What’s New in College Counseling

Catherine McGraw shares how her office is bringing new approaches to the college application process.

When Williston seniors learn of their acceptance to colleges and universities this spring, the news will be the culmination of a process that—for better or worse—has been a central focus of their lives for years. To provide support during this often-stressful time, the College Counseling office has introduced a suite of programs to help students learn more about potential schools, improve their applications, and present their accomplishments in the best light. Director of College Counseling Catherine McGraw explains six of the new initiatives.

1. More ways to meet colleges

“One of the hardest things for students is figuring out what types of colleges they are interested in,” McGraw notes. “How do you even know where to go and visit?” To help them learn more, the office now hosts mini college fairs in the fall and spring. This year’s fall fair, conveniently held at the athletic center at the end of the academic day, attracted representatives from 60 colleges. For a more personal introduction to a school, the office also now hosts informal dinners with college representatives, allowing students to hear about schools in the relaxed setting of the Cox Room.

2. Essay writing help

For the last two years, rising seniors have been required to write a first draft of their college essay over the summer, “so they are not starting it in the middle of the fall of their senior year when they already have a rigorous course load,” explains McGraw. On the day of the PSATs, in October, seniors attend an essay-writing boot camp, spending the morning in the dining hall working on their essays with English department faculty. Faculty also offer additional essay-writing workshops in the fall and spring, as well as workshops for supplemental essays.

3. Class assembly programming

The College Counseling office now works with the junior and senior class deans to present college preparatory information in class assemblies over the course of the year. Among the recent topics: a college dean’s explanation of the admission process, advice from young alums on choosing a school, and a “speed dating” program where students could choose from a list of mini workshops. “They are so busy,” explains McGraw. “They have so much to do and are pulled in so many different directions that weaving information into their schedule works best.”

4. Support for athletes

Since his arrival three years ago, head football coach Tom Beaton has served as the counseling office’s liaison to the athletic department, helping students navigate the recruitment and eligibility processes. With his previous experience as a coach at Tufts University, “Tom is an in-house expert for students who are interested in pursuing sports at the college level,” notes McGraw.

5. Application support

In partnership with the Financial Aid office, the College Counseling office this year launched a need-based grant program for qualified students to defray the cost of the college application process. Qualified seniors and juniors receive $500 to cover application fees, testing fees, workshops, or travel to prospective colleges.

6. Highlighting Williston artists

Beginning last year, students who demonstrate an extraordinary commitment to the arts, in both course work and co-curricular activities, can earn an Arts Concentration, which McGraw describes as similar to having a minor in college. Last year 15 students earned the acknowledgement, which appears on their transcript. “In my mind this really sets our students apart in the college process. If they have gone above and beyond with their interest in the arts, it’s important to recognize that. Colleges tell us they have under 15 minutes to review a student’s application, so the more on a transcript that sets our students apart, the better.”

To learn more about Williston’s current college counseling process, see our video at Williston.com/collegecounseling.