Now What?

Erika Giaimo Chapin
Associate Director of College Counseling
The Hopkins School

As your college counselors, our most sincere hope is that right now, you’re happy.  You’ve spent a long time researching, visiting, writing, pondering, and waiting, and so now we hope that you’re able to look back on your experience as an applicant with great satisfaction.  No doubt you’ve earned it.  

Let’s start with the bad news: if you’ve approached this process in a balanced way, you have probably been denied at one or more places. Take heart, though.  You’re in good company, as most seniors will have some rejections.  By all accounts, this year was harder than ever for applicants to selective institutions. But let’s focus on the positive.    

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There Is No Wrong Way To Spend An Afternoon

Courtney M. Skerritt
Director of College Counseling
The Hockaday School

Like many independent schools around the country, The Hockaday School recently hosted a College Admissions Deans Panel. This event serves as an opportunity for experienced admission officers to share their expertise with students and parents. While on our campus, when prompted with the question about extracurricular involvement, Kirk Brennan, Director of Admission at the University of Southern California, shared a wonderful anecdote about the joy of watching the clouds roll by. In fact, he told the audience, I wish all of the students would just take some time to do just that. I share this story to tell students that they can watch the clouds and still be admitted to college.  Why? Because there is no wrong way to spend an afternoon.

When meeting with students, college counselors are often asked about the resume. “Does my resume seem too light?” a student will ask or I’ll hear “Have I done enough?” My response is always “What do you love to do?” And we dive into a conversation of curiosities, play, and exploration. It is my hope that a student leaves that conversation with confidence in what they’ve already started to explore and, perhaps, new ideas on ways to get further involved.

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What Have You Done For Me Lately? Advocacy in the College Process

Sam Bigelow
Director of College Counseling
Middlesex School

Just as dated as the Janet Jackson 1986 pop smash “What Have You Done For Me Lately,” the concept of the “college placement officer” is of a bygone era. Gone are the days of a college placement officer sitting with a dean of admission and determining who from their senior class can and will be admitted…and who won’t. The term “college counselor” is a title that far more accurately describes the role of the person who, at best, deftly guides students through the murky waters of the college admissions process and serves as an advocate, therapist, and planner as they present their students to colleges. Often, the question of what that advocacy looks like comes up this time of year, when students and their parents anxiously await college news.

Multi-layered Advocacy

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Deferred Early? Don't Fret!

Barbara Tragakis Conner
Director of College Counseling
Foxcroft School

The seasons of college admission are fairly predictable. College Counselors work closely with students through the college exploration and application process in the fall as applications are completed and essays are drafted, edited, and finally submitted with great hopes of inviting admission offers. When these applications are submitted under Early Decision (binding) or Early Action (early notification) plans, admission decisions are typically expected in December or January.

Admission committees often elect to defer an early application when a student’s application would benefit from additional standardized college testing and/or inclusion of the 7th semester grades reflecting work in the senior year, or if they want to consider the application in the context of other applications.

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How Did Your Early Round Go? (Everyone Wants To Know)

Lauren Lieberman
Director of College Counseling
Shady Side Academy

College counselors across the country are asked this question nearly every December, as the Early Action/Early Decision results are released. As a college counselor for more than a decade in independent schools, I’m taken aback each winter by this question. What is it that people are really asking? My answer has always been, “Great.” To which people respond, “No really, how was your early round?”

Although this is my first year in a new school, I anticipate that it will be no different as we approach the middle of December, and that my colleagues and I will be hit with this question with some frequency. The corollary to this question, of course, is, “I heard you had a great early round,” or the dreaded, “I heard that you/that other school had a really rough early round.”

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California Dreamin': An Update on the UC

Rhody Davis
Director of College Counseling
Viewpoint School

With nine undergraduate campuses throughout the state, the University of California is a higher-ed gem. Founded in 1869, the UC offers 150 academic disciplines and serves nearly 239,000 students. This past year, of the 166,000 or so students who applied, 64% were admitted, making the system accessible to a majority of applicants. 

The application process for the UC has unique requirements. Students will use one application for all nine campuses, self-report high school course work and grades, and file during the November 1-30 application period. New this year are the Personal Insight Questions, which replace the 1,000 word, two-essay Personal Statement that was required in the past. Students now need to submit up to 350 words on four of eight prompts. The UC believes that these more targeted questions will allow admission officers to get to know students better.

