Officially Launching . . . The College Search

I took a two-hour break yesterday evening from the senior application season to offer VMS juniors and parents a look at the next two years through a program I’ve dubbed, Officially Launching the College Search.  I love being a college counselor, but I love even more that each student will land appropriately at a school to which they will be welcomed and, subsequently, will create their own unique and fulfilling experience.  Last night, waiting for members of the junior class to arrive, I was thrilled, excited, delighted to be at this place with the junior class – almost giddy, as it is a big, wonderful step and privilege.

However, I knew that some students wouldn’t be as thrilled or excited as me.  In fact, it’s perfectly normal that words such as anxious, nervous, and unsure could describe how they feel.  I assured the group that some will do this “college search thing” at a different pace, with different goals, and even with different feelings.  And perhaps, the best advice to begin the college search and more specifically, an exploratory stage, is not necessarily anything college specific. Rather, I recommend the following in order to stay the course (at your own pace), and strengthen what is already being done at school and in other endeavors:

  • Prioritizing and organizing;
  • Thinking of others, even before yourself;
  • Using good judgment when making decisions;
  • Taking advantage of the opportunity to be a good student and community member at VMS;
  • Remaining positive, even in stressful times.

I am confident that the college search can be as fruitful, enlightening, and rewarding for the junior class as it has been for the many students who have come before them. During our meeting the other night, I shared the following slideshow. Enjoy.

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University of Chicago

I couldn’t pass up the library tour – after all I was at the University of Chicago. The 80 million dollar Mansueto library – a 2011 addition to the Regenstein library – is architecturally noted for its glass dome design and functional reading room. What you don’t see on the ground floor is the four floor basement of categorized publications that can be retrieved from their metal holding box by a push of a button at the circulation desk, activating a robotic lift and arm. The Mansueto library also houses a book binding lab.

This urban institution is the perfect example of a school delivering an education that is so rooted in the liberal arts, a prescribed classical core curriculum, yet having the opportunity to be a part of cutting edge research in the Center for Integrative Sciences. The students are brilliant, and they know it. While it’s difficult to escape intellectualism here, students consider everything academic their fun. If we redefine fun, the University of Chicago is not “where fun goes to die.”

As the last stop on my counselor tour, I’d like to thank all three colleges for hosting me, and ultimately VMS, as your candor and transparency was most insightful. Now it is our turn to host Lake Forest and Chicago at VMS on October 6th as admission representatives will participate in an admissions case study program.

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Northwestern University

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This afternoon I was at the conclusion of my visit to Northwestern, and in the five minutes it took me to walk from the center of campus back to the bus, I proceeded step by step with confidence, pretending that I was a student just briefly. Over 2000 students on campus this morning took their official walk onto campus to begin their journey as a Northwestern student. I was lucky enough to begin my day witnessing one of the most cherished and long standing traditions at Northwestern: March through the Arch.  Led by a Big Ten marching band, together the first-years passed through the iconic arch that clearly marks the entrance to campus. Families looked on with pride and some tears of joy, and Northwestern purple adorned the crowd having just made purchases at the university bookstore. A mixture of gothic architecture and less attractive 70s contemporary design made for a stark contrast as backdrop. Nevertheless, the campus is flanked by beautiful Lake Michigan; and in fact, the campus was once expanded creatively by installing dunes to increase Evanston acreage. This medium sized private research institution of over 8000 undergrads boasts spirit and a sense of community among true intellectuals.

On the Road: Lake Forest College

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After a quick breakfast on campus with Amy Sherman, VMS class of 2013, I was offered a tour by another Lake Forest student. While I was happily surprised to see a very diverse student population, I wasn’t surprised to hear many anecdotes of supportive faculty and their passion for teaching undergraduate students. Whether it be Parkinson’s research in the neuroscience department or biostatistics in the mathematics department, all 1700 students in the Lake Forest community have every opportunity to help themselves to a rich educational experience. I was most impressed with The Center for Chicago Programs, a full service office on everything Chicago: internships, museums, transportation, alumni networking, lectures, concerts, etc. This is the only office of its kind on a college campus, linking a school this closely with a nearby large metropolitan area. Here are some images of the day . . .enjoy!

With Every End, There is a Beginning

Inspiration for The Topic of  . . . Your Choice came from The New York Times’ college counseling blog. Intended to help thousands of students and families in the quest to pursue college, but first be admitted, the newspaper ended the blog’s run this summer.  Nevertheless, after many loyal readers voiced their disappointment, the New York Times organized an archive of the blog as a way to access still very relevant information.  I invite you to browse:

As quickly as the summer passed, the beginning of the school year is well underway.  In fact, the opening to the school year has never felt this good.  The energy and the spirit of moving forward in the college application process are palpable.  Therefore, it will be difficult to jump out of the flowing stream to hit the road for several days.  Nevertheless, joining fellow counselors for The Best of Chicago Tour: Lake Forest College, Northwestern University, and University of Chicago – I’ll add Loyola University Chicago to the list – has been delightfully anticipated.  With applications certainly to be submitted to these colleges, I’ll look forward to putting myself in my students’ shoes while visiting the campuses.  I’ll be in touch to let you know what I find out . . .

