Young Alumni Share How They Faced Transition To College

Ten young alumni returned to the Williston Northampton School campus this week to talk with juniors and seniors about the upcoming transition to college. They explained how they made crucial decisions, such as how many schools to visit, and which ones to apply to, as well as how to prepare for the all-important interview and compose the perfect essay. As the panel progressed, they discussed the importance of making sure they have time to socialize and connect while managing a slate of demanding classes and saying “yes” to signing up for that intriguing class outside their major that may take them down an unexpected career path.

The following alumni spoke to seniors in the Phillips Stevens Chapel:

  • Maddy Stern ’14 (Harvard University)
  • Bina Sweet ’17 (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)
  • Maddy Scott ’16 (Westfield State University)
  • Abbie Foster ’16 (Boston University)
  • Nate Gordon ’16 (Kenyon College)

And these alumni spoke to juniors in the Williston Theatre:

  • Cameron Ward ’17 (Roger Williams University)
  • Ava Yates ’17 (Vassar College)
  • Julia Valine ’15 (Saint Anselm College)
  • Hannah King ’15 (Connecticut College)
  • Cody Cavanaugh ’16 (Wheaton College)

Kate Garrity led the discussion with juniors. She asked the panel what they would do differently in their junior year, if they could do it all over again. Julia Valine said has an interest in occupational therapy and that she wishes she had shadowed more people in that field during high school. She’s applying to graduate schools now in that discipline.

Ava Yates advised students visiting schools to reflect on and write down what they liked or didn’t like about a college after each visit. “Schools can tend to blend together” if you don’t take a moment to distinguish them, she said.

As for college interviews, Cody Cavanaugh reminded students to remember that the interviewers are just people, and not to get too caught up in worrying about it. “Trust yourself,” he said.

Once in college, and faced with new challenges—large classes, less structure, distant from former sources of comfort like family—adapting can be a big change, alumni acknowledged. But they advised students to take it in stride. “Have faith that you will figure it out,” said Maddy Stern. “Be patient with yourself during the transition, and know that you’ll get to place where it works for you.”

“The biggest adjustment at first was lecture classes,” she continued. “You go from a school of 500 or so people to a survey class with 700 people. You have to figure out the best way to learn in new environment.”

Abbie Foster agreed and added a practical suggestion. “I realized it was best for me to sit in the second row. That way I was close enough to feel like I could see the professor and be engaged, like at Williston, but not too, too close.”

In deciding which classes to take, alumni advised students to keep an open mind. “Don’t be afraid to take that random course that intrigues you,” said Stern. “I took Intro to Archeological Methods—even though I’m never going to be an archaeologist—and it was fascinating. If something looks interesting, go for it.”

Bina Sweet echoed that suggestion. “Have an open mind and don’t cut off options. I was dead set on being pre-med, but realized I was better set for pre-law. I would never have thought that during my senior year [of high school].”

Outside of class, the panels agreed that making friends and connecting with the community helps with adjustment. “Remember when you first get to college that everyone knows no one,” said Nate Gordon. “Everyone is trying to make friends.”

Maddy Scott pointed out another good reason to get out there to meet people: “Clubs and activities help you structure your day,” at a time when you may have more freedom than you’re used to, she said.

Gordon advised students to see the bigger picture. “College is about figuring out what you want to do, what path you want to take. There are so many options. How can I structure my time? My day? What friends do I want to have? What really interests me?” he said. “Be patient. You’ll figure it out.”

And as the panel wrapped up, Gordon reminded students that they’re not in college yet. “My advice is to try and really enjoy this time,” he said. “Really focus on what you’re doing now and love at Williston, whether that’s a sport, or working on the paper, or being in the play.”