“I’ll start with a question for you all,” said M. Bowen Posner to the audience of Williston Northampton School juniors and their parents who had gathered in the Williston Theatre. “When you think about starting the college process, what emotion does it generate for you?”
Students shouted out a couple of answers. “Anxious,” said one. “Stressed,” said another.
Mr. Posner, the Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Yale University, paused for a moment.
“Does anyone feel happy about it?” he asked. He then added that the process should really be “a liberating experience, one of reflection, a point of growth as a teenager.”
“If you’re true to yourself in the college search experience, we’ll really understand what drives you,” he said.
Mr. Posner was one of three directors of admission—including Mary French of Boston College and Kevin Kelly of the University of Massachusetts Amherst—who had come to Williston on a snowy Thursday afternoon as part of a kick-off to the college application process.
In January, the junior class had heard from Tim Cheney, Director of College Counseling, who welcomed them to the college process. Juniors have taken several classes with Williston’s College Counseling Office to help orient them. The event on February 5, taking place right before the long-weekend break, was the formal introduction to that process.
All three visitors described how applying to college could become a frenzy of competition and rumors about schools—if families let the process drive them and forgot to keep the holistic view in mind. Did a school have the right living spaces, clubs, and student life? Was it affordable? Did the spirit of the school align with the students’ favorite interests?
“I don’t believe there’s a perfect school out there for everyone,” said Ms. French, Boston College’s associate director of undergraduate admissions. “I think there are a lot of great schools and a lot of choices.”
She stressed that the whole process—visiting campuses, exploring the culture at the schools, asking questions—should be driven by students and not by parents.
“If you let your parents ask all the questions, and you let your parents drive this process, then you’re going to end up going to the college that your parents want to go to,” Ms. French said.
Mr. Kelly, UMass’ director of undergraduate admissions, agreed. Like Ms. French, Mr. Kelly has a child going through the application process, and he reminded families not to take rejections too personally.
“I hope you won’t dwell on unfavorable decisions when they almost inevitably come through,” said Mr. Kelly. “We’re not trying to insult you. We’re trying to build a class that suits our needs.”