College applications. With so many schools to choose from, career paths to take and requirements to meet, it is easy for juniors to feel overwhelmed, so Harker’s college counseling department offers them a wealth of advice and guidance. Alumni and others augment that process.
College application preparation also begins in some measure right as students enter the upper school. “I meet with every freshman student. I meet with his or her advisory and set up a course plan,” said Evan Barth, dean of studies at the upper school. “I like the focus to be on that so that the students are taking classes that they’re interested in, which means they’re going to be doing better.”
In addition to making them more attractive to colleges to which they may later apply, the course plan also makes them more well-rounded students, a goal central to Harker’s overall mission.
“In high school you don’t need to specialize. You don’t need to be a math person or a science person. Just be a student,” Barth said. “CalTech is going to want to see that you’re in good English classes getting good grades. It’s not like they only care about math and science.” Counselors help drive that point home.
The quality of counseling is often about case load, and “we have very manageable loads,” said Sandy Padgett, co-director of the college counseling department. Juniors meet with their counselors dozens of times from their second semester until applications are filed at the end of their first semester as seniors, and a lot of preparation goes into the applications.
“Almost every college has a different set of questions that need to be answered and they can sometimes be confusing,” said Lori Berenberg, grade 12. “I can always count on someone to be in the college counseling office who can help me navigate through the seemingly impossible college application process. Even if my own college counselor is busy with a meeting, every single counselor is available to answer general questions regarding applications.”
“When you’re working with students, you’re going over their interests and what kind of environment they are looking for,” said counselor Kevin Lum Lung. “Large school, small school, are they willing to go out of state, in state, suburban, urban – those are big factors that can narrow it down.” Counselors also strongly encourage families to visit college campuses to help gauge the student experience at the campus level.
Students can narrow down choices through visits to college campuses, via their own research or hearing impressions from students attending prospective schools. Counselors then help students gauge their career interests and look at the admissions requirements of some of those schools to construct a list of possible universities.
Counselors find students eager to apply to prestigious schools but are quick to encourage them to research which school would best suit them rather than look best on a résumé. “We really encourage the research, as opposed to just going to the U.S. News & World Report and picking from a list,” said Nicole Burrell, college counseling co-director.
“I think sometimes you can bypass a school that would be a perfect match for you,” Lum Lung said, “because perhaps it’s not going to show up on a U.S. News & World Report ranking in the top 10. And there are many schools overlooked just because you haven’t heard about them or your relatives haven’t heard about them.”
College Visits to Harker
Every year approximately 80 college and university representatives visit Harker seeking applicants, providing an invaluable opportunity for students to learn more about the schools along with admission requirements. “I think a number of [students] haven’t had the chance to visit or know very little about a particular school,” said Padgett, “and the representative visits give a little bit more of a face and a name to the person who might be reading their eventual application.”
These visits have resulted in many students finding their school of choice. “Every year I usually have one or two students who go to an information session, they get intrigued by the school, they apply, they’re admitted, maybe they go out for a visit and then they end up at this school,” said counselor Martin Walsh. On the flipside, many students also find out that schools they were interested in are actually not right for them.
“The college counseling office actually scheduled representatives to come speak from nearly every college that I was thinking about, and this helped me narrow my list,” said Rohan Chandra, grade 12.
College Counseling Classes
Harker’s college counselors hold classes to help students get up to speed in the application process, just one unique way Harker prepares its students for this busy time.
“The course begins with, ‘Here’s where you should be at right now,’ and then, ‘Here’s what you should be doing in the coming week,’” Walsh said. Later on, the classes cover more specific parts of the application procedure, such as how to write personal statements or what types of questions will be asked at an interview.
“Through presentations, guest speakers and various paper resources, we were given everything we’d need to be effective applicants,” said Berenberg.
“I find myself infinitely more prepared than I was in the spring, and I credit all of my growth to the college counseling department and my college counselor.”
Guest speakers at these sessions include teachers who discuss their experiences at college, perhaps also informing students of schools they previously weren’t familiar with. grade 12 students who have gone through the application process also appear to give the juniors advice and answer their questions.
“They not only see us dozens of times over the year, but they’re in class with us once a week, so we’re working with them all the time,” said Padgett.
“Those classes are also designed to disseminate broad information,” Lum Lung noted, “and then in their individual meetings, you can kind of tailor it specifically to a student and address the individual needs.”
The Alumni Connection
Soon-to-be applicants are also encouraged to contact Harker alumni currently studying at schools they may want to attend. “We have a really good alumni network,” Burrell said, “and a lot of our students will go visit colleges and stay with or meet up with Harker alums, or visit classes with Harker alums.”
The college counseling department compiles a list of alumni who can be contacted by students looking to visit their schools. Alumni then give them a firsthand account of their experiences and show them around. “Our kids have reported back that the alumni have been really great about giving them that inside view of what it’s like to go to that school, and what it’s like to be transitioning particularly from Harker to that school,” Burrell said.
Giving Seniors Time
Another intriguing aspect of the college application process is the Harker approach of not administering final exams to seniors, to allow them more time in December for applications. “The seniors make appointments and we’re here with dedicated time to help them finalize their applications and send everything out before winter break,” Walsh said.
The practice helps lower student stress. “You can imagine trying to finish all your college applications and study for your final exams at the same time,” said Lum Lung. “So the school and the administration did such a great job in making that decision for student stress reduction and to really help the seniors.”
To further ensure that students can both dedicate the right amount of time to their applications and finish them in a timely manner, students are also required to begin working on their applications in the summer prior to senior year. “Without this counseling, I likely would not have started my apps until much more recently, at which point I now would have been extremely stressed out and would have probably written subpar essays,” Chandra said.
“College counseling helped ease me into the college application process quite well, as I was consistently given information on college applications, as well as personalized attention through counselor meetings,” Berenberg said. “Once I began my applications, I was eager to come to each of my meetings because I had something new to show every time.”
Counselors also make sure to let students know when to take a break from something. “One of the things I’m saying most frequently is, ‘You’re working too hard on this essay. Let’s step back. You don’t need to do all that. There’s a much easier way to do that,’” Padgett said.
Added Lum Lung: “The structure of [our process] is designed to prevent stress and anxiety. We’re trying to keep people organized, and I think stress can develop when people don’t know where they should be; and we’re debunking the myths and rumors out there.”