College Counselors and their Magic Powers

College Counselors and their Magic Powers

Scottie Hill
Director of College Counseling
Annie Wright Schools

When I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, I knew several people who made a good living as witches and tarot card readers. Oddly, we had similar gripes about our day jobs. People come to the local witch for the same reasons they always have, but instead of a thatched hut in the woods, now they head to a fourth floor walkup. They say things like: “I want (this person who doesn't know I exist) to love me. What can you do to make that happen? I’ll do anything.” 

College Counselors, think about that for a second. It’s not really any different than a sweet and determined student cornering you in the hall and saying, “I want to know what it takes to go to Harvard. I’ll do anything.” You know this happens. It an annual occurrence for me, as soon as I schedule the PSAT.

If we - witches or counselors - have integrity, similar things happen next. We start to ask questions to get at the heart of the matter. “Why is this person so special?” or “What is it about Harvard, specifically, that serves your educational goals better than other institutions?” and “Why do you think it’s so important to you to get this particular kind of validation?”

Then, we say the hard things: “You seem lovely, but Idris Elba is already married - to a genuine beauty queen - and lives in a completely different country. It’s really unlikely he’s your soul mate.” Or we might say “You know, I’m here to support you in this, but your test scores and GPA are significantly lower than the typical successful application to that particular school.” 

It would be easier, and more lucrative, to do something else. Say, sell them a $1000 magic candle, or (ahem) recommend they pretend to row crew. My witchy friends would say it’s not real witchcraft - and I’ll say it’s not real college counseling - to offer a quick, dishonest fix for a ridiculous amount of money. It’s preying on someone who’s emotionally vulnerable, without actually getting at the underlying concern.

Because it’s never about Harvard. It’s always been about how that person feels about themselves, and how realistic their assessment of life. It’s about how they decided that someone else, or some quantifiable get-able thing always just out of their grasp, will make everything alright. Often, they are great as they are - they just don’t know it yet. 

The hard work is the better work. That’s where the best work lay for my psychic, fortune-telling friends, who’d recommend the love-lorn focus on actually filling out that online dating site profile instead of celebrity fantasies. And ok, they likely also recommended doing that only after you’d taken a bath with organic red rose petals and a proprietary blend of oils while listing all your good qualities out loud, but who am I to argue with the efficacy of a hot bath and some self-affirmation? 

The hard work is the better work for me, too. I actually use the love spell idea with those eager but smitten students: “Saying you have to go to Harvard without knowing anything about the class size, location, or offered majors is a bit like saying you’d like to marry Taylor Swift tomorrow. She seems really nice, but she might also bite her toenails. You don’t know. I’ve had students tell me they’ve hated their time at Harvard - truly. And Taylor’s written tons of songs about being dumped, so clearly she’s annoying on some level. Let’s do some research before you give your heart away to a fantasy, ok?” 

If we have integrity and an ounce of empathy, we poke and prod and ask uncomfortable questions until we get at the thing underneath. We tell that person who will “do anything” what they really need to do in order to be an authentic, happy student at any number of wonderful colleges. Then, because they think we’re a wise Glinda or Gandolf, they often follow the plan. This is the alchemy that happens in our offices. We sit at our desks and read our tarot cards - excuse me, Scattergrams - and make predictions and educated guesses. We give advice based on data, experience - and yes! - intuition. Our gift is in our ability to ask the difficult question at the right time. You may not think of yourself as a witch, a psychic, or fortune teller, but people often approach us as if we are. I’m ok with that. I’ll use my perceived magic powers to do as much good as possible. You should too.

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