US Deans Reflect on College Counseling


US Deans, Contributing Writers

We write to you from the deans’ offices, a cluster around the bulletin board where admissions tour guides often lead visitors past: the one full of college pennants. The one that each spring, our seniors urge us to update properly so that all their future educational homes are represented. We make those updates, thanks to Ms. Caro’s loving hard work, but not without mixed feelings. Should this board serve as a record of what happened for last year’s class – making them proud but also inspiring the “who went where” competitive conversations that invade our juniors’ and seniors’ (and younger students’) psyches? Should it be a keeping-place for interesting hidden gems — maybe a board full of pennants for schools you might not know about yet? Should the board come down altogether, to be replaced by more space for students to emote creatively, like the whiteboards in our offices? Diversity of thought — or maybe indecision — among us has kept the board as it is. For now, anyway.


It’s a privilege to help students figure out what they want out of college and take the necessary steps to get there. But in a New York City independent school, full as it is of aspirational families with uninformed, unrealistic notions of where their students must enroll when they graduate, that privilege is also a burden. Please understand: Many, many students and families exemplify the kind of imaginative, healthy, real-world-rooted thinking we are striving to spread in our community about what students can get out of college — we wish we could bottle their good sense! The wider world combats those good influences every day, however. And the people we care for most, and want most to protect from limited and damaging thinking about the admissions process are our students.


We work as a dynamic, impassioned group of six, balancing one another out, filling gaps, checking biases, and sharing knowledge. We are not drones, we are a busy, dedicated, devoted group of individuals with real-world experiences and differing walks of life who meet each day to accomplish a common goal: advocating for and supporting the dreams of each one of you. This good fight is truly in tandem with you all, as we work together to craft what we would consider a healthy, balanced list of schools worth considering based on a number of factors: what you’d like to study, where you’d like to be in the country or in the world, what types of experiences you’d like to have at your fingertips as you start your lives in a new community setting. Because, frankly, that is what an offer of admission is: an offer to join a new community. It is not a rite of passage, it is not the sole thing you should work ceaselessly toward with little regard for what exciting, complex experiences are sure to come your way after you walk across our graduation stage this June and unload your boxes into your new residence hall this August. There is a reason we call graduation “commencement:” To commence is to begin. This is only the beginning. The colleges to which you are offered admission, and the one you select to attend do not define you, nor do they define your parents, your family as a whole, or your ultimate potential. 


In fact, more often than not, the way a college builds an incoming class has very little to do with what is within your control as an applicant. We’ve all been privy to news coverage regarding how institutions use personal, demographic data each year to craft communities that are more and more “aspirational,” whatever that means. There is a deep desire for acceptance to this elite, exclusive club, one that people have broken laws to try to gain access to, has showcased the ugliest parts of this process, and, even more, has shined a spotlight on the privilege that some have and will use when it comes to getting what they think they deserve: access to the best possible college outcome, for the best possible educational experience, for the best possible future.


To our students who wonder what college will mean and look like for you, we urge you to think outside the superficial trappings of sweatshirts and bumper stickers. Woe is the path paved in external validation for things we as your deans already know: that you all are intelligent, capable, caring, and thoughtful young people yearning to make a difference in the world. If you voluntarily enter the rat race of seeking names and recognition devoid of value in the process of the journey, the next stage will inevitably present itself with escalated anxiety and new forms of despair. Names of colleges mutate into names of graduate schools, law firms, and financial institutions. And really, what is in a name? The true value in college lies in the things you have yet to discover and do — what friends will you make, what experiences will you cultivate, and what knowledge will you acquire. 


In support

Ms. Caro, Dr. Carter, Ms. Gardiner, Ms. Meeks, Ms. Perez, Ms. Walker, and Mr. Wong