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Admissions By Design

Joseph Freeman
Director of College Counseling
Beacon Academy

My parents love HGTV, so whenever I go home to visit them, I will consume hours of “Fixer Upper,” “Love It or List It,” and “Design Star.” While I am neither handy nor inclined towards interior design or landscape architecture, I get engrossed by the same inevitable narrative: a homeowner has a vision, competing ideas for achieving that vision are presented, pricey obstacles force the homeowner to revise that vision, designers and contractors work some magic, and a gorgeous result prompts my awe and envy—all in 38 to 40 minutes. Meanwhile, it took me over a month and a couple of shower-door catastrophes to retile my bathroom. By equating my own process to the highly edited version on television, I set myself up for a false comparison. I focused my own renovation too much on the end product, a pretty new bathroom, and not enough on the collaborative design process that would lead me to a realization of my vision.

College admissions and design thinking share much in common. The design process relies on a complex understanding of the user’s (student’s) explicit and implicit needs, prototyping and retesting, devising multiple solutions to the design challenge, empathy, open-mindedness, resilience, flexibility, and collaboration. Just as a team of experts work together to craft a variety of solutions to a design challenge, college admissions also requires collaboration between students, families, college counselors, teachers, advisors, and peers. 

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Getting to "Yes, and..."

Eric Monheim
Director of College Counseling
St. Mark's School

I typically think of “Yes, and…” as a guideline for ordering food as in “Yes, I’ll have the steak and lobster.” Better yet, “Yes, I’ll have the brownie and the ice cream.”

In truth, “Yes, and…” has long served as a foundational principle of improvisational comedy.  Proponents of Design Thinking have more recently adopted the philosophy.  They argue that “Yes, and…” allows for more out-of-the-box thinking. 

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Embrace the "Why"! : Learning to Love the Why _______ College? Supplemental Essay

Sarah Graham
Director of College Counseling
Princeton Day School

“Maybe you’re having trouble writing the “Why?” essay because you don’t actually want to go to this college?” I remarked to the frustrated senior in front of me. Silence. More silence. Then a half-smile and nod.

So we took that college off the list. While this answer seemed obvious to me based on the conversation that preceded it, it hadn’t occurred to the student that this might be the reason behind her struggle to craft the perfect “Why?” essay for the college in question.

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Approaching the College Essay: A Killer First Sentence and Other Important Tips

Meghan Ryan Finegan
Associate Director of College Counseling
The Pingry School

Your college essay is an opportunity for admissions officers to get to know you beyond the numbers that your transcript and standardized test scores reveal. The essay, like the recommendations from your teachers and college counselor, is something that cannot be quantified, and therefore possesses potentially unlimited power. It can tip the scales either way. You want to make sure that it tips them in your favor. To that end, here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

You need a killer first sentence. Your first sentence needs to draw the reader in, and make him or her want to keep reading. Grab the reader with your first sentence!

No topic is too small or too superficial. Be sure you can derive meaning from the event or experience about which you’re writing. (Maybe you lost your front teeth when you were a kid. Maybe you love pudding. Maybe you think your parents are spies.) What does this say about you? Show me who you are through the topic you choose. Be introspective and self-revelatory. Be specific! Avoid generalities and clichés. Zero in on a day, an event, or a moment that evokes an awakening or a new awareness on your part.

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Tips on Nailing the College Interview

Jody Sanford Sweeney
Associate Director of College Counseling
William Penn Charter School

Do any of your summer college visits include an admissions interview? Don’t let your nerves get in the way! These tips will prepare you for the conversation anytime - summer, fall or winter.

Know what’s available to you: Learn what interview options the college offers: on campus; regional alumni interview; at the prospect and/or applicant stage; or, no interviews. The opportunity varies by institution and the admissions web page will share the institution’s policy.

What to expect:
Admissions officers and alumni interviewers enjoy getting to know students. They will try to put you at ease and learn about you, while giving you information about the college. Conversations can take on a “life of their own.” You may connect over a mutual interest and the conversation could take off.

