The college application process is a novel experience for every student. For the first time in their young lives, students are asked to make themselves vulnerable to seemingly faceless admissions officers who they perceive as gatekeepers to their post-secondary journeys. Students often feel pressured to make every piece of their application pristine; to write the “perfect” essay; to carefully cultivate a resume, application, and transcript that demonstrates their level of preparation for an institution of higher education. While there is some grain of truth to this perception (proofreading is strongly encouraged), it is important for students and families to remember that they are the ones ultimately in control. Each senior will walk across the stage at graduation. Each student will select a college, university, or post-secondary plan that will serve their needs and allow them to continue their growth as a student and individual.
The importance of wellness in the college process
Senior year is the culmination of students’ Wellington experience. While we expect seniors to continue working hard and challenging themselves, we also encourage them to enjoy this season of their lives. By engaging in the programming available on LEAP Days and utilizing the individual support available to them, Wellington students have the ability to take informed action early, retain balance in their young lives, own their experience, and prevent the application process from dominating their high school years. Subsequently, students are better able to keep wellness at the forefront during the college search and application process.
Embracing the process with inquiry and a growth mindset
Ownership in their processes begins early in high school as Wellington encourages students to participate in clubs and organizations that spark their interests and to select courses and projects that ignite a passion to inquire and learn more. Spanish class may translate into service hours as a translator, a leadership position in Spanish Club, and eventually a double major. Perhaps a POOT (Place Out of Time) character from World History with Mr. Hansen P ’12 ’15 leads to a connection with university professors overseas and later becomes an Independent Humanities Research project. Or maybe a passion for athletics lends itself to a physical therapy internship, an Independent Science Research project, and the creation of a new fitness club for students from all grade levels. Student engagement leads to knowledge of self, strengths, and interests.
By junior year, as they are preparing to embark upon the most active portion of their college planning process, students begin drafting college essays in College Composition. This assignment forces students to reflect upon and examine themselves in order to determine the essential characteristics they want to illustrate to colleges through their admissions applications. By entering into this assignment with some knowledge of self, interests, and strengths, students can tell their stories in effective ways and share their personal narratives through their college applications.
Throughout the second half of junior year, students meet with college counseling on LEAP Days and also begin a cycle of regular, individual meetings. The college counseling team seeks to understand where each student is in their college search process and to meet them where they are. By taking a holistic approach to these conversations, we seek to validate the emotions students might feel as they enter this stage of their lives and to hear what they are bringing with them into their processes. We encourage students to be thoughtful in their pursuits: to select senior schedules and potential college pathways that spark their interests and match their strengths, to consider what they need in their post-secondary experience in order to find fulfillment and thrive, and to thoughtfully structure their individual application process and timeline.
As one-on-one conversations continue throughout the fall and into the winter of senior year, the college counseling team strives to be consistently attuned to student wellness. We maintain an open-door policy that invites students to not only drop in for appointments, but to also utilize our space as a quiet working environment. Our willingness to listen often extends beyond purely post-secondary topics – a fact that we hope lends itself to creating an environment of support where students feel safe to share the range of emotions they will inevitably experience throughout the college application process.
Student wellness paired with purposeful action
While one-on-one meetings focus more on individual goals, college list development, etc., the introduction of the LEAP Day college counseling curriculum provides a nice complement to these conversations. The goals of these meetings have been twofold: to provide students with the tools and information that will allow them to progress through the application process with more confidence, and perhaps equally important, to allow them the gift of time. By participating in this programming, juniors can enter the summer with a solid start to applications they will complete in the fall and a sense of the timeline and trajectory of their senior year.
As we gathered feedback from our inaugural year, students appreciated their consistent time with the college counseling office and the opportunity for frequent feedback, which made it easier to submit applications early in the fall. Practice interviews were described as confidence boosters. Mock application reviews were applauded as a fun, helpful activity that provided students with direction as they approached their applications. Yet another senior pointed to the essay workshops as allowing them to strengthen their college essay, something about which they had been “very stressed.”
Coming full circle
This spring, five seniors sat in the front of the Upper School Commons. They each shared parts of their college journeys with the audience of juniors, including some of their successes and the lessons they learned. They imparted sage advice upon the young people who will be in their shoes in just a few months:
Use your time wisely and don’t wait ‘til the last minute
Apply by priority deadlines if you can
Remember to check your email because schools send you important information
It’s perfectly acceptable to visit the college counseling office daily
The seniors normalized the uncertainty of the process and the fact that it’s alright to not have all the answers. Most importantly, they reminded the juniors they too would be okay. In a matter of months, the members of the Class of 2022 have become the mentors, energized for and excited by the opportunities that await them in the fall.