Armed with experience on both sides of the college admissions desk, Associate Director of College Counseling Ginger Fay recently published an article for the Winter 2003 issue of Independent School magazine, entitled, “Don’t Die for Duke: Putting Joy (and Common Sense) Back into the College Search Process.” The article stresses the importance of looking for suitability and a quality education over applying to “brand-name” schools during the college admissions process. “I have known that I wanted to work in college admissions since I was 17 years old,” Ms. Fay recalled. To Ms. Fay, the most enjoyable aspect of college counseling is the opportunity to work with teenagers. “I think 17 is a particularly interesting time in a person’s life. It is a moment ‘on the brink,’ the time when we begin to make choices for ourselves, and to see how much those choices have been influenced by the people around us,” she explained. Through her work in Duke University’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions and the Philips Academy College Counseling Office, Ms. Fay has amassed enough experience to become a member of the Seal of Approval Review Panel for the National Association for College Admissions Counseling. She has also spoken at several national conferences, including one sponsored by National Association of Independent Schools, at which she was asked by Independent School magazine to write “Don’t Die for Duke,” her first published piece. Although published in a renowned magazine, much of the information contained in Ms. Fay’s article can be applied directly to the Andover community. Ms. Fay shed light on her article’s thesis by citing a quotation from Head of School Barbara Landis Chase. She stated, “The college admission picture has spun out of control, creating too much pressure on students and their families, and wreaking havoc with the high-school experience.” In her article, Ms. Fay presents a sweeping reform of the message that prep schools such as Phillips Academy convey to their students. She breaks up an Andover student’s high school journey into five categories: “Before They Arrive,” “When They Arrive,” “While They Are Here,” “As They Apply,” and “As They Graduate.” Her plan for reform encourage students to consider a wide range of schools that will fit their educational goals rather than limiting their scope to the coveted Ivy League universities. The article begins with Ms. Fay’s recollections of her days working in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at Duke. Because she had not yet accumulated any experience with assisting applicants through the college admissions while at Duke, Ms. Fay admitted that she “believed there was a purity to college admissions…I trusted that I was reading the students’ best work.” However, upon arriving at Andover, Ms. Fay realized “how naïve [she] had been” after she began to comprehend the skewed nature of the college admissions process. She realized not only the extent to which applicants misrepresent themselves, but also the degree to which the advice of college counselors and other faculty members inadvertently encourages this misrepresentation. “Knowing how the admissions process works at a highly selective school, I am often tempted to encourage students to misrepresent themselves and manipulate the process,” she said. However, even one as experienced as Ms. Fay admits, “giving advice on college applications is a slippery slope.” Ms. Fay begins the “Before They Arrive” portion of her article by suggesting that rather than using “the [college] matriculation list as bragging rights for our school…let’s spend some time and money on institutional research to talk about what it is that really sets our schools apart.” Furthering her argument, Ms. Fay reminds the community that, “we believe that [students] should value their time at Andover as an end in and of itself, not just another way to get into a prestigious college.” Unfortunately, according to Ms. Fay, many students have not yet internalized this message and believe that the faculty and staff of Phillips Academy have goals of their own as to where graduates should go to college. Throughout “When They Arrive,” Ms. Fay stresses that “we must resist telling our students that they are ‘the best and the brightest’ on the first day of school. Instead, we should tell them that they show incredible promise, for it was because of their potential and not their accomplishments that they were admitted in the first place.” By repeatedly reminding student that they are “the best and the brightest”, Ms. Fay argues that the administration sets up students to believe that the adults around them expect nothing less than an acceptance letter to Ivy League universities. In “While They Are Here,” Ms. Fay emphasizes the importance of finding the correct college for an individual’s needs rather than becoming obsessed with brand name colleges. “…[I]t’s not so much where you go, but what you do there that counts,” she explained. Ms. Fay instead suggests that the PA administration “encourage students to consider a wide range of schools, reaching not just for the schools with highly selective admissions practices, but also great scholarship opportunities and honors programs, academic programs that truly match their interests, and communities that fit their temperament.” As for her own future in college admissions, Ms. Fay remarked, “I don’t know what the future will hold for me…but I do hope I will be able to continue to develop as a writer and to offer my friendship and support to students riding the roller coaster of the college admissions process.” Ms. Fay brings diverse credentials to the Phillips Academy College Counseling Office. She received her Bachelor’s Degree from Duke University in 1994 in Psychology with a Minor in Public Policy and Film and Video Studies. After working in Duke’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions for five years, she came to Andover’s College Counseling Office in 1999.
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