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Optimizing a Conference

How to take advantage of a college admissions and counseling conference

Matthew J. DeGreeff
Director of College Counseling
Middlesex School

An important part of our professional work as college counselors is to attend and participate in regional and national conferences, and I relish these opportunities to hear about new admissions trends, discover better ways to do our work, and connect with old and new friends on both sides of the desk. Over the years, I have kept a list of tips on how to get the most out of a conference, and I hope these 10 ideas help you get the most out of the next conference you attend! Maybe our paths will cross at a conference in the near future.

1. Before the conference, review the list of colleges that will attend and compare it to the list of colleges that your students will apply to. If there are colleges that you don’t know well, make a point to meet the admissions officers at the conference to learn about their colleges and educate them about your school.

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Ten Tips for a Successful College Search (Part 2, Tips 6-10)

Advice for high school students

Scott Herrmann-Keeling
College Counselor
Mary Institute & St. Louis Country Day


Your successful college search is built piece by piece over your entire time in high school. The classes you take, the grades you earn, and what you do with your hours outside the classroom will all be considered by admission officers looking to build communities that fit their own campus cultures. Use the following tips, starting right from grade 9, to help your college search go smoothly:

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Ten Tips for a Successful College Search (Part 1, Tips 1-5)

Advice for high school students

Scott Herrmann-Keeling
College Counselor
Mary Institute & St. Louis Country Day School


Your successful college search is built piece by piece over your entire time in high school. The classes you take, the grades you earn, and what you do with your hours outside the classroom will all be considered by admission officers looking to build communities that fit their own campus cultures. Use the following tips, starting right from grade 9, to help your college search go smoothly:

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Sam Bigelow
Associate Director of College Counseling
Middlesex School

Last Thursday, I closed up my computer for the day at 5:15pm, headed home, and, upon arrival, refreshed my email on my phone, despite the fact that I had checked email just minutes prior. Then, I went outside to enjoy the beautiful spring weather, and when I returned home about 20 minutes later, I refreshed my email again. A lot of college news was hitting the streets Thursday afternoon but, no, I am not an applicant; I am your college counselor.

I try to take advantage of every moment I have with you, starting in junior year, to help empower you with good, accurate information on the qualitative elements of a college and the quantitative (and oftentimes confounding) elements of a college’s admissions standards. What I don’t want is for you to be surprised by the ultimate outcomes. I know that sometimes, despite my best efforts, while you might intellectually understand what I’m saying, your heart might tell you something different and, without sounding condescending, I totally understand.

I feel the frustration of confusing college news and the exhilaration of exciting news alongside you. Oftentimes, my years of experience give me a perspective that allows me to understand a college decision that makes no sense to you. That does not mean I don’t feel your disappointment. That is why I spent time last year and this year helping you and your classmates (and your parents) reframe your expectations when necessary, redefine what success will mean for you, and determine what you truly want (versus simply trying to get into the most selective school).

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Bryan Rutledge
Director of College Counseling
Woodward Academy

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Reflections on the new SAT

Annie Reznik
Associate Director of College Counseling
Moses Brown School

The last time College Board announced a new SAT, I was wrapping up my first year as an admissions counselor at the University of Maryland. When my supervisor asked for a volunteer to become a “resident expert” on standardized test changes, I said yes (just like I did to everything in my early years) and became our office’s “New SAT Expert.” On the dawn of the second new SAT of my career and on the “other side of the desk,” I am in flashback mode; thinking about the new SAT like a college admission officer rather than a college counselor. Below are some of the throwback thoughts that have bubbled up as the SAT change is upon us.

Does the new SAT serve as a stronger predictor of academic success? Is the new SAT a measure that will be useful for college admission?

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What is your Motto? College Admission and Identity
Brennan E. Barnard Director of College Counseling The Derryfield School


PEARLS BEFORE SWINE © Stephan Pastis. Reprinted by permission of UNIVERSAL UCLICK for UFS. All rights reserved.

When I saw this cartoon recently it got me thinking about the concept of mottos and branding.  As college counselors guiding students through the college search and application process, we are in many ways helping them identify their “brand” and facilitating the “marketing” of their story to colleges.  As such, I have developed an exercise for high school juniors as they embark on a year of self-reflection, goal setting and exploring colleges. 

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And Then, You Wait
Kate Boyle Ramsdell
Director of College Counseling, Noble and Greenough School
“First you have brown, all around you have brown… then there are seeds… and a wish for rain.” –Julie Fogliano, And Then It’s Spring  
When my older son was born, it wasn’t long before I was hooked on finding children’s books that I actually enjoyed reading aloud. I could only take so much of Hop on Pop and Moo, Ba, La La La. (Forgive me if those are family favorites!)

