Beginning the College Process with Optimism

By Bart Gummere (Upper School Head) and Dr. Elena Olsen (College Counselor)

Last Monday, Allison Luhrs and Elena Olsen worked with the junior class on the first substantial written work in their college search and application process. Juniors are asked to complete a substantive survey that asks them to reflect on their current thoughts and questions about college as well as their experience during their high school years. This questionnaire is the ticket to their first family meeting with their process coach. Not only does it provide a great starting point for that meeting and for the counselor’s understanding of how each student is thinking about college, it is also an important “warm-up” of sorts for the extensive and intensive self-reflective writing students will take on as part of their application process. The culmination of all of this reflective writing, in addition to the depth of communication with counselors? An affirming and fulfilling college matriculation.

As our college counseling staff begins to have meetings with juniors and their parents, the affirmative nature of the process is primary in our thinking. Nothing captures the optimism of a limitless future any more than the search for one’s path after high school. In this country, we are blessed with a higher education system like no other—one that people from all over the world seek to experience.

Unfortunately, the privilege of seeking out options in this vast, impressive system is too often tainted by fear. Competition for admission is real; strong students at schools such as EPS suffer their first academic “setbacks” in the application process.  However, they also all finish with wonderful options and in reality, are met with boundless opportunities, both educationally and professionally.

Two realities we see are underpublicized. First, for most seniors the greatest stress comes in the last step when they must matriculate. Often they have multiple offers, all from places they like quite a bit, and selecting just one can be difficult. There is a sense of loss when they say no to each college that accepted them and now very much wants them to enroll. And this is obviously a privilege many in the world will never experience.  Second, by the time those same students have spent a year on their college campus, they’ve forgotten all about the stresses of the admission process and often even how they then ranked their preferences.  They’ve now found a home and friends and can’t imagine being anywhere else.

Consequently, it is our foremost priority to present each junior with a strong sense of optimism at this time of year. What lies ahead for them should be exciting, not intimidating. While we, as college counselors, have to introduce the reality of some limits, we remain able to offer far more in the way of opportunity.