Below are a variety of our personal stories of students and families that I have helped through the various aspects of the college process.
The Student That Needed a Boost
Jessica’s father, Bill, called on October 12th to see if I would meet with his daughter, a high school senior. Apparently, the college search and application process was not going well, or really at all, and he was hoping I could help. He thought it best that I meet with Jessica alone, as she was not cooperating with her parents on anything related to college.
I met with Jessica a couple of days later and soon realized she was terrified of not getting into any colleges. Her grades and test scores were not very strong and she could not see a way forward that would end well. As I talked to Jessica about her high school years a couple of patterns began to emerge. First, she had worked 20 hours a week for all four years of high school, and second, she had devoted almost as much time to community service, helping special needs students one on one, and playing a leadership role in fundraising for special needs organizations in her town.
I sat down with Jessica and logged onto the Common Application. We talked about how her paid work and community service would amply fill in the activities section. Then we discussed what essay prompt she might choose, and what experience she wanted to share as part of her application. She decided to write about how she helped a friend with autism get a job at a local establishment. She began to see that the college admissions directors who would be reading her applications would value the things she had accomplished.
At our next meeting Jessica and I discussed her academic record. We discovered that she did better in classes where she got individual attention from the teacher. We decided she should look at schools where she would have small classes and get the additional help she might need.
Jessica applied to several small colleges and was accepted at four. She will be attending Loyola University next fall and hopes to be a Community Development Professional when she graduates.
Dual Citizenship Creates a Dilemma and an Opportunity
On the advice of the college counselor at his American boarding school, Dimitri was all set to apply as an American to colleges in the U.S. After all, he was fortunate enough to have duel citizenship and his family had a house in Cambridge he could use as his home address. (His father, Alex, an American, and his Russian wife have raised their family in Moscow.)
At our first meeting, Dimitri brought me a draft of a college essay he had been working on. In the essay was a description of his early education in Russia, modeled after the Soviet-era gymnasiums, where students are tracked from a very early age and kids are labeled as mathematician, athlete, ballet dancer, scientist etc. This intrigued me, so I asked Dimitri about his Russian school, what it was like growing up in Moscow, what he thought of Mr. Putin, and if he missed home (every day!). Our discussion fascinated and educated me and when I put on my imaginary college admissions director’s hat, it was clear that I would want to admit this kid to my college in order to add diversity and a distinct and uncommon voice to my campus.
By and large, High School students don’t want to think of themselves as dissimilar from their classmates and Dimitri was no different. But when I explained to him how his background could enrich a college campus, from friendly conversations in the locker room about Russian wrestling techniques, to a heated discussion in a classroom about the Middle East conflict, he began to understand. We decided he would apply as a Russian. Of course this was a strategic move but it also sat well with Dimitri. After all, his heart had come to love much of what America has to offer but his soul would always be Russian.
His essay honed in on the difficult time he had assimilating when he came from the strict Russian education system (he was labeled a scientist), to a New England boarding school, and how the school’s visual arts program, something he didn’t have back home, saved him and helped him broaden his horizons. Dimitri is a sophomore at Syracuse University, using his newfound creative skills in the Newhouse School of Public Communications.
The International Student Who Didn’t Know Where to Begin
William and his parents are Dutch citizens living in Montreal where his father works at the UN. He attends a German International School and speaks five languages. He wanted to apply to universities in the US for engineering and environmental science, but no one from his high school had ever applied to American universities, and he didn’t know where to start. My husband works with William’s father, who asked if I could help William with his college process. I wanted to work with William so we bridged the distance with a couple of trips to Canada (where my husband has an apartment) and several Skype sessions.
Not only did I advise William on testing preparation and scheduling, I assisted on the Common Application including essay brainstorming and editing, who to ask for recommendations, and how to ensure William’s guidance counselor followed the correct steps to submit the high school’s portion of the Common App to the American schools. One interesting moment happened when I learned that while William was valedictorian of his class, there were only 12 students in his class! I explained to William and his parents that when a college reviews a student’s transcript they are also looking at the high school profile, comprehensive statistics about the school, so every college would understand the make-up of the school including the size of the senior class.
Like many students when they first seek my help, William had plans to apply to the universities in the US that he had heard of, which were the most difficult for admittance. I helped William understand the current college application landscape including the difficulty of getting into those colleges whose admit rates are in the single digits, and then together we created a college list that was well balanced, keeping some of the most elite schools and adding several others including schools in Canada where he was likely to be accepted. That way he had all of his bases covered. William has been accepted to all of his Canadian schools and four American schools. He’ll be deciding where to attend in the next few weeks.
