Counselors, Students Reflect on College Prep

Some counselors and students question if more or less focus is needed in certain areas of the college preparatory process prior to senior year 

For Form IV students, De­cember is a time defined by applicant notifica­tion emails and the sub­mission of regular decision applications. Many will be nearing the end of the college process. But for Form III, it’s just the beginning.

“People often come with questions that sort of lead you to believe that there is a magic formula [to the college process], but it is much more organic than that,” Director of College Counseling Carol Was­den said on the initial months of Form III college preparation.

The Resume

There are a few things that each student will do in the spring of their junior year: take standardized testing, compile a preliminary list of colleges and create a resume.

But for this year’s appli­cants, the Common Applica­tion did not include space for an online submission of the resume, unlike years in the past, and what used to be a significant part of college prep turned unnecessary.

“What we decided last spring was that we didn’t know how many colleges would take the resume because that infor­mation wasn’t made public,” Wasden said.

However, the Hockaday College Counseling Depart­ment decided to continue with the same resume workshops offered in past years, so that if requested by schools, the stu­dents would already have them completed.

Some students, like senior Lekha Pathapati, believe that there was too much time spent on the resume.

“I wish I would have known that there was not a specific place to insert it for all univer­sities, and I don’t think we need to spend so much time junior year working on it.”

Despite the time spent on her resume, she later added that she did not regret putting one together. For her early ap­plication schools, Pathapati liked having the ability to send it in as an additional document in order to supplement her ap­plication if needed.

Wasden agreed that the resume has undeniable value as a “reference sheet” when students sit down to fill out the activity portions on the ac­tual application. Some students even bring them to college in­terviews.

“It also really helps us as we write our recommendations because we don’t want to forget some wonderful award or lead­ership position,” Wasden said. “It supplements the work we do as we really describe you guys to colleges.”

Next spring with the Class of 2015, the Hockaday College Counseling Department will decide on whether or not to fo­cus as much attention on the resume, especially on the heavy formatting of the document.

In similar fashion to Hockaday, St. Mark’s kept the session on the resume as a portion of their spring seminars on the college process last year. Associate Di­rector of College Coun­seling Casey Gendason thought the informa­tion would be helpful as the resume is not yet entirely obsolete.

“We couple the essays with the re­sume as a summer project,” Gendason said. “Even if a lot of colleges don’t have a place to upload it, it can certainly still be mailed to the colleges.”

Essay Writing

While the resume is an important part of college prep­aration for rising seniors at Hockaday, essay writing is not. However, Gendason believes that many private schools are starting to encourage students to write earlier and that essay writing in the spring of junior year is “becoming a more com­mon practice.”

St. Mark’s and the Green­hill School fit this trend. Both of their English departments focus on styles of writing, such as the narrative, that help when composing self-reflective col­lege essays. St. Mark’s even asks juniors taking Honors English to answer an old Common Ap­plication essay prompt for a major assignment grade. Hockaday’s English Depart­ment does not.

“Our regular, non-AP Eng­lish class senior year does as­sign personal narratives to get students in the rhythm of writing those types of essays,” Greenhill senior Nick Kraus said. However, he added that they do not use old prompts.

But at Hockaday, there has been little movement to in­clude college essay styled writ­ing in the curriculum.

“The students I work with are comfortable and familiar with that style of writing,” Wasden said. “I haven’t seen students who have struggled to the point where we should address it in a system­ic or programmatic way.”

However, some students cite the ana­lytical work during junior year as being unhelpful in the col­lege process in terms of style.

“I wrote a lot of analytical essays at Hockaday, so more narratives definite­ly would have been helpful,” senior Mad­die Bradshaw said.

While Gendason likes the Common Application essay assignment and believes it greatly aids his students, he does not regard it as perfect.

“We definitely think it’s a great tool, but one downside is if an English teacher says that it’s an A paper, they sometimes think they’re done.”

The school also encour­ages the students to give their essays to a current or former English teacher for addition­al advice during their senior year, a practice that Hocka­day does not support for the writer’s sake.

“What is a beautiful piece of writing and what is a highly effective college essay are not always the same,” Wasden said.

“They will give feedback and ad­vice based on their own frames of experience, which can some­times just exhaust the writer.”

However, the time to have multiple people read essays only occurs when students start early, which for some can be the summer. But some seniors, like Bradshaw, do not regret starting the essay writ­ing process at the beginning of senior year.

“I am glad I didn’t write any essays last spring because my topics probably would have changed by the fall,” she said.

“But, I wish I would have writ­ten more essays in August. I didn’t expect there to be such a heavy workload this semester.”

For many students, wait­ing holds added benefit, as some use experiences post-ju­nior year for material for col­lege essays.

“I changed a lot over ju­nior year. In the summer, I had an idea of what I wanted to write about, and I grew even more,” Pathapati said.

Visits and Research

But regardless of the essays and resumes, what can some­times be the most stressful for juniors is the pressure to go on college visits.

“A college visit is a huge in­vestment of time, money and resources. Colleges know that, so they don’t expect it. It’s not a ding if you don’t,” Wasden said.

Instead, Wasden suggests “waiting to see if those schools become a reality” rather than worrying about schools “that may not be there in the end.”

Some students believe that this pressure to visit a large number of colleges can also be alleviated by doing more re­search beforehand.

“If given a do over, I wish I would have researched col­leges more thoroughly before actually going on a visit,” Brad­shaw said. “There’s so much more to picking a college than just location.”

Counselors and students both agree that research is where the reflection aspect of the process begins. When re­searching what they’re looking for in a school and searching for the perfect fit, students often learn more about themselves.

“I think looking in the mir­ror and evaluating who you are and who you want to be in col­lege also starts to make those conversations with students much more exciting and rich,” Gendason said.

Those types of reflective conversations lead to a much more productive and exciting experience.

“It’s a great time of year,” Wasden said. “We’re wrapping [the current seniors] up, and it’s so fun to get started with a new class because every person who walks through the door is a brand new story.”

The Form III students will receive their college coun­selor assignments and junior year PSAT scores in the mail this month. This will mark the begin­ning of their college process.

– Katie Payne