Catherine McGraw has been director of the College Counseling office for 12 months, and in that time, she has made it her mission to expose Williston students in earlier grades to the college-search process. As part of that process, she strives to help students identify a college or university that best fits their unique strengths and interests.
As her first year in this position wraps up, she’s been beyond pleased to witness Williston students meet with success as acceptance letters arrive from Dartmouth, Georgetown, Kenyon, University of Pennsylvania, Vassar, Williams, and many more. Building on that success, she’s instituted new initiatives and continued other tried-and-true programs that provide students and parents what they need to choose the college that fits them best.
“My philosophy emphasizes reflection and self-awareness,” McGraw said. “As students engage in a college search, I want them to feel that they are in the driver’s seat.”
McGraw and her staff have put in place four new programs to help that process this year:
- Mini-college-fairs: In September and October, 75 colleges came to campus, and sophomores through seniors (as well as parents) were encouraged to visit with admission officers. The fairs were held during dinner and between classes and sports practices so students could drop in when it suited their schedules.
- College tours: Over fall long weekend counselors took students to Babson College and Boston University.
- College panel: During Fall Family Weekend, the office invited panelists from the University of Richmond, George Washington University, and Union College to discuss everything from how to stand out in the admission process to what to expect of college athletics.
- Athletics panel: Coaches from Mount Holyoke and Amherst College and the Athletic Director at Williams College answered questions about playing at the college level during Fall Family Weekend.
These new initiatives supplement College Counseling programs that have been traditional at Williston:
- At a recent assembly, students got to hear from several young alumni from the classes of 2014 to 2016. When Williston students heard from peers what college is like, McGraw said, they listened intently and were motivated to pursue a college that would suit them.
- In February, College Counseling hosted a reception for parents of juniors to get the search process rolling.
- In January of their junior year, students took a three-part class on the online platform Naviance, which manages the college search process, from researching colleges to hosting application documents. The class also covered the Common Application and standardized testing.
- On two days in April students will have the opportunity to partake in mock interviews with visiting college deans of admission.
These programs are important in a year of significant change to the college admissions landscape. Starting this year, students are taking a redesigned SAT test with new content, format and scoring. The FAFSA application for federal financial aid now opens on October 1 instead of January 1, and it collects income information from an earlier tax year.
Through all that change, however, McGraw’s mission remains the same: “There’s a thread of discovery that runs through the college-search process. Students learn something about themselves,” she said. “In the end, we help students determine where they will thrive while striking the right balance between allowing enough time for researching and visiting colleges and starting at a point that minimizes undue stress on the student.”