I stumbled across And Then It’s Spring during a mid-winter 2015 trip to a local bookstore. There were over 100 inches of snow on the ground in Boston. The book offered the promise of green. My seniors, the ones who hadn’t applied early or who hadn’t gotten in early, were waiting… and waiting… for their college news to drop. For most of them – for us – winter felt interminable. March and April weren’t yet tiny lights at the end of the long, blustery, college tunnel. 

I have thought and written about the college process for a long time now – almost half of my life, which is a bit hard to swallow. And a topic I always come back to is this: why is waiting so darn hard? I know adults tend blame adolescents and their seeming inability to wait on social media and the instant gratification of posting, snapping, and tweeting. But waiting for college news was hard in 1992, when I didn’t have Facebook, or Snapchat, or Twitter. It just was. My life – my future – was hanging out there somewhere, not in cyberspace, but in a file in the back room of an admission office. We didn’t even have the distraction of our phones to help us pass the time! 

One of the things I have to admit I love about being a college counselor is that there is often a task – a tangible “to do” – attached to a process that can often feel stressful and emotionally draining. So, even when I am in the midst of a really hard conversation about a deferral, or a deny, or even a complicated financial aid gapping scenario, there is often a way to take a break from talking and processing, a way to actually do something that might make a difference. I find that kids appreciate this part of the process, too. 
If you are still waiting for your news, and if you’ve been deferred, there are a few things you can do. Here is what we tell our students:
1) Make sure you have a balanced list of regular decision schools. If your list still seems top-heavy, it is not too late to submit one or two applications to colleges that will provide you with a great option come spring! This doesn’t need to be a hasty decision. Maybe you saw a college over the summer that could make it back onto your list because it fits most of your key criteria. Perhaps there is a college that you’ve researched and is a great fit, but where demonstrated interest is not a significant factor in their decision-making process. You’re not at the point of no return with your list, and there are great colleges whose deadlines have not passed! 
2) Gather some information. If you’ve been deferred at a college or university that you really like, work with your college counselor to figure out if you have a reasonable shot at being accepted in April. Many colleges admit fewer than 10% of the students they defer. It’s a good time to come to terms with that notion. It’s also a good time to recognize that you often have to make a decision about EDII without a definitive answer regarding the deferral. Perhaps you should consider an EDII application (if you have not already) to another school that is high on your list and an appropriate EDII target. If you have missed an EDII deadline, but your application is already filed regular decision at a college, some colleges will convert regular decision applications to EDII up to a certain point in the winter. Sometimes, it’s worth a call just to find out. Know your options and build a wise and thoughtful strategy from there.  
3) Write a love letter. Send an update to the college(s) where you have been deferred! I often jokingly refer to it as a “love letter” when I’m describing it to my counselees. It does not need to be long (a typed page is plenty!), but it should be honest, upbeat, and helpful to admission readers. You probably sent your application in early November, and I’m betting that you’ve been busy since then. Give an update on your first semester – share news of a class or project that went particularly well; offer new information about your co-curricular life (maybe you were cast in the winter play, or perhaps you worked on a special project with one of the community organizations that you mentioned in your resume). Reiterate to the admission team why the college remains your first choice! You should not regurgitate your application or your “Why College X” essay, but you can certainly demonstrate that you’ve thought carefully about the fit. Use your own voice and let your excitement shine through. 
4) Don’t be a noodge. I love the word noodge – it’s onomatopoeic. Anyway, it’s great to let colleges know: “I’m still here!” However, they don’t need or expect to hear from you regularly at this stage. You have applied. You have checked your portal to be sure everything is there. You have done your due diligence (and your counselor has, too). 
Then, there really is waiting that has to happen. Julie Fogliano’s optimism about spring holds for me in the college process. The anticipation can feel long, and often it is anxiety provoking. But, while you wait, you should still be doing the things that you love, engaging in your high school community in meaningful ways – learning, even! 
“And then you wait….
And it is still brown, but a hopeful, very possible sort of brown….
And then it is one more week 
and a sunny day, that sunny day that happened right after that rainy day 
and you walk outside to check on all that brown…
and now you have green, 
all around 
you have 
And senior spring. Which is pretty nice, too.