Join director of college counseling Alexandra Fields for an overview of college counseling at Latin.
Intro - Alexandra Fields (00:14):
When done right, our office really believes that the college process can be a process that mirrors a student making their first really major adult decision in their life. We believe in a very individualized process because no two students are alike and no two students are going to navigate this in the exact same way. So the things that one student finds challenging and stressful and overwhelming about this, another student finds really exciting and fun. It can get deep. I had a student say to me, "When I think back on the college process, I didn't realize that the biggest thing I was going to get from it would be learning how to tell my story." And that to me was a sign of success. That was such a wonderful thing to hear a student say.
Alexandra Fields (01:11):
I'm Alexandra Fields. And I am the director of college counseling at Latin. I often get asked about our philosophical approach to college counseling here at Latin. And this is one of my favorite questions actually to answer because it's one that we have put a lot of thought into in our office. First and foremost, I would say the thing that guides all of our work is an approach that recognizes that yes, college counseling is about finding a school for a student to attend and, you know, spend the next four years of their education. But it really is about so much more than that. And when done right our office really believes that the college process can be a process that mirrors a student making their first really major adult decision in their life. And that is a big deal. And so guiding students through that process teaching them how to reflect and think about who they are and who they want to be and what they've gotten from their high school experience or not gotten from their high school experience that hoping to get in college university and really kind of putting together a list of priorities and taking ownership over this next step in their life is what we are all about.
So for us, it's really just partnering with students and families and guiding them through that process. We believe in a very individualized process because no two students are alike and no two students are going to navigate this in the exact same way. So the things that one student finds challenging and stressful and overwhelming about this, another student finds really exciting and fun. And then the thing that they find stressful and overwhelming, the other student has no issue with. There are families who feel this is, you know, their third child going through the college process and they feel like they're masters and, and they can really take a backseat. And there are families who this might be the first child, or maybe even the first person in the family to go to college. And this all feels very new and can feel really scary.
And so our job in the office is to meet each student and family where they're at and figure out what they need to move through this process in a way that works for them. Another major priority of ours, and a big focus of the college counseling office, is to make sure that we are a place that feels accessible, that feels comfortable for all students and families, regardless of their knowledge about the college process, regardless of how long they've been at Latin to access us and ask their questions. And so that is something that I think we have a renewed focus and emphasis on. Student experience with the college counseling office while they will see us - I mean, first of all, just in the halls and walking around and at dance shows and, you know, at different things - they won't really start working with us until second semester of their Junior year.
And we get in front of students before then, but it's much more in a general way. They will actually be assigned their counselor in the second semester of their Junior year. Sometimes we get asked, "Isn't that late, (right)?" "You talk a lot about the college process being so complicated (which it is) so why wouldn't we start this earlier?" Which is a very valid question, but the thing to really understand about this is that the most important work that a student can be doing to be preparing themselves for secondary education is investing in their high school experience, is loving their classes, and figuring out what their passions are and exploring theater, and then realizing that they hate theater and getting really, really into model UN and making connections with faculty members. All of these things that students should be doing, whether or not they're thinking about their next step are actually the things that are going to best prepare them for the college process.
And so we don't need to be intervening. We don't need to be adding that on to students when they're 14 years old, 15 years old, and just getting their footing in, in the upper school here. So we begin with them second semester Junior year, and it starts with an initial meeting where we don't really even talk about college that much. You know, some of the questions that I ask students in that first meeting are like, when did you come to Latin? And if you were old enough to have a say in coming to Latin, why come to Latin? And who are your friends and what do you guys do on the weekends and what faculty do you feel connected to and what classes do you love and how do you spend your summer? And what do you think about, you know, the lunch options?
Like just whatever it is to just start to get to know our students. And that's what a lot of Junior year is, is just getting to know students establishing a relationship with them. It is very easy for us in the college counseling office, given our expertise to come up with a list of schools for a student. But that list is only going to be as good as the knowledge that we have of that student. And so we want to lay that groundwork to feel like we really understand who they are and what they're about. And then Senior year stuff becomes a little bit more tactical, practical. Students are working on writing. We work very closely with them on that. Students are preparing for interviews. Students are finalizing lists and making decisions about where they're going to apply. So there's kind of a natural shift that happens between Junior and Senior year, where it goes from more theoretical and reflective to active producing, you know, the, the things that need to be done to apply to college.
And we're really with students throughout the entire thing including the emotional piece of it. So yes, the college process is overwhelming because there's a lot of work to be done and decisions to be made, but it also can be really hard to reflect back on your high school experience and take a good hard look at what you've done and maybe what you didn't do that you hoped you had done. It can be very hard to think about leaving this community, your friends, your family. If you're going to be if you're considering, you know, leaving the Chicago area it can be very hard, hard to think about making that transition and starting all over. And so there's a lot of personal development that happens in this. And that is, I joke, that is why counselor is in our name.
That is why when you come into our offices, you'll see tissues and chocolate and stress balls because it gets deep. It can get deep. I had a student say to me "When I think back on the college process, I didn't realize that the biggest thing I was going to get from it would be learning how to tell my story." And that to me was a sign of success. That was such a wonderful thing. To hear a student say. We are all about fit. We are all about helping a student figure out what the right fit is for them. We are very lucky in that our students across the board are extremely prepared to take the next step into higher education. That is not a concern of ours. And we are very lucky in that our students have options.
And so it is not just figuring out where can I get in, because there are plenty of places where every single Latin student will be admitted with enthusiasm, but figuring out what is the right place for me, what environment do I want to be in? What is a place that is going to foster the type of growth that I'm looking to have in my college experience? And so success looks like students coming back, visit us, which we hope they do, you know, winter break of their freshman year and say, "Oh my goodness, Ms. Fields, Ms. Jones, Mr. Zotos, Ms. Taylor, Ms. Vela, this is the perfect place. You're never going to believe this class that I'm taking right now. You're never going to believe what this professor, you know, set me up with for the summer. I have the best friends that I've ever had." Whatever it is. That is how we know that we're doing a really great job.
Next time on the Latin Learner podcast.
Alexandra Fields (10:02):
This feels like a massive shift in our community. Students who have parents or guardians who went to college, the test scores meant a lot when those parents or guardians applied to college. And so to think about how schools are evaluating students, without that data point can be very overwhelming and mysterious and scary for students and families. Spending months and months preparing to try and bring that ACT score up a point versus really, you know, acing your way through second semester, Junior year. Taking the time to write a really thoughtful essay when you're thinking about bang for your buck, it is easier for us now to say that the latter choice of focusing on academics and focusing on your writing is probably going to get you further in the college process. And that is a big relief for many of our students and family. A lot of research has also been done to explore the ways that standardized tests are quite biased. They are very racially biased. They were created for a white student population taking them. And there's an entire fascinating, very upsetting history of how the SAT actually historically has been used to keep underrepresented folks out of education.
- College Counseling
- upper school