College Counseling Kicks Off For Upper Parents

In hopes of informing parents that “there are good and not-so-good ways” of getting involved in the college admissions process, the College Counseling Office held its fifth annual Kickoff Weekend for the parents of Uppers last weekend. After registering on Friday evening, parents listened to psychologist Michael Thompson, Ph.D. talk about the emotional and psychological pressures of the impending college application frenzy. On Saturday, parents listened to a panel of Seniors speak about their college application experience. The parents then participated in a mock admissions committee, evaluating and ultimately accepting, deferring or rejecting prospective students. The purpose of the three meetings was to explore college admissions from three angles: those of the parent, the student and the college admissions officer. Susan Farquhar, mother of Megan Farquhar ’09, said that Friday night speaker Michael Thompson Ph.D. was useful in “exploring the stresses for the parents.” Farquhar compared the Kick-off to her experience two years ago, when her son Steve Farquhar ’07 applied to college. “Two years ago,” she said, “I felt it was hands-off [for parents], but now it’s tempered.” Laura Jordan, mother of Marianna Jordan ’09, said that she was “surprised” that the college counselors “encouraged communication with the College Counseling Office.” Brigitte Caland, mother of Guy Puymartin ’09, thought the weekend was extremely beneficial, teaching her about what to expect in the coming months. Caland, who is French, had little knowledge of the American college process. Caland said that the most important piece of information she took away was how to help her son deal with the stress of applying to college. Teaching parents how to help was one of CCO Director John Anderson’s goals for the weekend. The CCO maintains that students must navigate their own college paths. Anderson said that the process “begins with student self-discovery, and then comes the college discovery.” The role of the counselor is to help students understand who they are through exercises, questionnaires and conversations. Though she has yet to meet with her college counselor one-on-one because she has not filled out the required Upper Questionnaire, Courtnie Crutchfield ’09 is prepared to be proactive. “I think it should be what the student wants, not the college counselor deciding what the student wants,” she said. “If you know what you need, they can help you…I thought [beforehand] they were working for me,” but she realized that her college counselor was more of an advocate, Christina Coravos ’08 explained. Knowing that someone was there to help her, she said, made her less “terrified.” J. J. McGregor ’08 said that his college counselor helped him compile a list of colleges that had strong hockey programs, which is his sport of interest. Beyond hockey, McGregor said, he “didn’t have a great sense of what I wanted,” but with his counselor he investigated schools to which he could be admitted. Anderson said, “We’re hoping to help students match who they are and what they want to get out of college” to the best possible college. The entire process of college counseling is constantly changing to adapt to students’ and schools’ increasing reliance on technology. Andover’s College Counseling Office first incorporated the Naviance tool, which helps students manage their college applications online, into its program about four years ago. Anderson finds it very helpful. One part of the website is a collection of scattergrams that compare a student’s GPA and test scores to those of previous Phillips Academy applicants. Of the scattergrams, Anderson said, “I hope they give students a general idea of how their academic profile matches with the typical profile at a school… [but the scattergrams are] not determinative.” The CCO will not move all of its operations on the internet, though, because they feel that constructive conversation between a college counselor and a student is the most important element of a good college application experience. College applications, Anderson said, became more competitive after U.S. News and World Report released its first college ranking in 1983. Anderson observed that the number of applications has “soared” in the last 10 years.