philosopher in our students. “I began to question what I really want from life, and that is how I decided to take a GAP year instead of heading straight off to college,” one young woman reflected. (She will travel to Cambodia, South Africa and Thailand.) Another senior (who has faced adversity with admirable strength) mused: “I realized how big decisions in life are what make you the kind of person you are.” Another senior, who’s attended Moses Brown since age three, stated: “I realized college is not scary, and I can do it.”
Some emphasize the practical benefits of the search. “I learned how to build a resume and profile, which will help me in the future when applying for a job,” one senior noted. One young woman was proud of the discipline she’d developed. “I am glad this hectic process is over,” she explained. “But I’m also happy it happened because it furthered my ability to work independently. Knowing that all this was ultimately my responsibility…will strengthen my adult life.”
Class of 2012 graduates offer differing advice to younger students and their parents. Some advocated efficiency. “Try to find a good college over the summer and get it over quick,” one young man advised. (He’s also a cross-country team runner.) One young woman, who received many acceptances, was more contemplative. “I Iearned it is beneficial to give yourself lots of time in order to decide where the best place is.”
Several seniors stressed that the search should focus on individual needs and goals – rather than outside opinions and prestige ratings. “I feel that during the college process, I learned how to listen to my heart in order to find out what was best for me and where I belong,” reflected one student. “Even though it resulted in a somewhat unusual college choice, I am extremely happy with my decision.” (She will venture abroad.)
Lastly, seniors learned that surprise and discovery play key roles in the college quest. The best-laid plans and intentions don’t always work out. “The school that I initially rejected because I didn’t want to do engineering (and it was too small) is the one I will end up going to! You never really know which school will make its way into your heart,” one class member marveled.
One student’s reply was particularly rewarding. In this Quaker school, we’re proud when students listen to their own instincts and trust their integrity. “I learned that being happy/content with your decisions is all that matters,” one senior concluded.
Deadlines, expectations, overabundant choices, grade and test score pressures: they represent overwhelming and inconvenient aspects of the college search. But in our role as advisors and counselors, we must encourage students to explore and enjoy the growth, confidence, pride, self-knowledge and humorous moments they experience during the application process. Maybe it isn’t quite so miserable, after all.