Choosing Your School & The Application Process
Over my 5 plus years as a Director of Admissions, and now as an Assistant Head of School, I have been asked on numerous occasions to share my thoughts about how students should choose a school and the application process. In the end, I reflect back on my experience as a nervous thirteen-year-old boy who was enamored by the idea of boarding school but knew nothing about them or the application process. So, reflecting back on my time as an independent school professional coupled with my own process of applying to boarding schools back in 1997, I humbly share these few ideas in the hope to be of help in some small way.
Picture Yourself There
Last year, I worked with a student that was from California. They had only gone to day schools located in metropolitan areas and with a warm climate. However, he was also someone that loved hiking, whose favorite subject was computer science, and most memorable family experience was backcountry skiing near Truckee. Suffice it to say, attending a small boarding school in rural Maine was initially not his first choice, however, after visiting campus and seeing Gould in action, he quickly changed his mind.
Before applying or even interviewing at any school, try and find a time to visit. I always recommend attending an Open House, here at Gould we will have another Open House on Friday, November 10th. If you cannot attend an Open House try and find a time to visit the campus informally, walk around during a weekend or when a game is taking place. These informal experiences will allow you to see the school honestly and how it operates on most days.
Names Everyone Knows
I had a friend go to Deep Springs College and Brown University; most people know Brown but not many know Deep Springs. That said, it was Deep Springs that had the more profound and transformational impact on his life. So, I would encourage everyone to try and find one school that most might not know but that could be the perfect fit for you.
In the end, choosing the right school is about finding a community where you will thrive not about having a bumper sticker that is recognizable on the highway.
Being You Means Being Memorable
The students that I like talking with the most are those that are comfortable in their own skin and their authentic selves throughout the admission process. I vividly remember a student last year pulling out a deck of cards and asking if he could do a few magic tricks. Twenty minutes later, he was still doing magic tricks, and during that time we were able to talk about his other passions and how studying card tricks was how he had learned how to do hard things well.
Another memorable moment happened when after a series of questions about academic and residential programming a student said they had one last question, which was “Do you have pizza here every day at lunch? Because pizza is my favorite food.”
As an interviewer, it is easy to tell which students are faking it and those that are being their authentic selves. So, I encourage you to be your authentic self during the interview not only is this easiest for you but it will leave a better impression on the admission officer you are meeting with.
Ask Hard Questions, Seek Authentic Answers
I love talking with students and families that ask hard questions and who are looking for honest and real answers. I probably am drawn to these students and families because they are the types of people that fit with the culture of Gould and will do well here. Two of the best questions I got last year were, (1) Why did you choose to work at Gould? (2) Gould is not perfect, so what are the three things you think need to change for Gould to become a better school?
Asking hard questions will help to ensure that you get to know the true ethos and culture of a school. No school is perfect but great schools are honest and able to talk openly about what they do well and where they need to improve.
Know Your Non-Negotiables
Traveling last week I met an incredible student; he was someone that had all the virtues and skills that we look for in Gould students. When I asked him, what his next school had to have his first answer was, ‘hockey” he then went on to tell me how much he loved the game and who some of his favorite players were. Before he could go any further, I stopped him and said, you need to know that Gould does not have a hockey team.
While lots of schools offer a variety of activities and opportunities, you need to find ones that have the programs you need and will provide you with the opportunities to continuing following this passion.
Say Thank You
Applying to schools can be wrought with pressure and stress, as a result, we can sometimes lose our way and forget about the small things.
So while this tip is basic, I think it is essential…always makes sure to say thank you. To students, take a few minutes to say thank you to parents, thank them for supporting you in the process and taking the time to visit schools with you. Also, remember to thank your teachers, thank them for taking the time to write recommendations on your behalf and for helping you along the way.
Parents, remember to thank your kids. It is a self-selecting group of young people that have the initiative and courage to apply to boarding schools. I would encourage you to take a few minutes to thank your children for being self-starters and possessing the desire to branch out and move confidently in the direction of their dreams.
Guides Not Gatekeepers
Too often Admission Offices think of themselves as gatekeepers whose primary job is deciding on who can enter via an acceptance letter. Personally, I believe this mindset is completely wrong…instead I choose to focus on Admission Officers being guides whose job it is to ask and answer questions. It is through this process that students will be accepted, and thrive at whatever school is lucky enough to have them as members of their community.
Whether you are looking at Gould or just considering boarding school, please do not hesitate to reach out to me personally. I would be happy to answer your questions and share any insights I have about the admission process or what schools might be the right fit.