In the meantime, I recommend to seniors that they continue work on the Common Application, specifically taking inventory of the questions asked and the information requested on the college supplements.  This is the area of the application where students should reflect back on their campus visits and recall detail by reviewing completed college evaluation forms.  That reminds me . . . I need to pack a journal for my college trip to Chicago.

Recommended Reading

In December a student raised this question: “What is the purpose of college?” While obvious to many, this prompt sparks a worthwhile discussion. In the newly released book, College by Andrew Delbanco, the author/historian addresses precisely this question. Initially, as a way to study philosophy and engage in scholarly discourse, this practice on a traditional living and learning campus led to what we then and now call a liberal education.  Times have changed, certainly from the days of Socrates, but the foundation of a good education, Delbanco argues, hasn’t changed much. A liberal education, one which cultivates an educated pupil to benefit the world with honed skills in discussion, analysis, writing, and problem-solving, is also what Justice Sonia Sotomayor recommends for today’s student, regardless of their intended major or career path.

I was privileged to hear Sotomayor speak at the University of Miami – a private research institution with nine schools in the tropics of Coral Gables, Florida.  She was interviewed by the University’s president, Dr. Donna Shalala, about her newly released autobiography – My Beloved World.  Not only did I come home with a signed 1st edition copy of her book, an in-depth look at the University, but also additional words of advice from Sotomayor that truly resonated.  As she graciously opened-up about her childhood, she encouraged the audience – and her book’s readers – to follow their passion.  My college counselor colleagues and I looked at each other as if she was deliberately giving us reason to continue a similar conversation with our students.  She elaborated by saying that to be great at something, you need to be passionate about that something.  The other piece of sage advice that induced a serious case of contemplation on my part was the following: ask questions.  We all too frequently make assumptions without inquiry, often leading to miscommunication, hurt feelings, and perhaps missed opportunities.

Both College by Andrew Delbanco, and Sonia Sotomayor’s autobiography, My Beloved World, are good reads and provide valuable insight into the college search. Enjoy!

The Joy of Junior Year: Your Initial List

Initial lists often resemble a laundry list, but are, in fact tailored to each junior. They are created with the students’ preferences in mind, but represent a broad list of suggestions – considering size, type of college, location, and campus culture – which will eventually morph into a final list of colleges this fall. As discussed recently in seminar, the final list will be representative of each junior, however, for now, students should also expect a few wild card suggestions as a way to broaden their scope, and offer knowledge about schools perhaps currently unknown to them. A goal is to help foster an open mind in these students for as long as possible.

Below is a sample of three initial lists for engineering and three for liberal arts. While sharing a common core, they also illustrate variety and personalization even at an early stage. As a parting thought about initial lists, I will share something inspiring that a student shared with me at the end of our meeting after seeing their list come together: “It’s exciting to think that there is a good chance my college is on this list.” With the sense of possibility ignited, that is the joy of junior year.

Engineering1- strong engineering programs within a liberal arts context
• Trinity College
• Union College
• Lehigh University
• Lafayette College
• Bucknell University
• Santa Clara University
• Tufts University
• Harvey Mudd College

Engineering2 – top tier engineering schools at a world-renowned research institution
• Stanford University
• Rice University
• Boston University
• Johns Hopkins University
• U of Washington
• Cornell University
• U of Michigan
• Carnegie Mellon University
• Cal Tech

Engineering3 – a broad based engineering list that includes both healthy reach and less selective schools
• CU Boulder
• U of Pacific
• UC-Santa Cruz
• Purdue
• Virginia Tech
• U of Oregon
• Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo
• Georgia Tech
• Texas A&M
• Montana State

Liberal Arts1 – liberal arts with an eclectic student population
• Reed College
• Whitman College
• Sarah Lawrence College
• Bard College
• Grinnell College
• Kenyon College
• Macalester College
• Muhlenberg College
• Goucher College
• Bowdoin College

Liberal Arts2 – classic east coast influenced campus
• Colby College
• Connecticut College
• Dickinson College
• Franklin and Marshall College
• Hamilton College
• Bates College
• Denison University Amherst College

Liberal Arts3 – larger liberal arts school where athletics play a prominent role in student life
• U of Rochester
• Tulane University
• Santa Clara University
• University of Richmond
• Colgate University
• Bucknell University
• College of the Holy Cross