The Boarding School Student With a Lot of Interests
I worked with Andrew, a boarding school student from Marblehead who had lots of interests and needed assistance in narrowing them down to a focused college search. Andrew was very active in the business club at his school and he had thought about majoring in business, but a winter course in journalism that ended in a trip to Washington, DC, sparked an intense interest in writing and perhaps a career as a journalist. In addition to that, Andrew spent six weeks of his summer between junior and senior year in Northern Canada, where he was involved with scientific research and he sometimes could see himself as an environmental scientist. And to add to the plethora of choices, Andrew didn’t know if he wanted to stay on the East Coast, or try something new by going to college in California.
His opinions seemed to change daily, which was driving his parents crazy! We sat down together and discussed just how normal it is for a high school student to be so undecided and how important it would be for Andrew to apply to colleges that would allow him to make up his mind about what to major in once on campus and taking a variety of interesting classes. (Unfortunately, the choice of where to attend college would have to be made a little sooner!)
Once Andrew had decided what colleges he would apply to, he needed to make the tough choice of where and if to apply early action or early decision. Finally, given his lack of focus on one particular school, Andrew decided to apply early action to Georgetown. With applications to the remaining schools on his list regular decision, even if he got into Georgetown early, he would have until May to decide where he wanted to attend. He was admitted early action to Georgetown, and has also been admitted to three regular decision schools. Of course, Andrew’s decision will be made at the very last minute.
I was able to meet with Andrew at his school, and when he was home in Marblehead. Many of our meetings took place over the summer before senior year as he fine-tuned his personal and supplemental essays and filled out the Common Application and Georgetown’s own application. Of course, we were in touch throughout the fall, as Andrew needed to talk through each step of the final college list and application process.
She Thought She Only Wanted Bowdoin
Tina’s father went to Bowdoin and he has always described his years there as a wonderful, life changing time, so when Tina, the oldest of three children, started her college search, Bowdoin was automatically on the top of her very short list and that is where it stayed. Of course I knew this was a bad strategy, or really no strategy at all, and with as much input as I could get from Tina, I crafted a college list for her. Reluctant to visit or even consider the other colleges I suggested, most of which she was more likely to get into, Tina stuck to her dreams of Bowdoin and applied there early decision in November.
When she received the early rejection from Bowdoin in December, Tina was devastated. We had a long talk about Bowdoin, the other great schools she should consider, and forging her own memorable years at her own college. Having a college list ready for her consideration, with a range of schools that offered most of what Tina felt was essential in a college, made it easier for Tina to shift gears and apply to several colleges by the regular decision deadline.
Now Tina is happier than she ever thought she could be. She is a sophomore at Boston College studying psychology. She has applied for a study abroad program in France, is involved with student government, an avid broom hockey player and enjoys the local music scene. She recently told her mother that BC is a perfect fit, made so by her fellow students, the size of the school, the location (with Boston a short T ride away) and a beautiful campus. She can’t imagine herself at any other college, even Bowdoin.
Mother Was Worried Her Son Would Not Interview Well
It was July, and Jack, a rising senior, was working with me on his Common Application essay and college interviewing skills. His mom, Janice called with a concern. She explained that Jack had been a stutterer since elementary school and that while the condition was much improved, it tended to creep back into his speech when he was nervous. She wanted to know if Jack should mention this problem in college interviews in order for it not to be the elephant in the room. College interviews would be a new challenge for Jack and helping him surmount this problem was a new challenge for me.
When Jack and Janice walked into my office for our first meeting, I had not seen Jack for many years, since my sons and he were cub scouts together. As I told Janice, I was immediately struck by how tall and handsome he was and my impression only improved as I spoke with him and realized what a thoughtful, smart, and kind young man he had become. Yes, I had noticed the hesitation in his voice, but that did not detract from who he was and what he had to say.
Jack and I talked about his speech difficulty. He told me it’s improving but that there is always a chance that it will be a problem in an interview if he gets nervous. I assured Jack that anyone interviewing him was going to see and hear the same wonderful young man that I saw when he first walked through my door. We came up with some tools for Jack to use in case he felt the need to say something in an interview. He was at the ready with “I guess you’ve noticed my voice. I’m happy to say it’s getting better all the time. I’m just a little nervous today.”
I set up three mock interviews for Jack with colleagues of mine who do actual college interviews and Jack was able to practice answering questions posed by strangers, most of which didn’t have definitive answers and required on the spot contemplation.
I am so happy to report that Jack did several college interviews and never needed his new tools. Washington University in St. Louis will be lucky to have him when he starts there as a freshman next fall.
Thank you so much! With your help, my daughter was able to define and articulate her strengths and project them confidently in her college interviews.
At Greystone Educational Consulting, my goal is to help my clients get into a great college, as well as become happy, engaged college students and healthy, successful adults. I am a Professional Member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and proudly serve on their outreach committee.