Summer 2015
College Counseling

COLLEGE COUNSELING
THE ETHOS OF INTROSPECTION

by Nicole Haims Trevor ’91 and Mel Malmberg

Take a moment to imagine how high school juniors feel walking into their first meeting with their college counselor. They might be nervous about their test scores or wonder whether one tough class will drag down their GPA. Many will have no idea where they want to go to college, but all will have a list of the “best schools” in mind, as judged by friends, siblings, parents and the US News & World Report. A panoply of fears, misconceptions and panic washes over them.

That is until Director of College  Counseling Gloria Diaz Ventura hands  them a journal and asks them to  respond to the prompt: “Why does  introspection matter?” A week later,  another prompt: “What would you do  if you couldn’t fail?” 

The college process at prep encourages us to explore and do some soul searching, but I think, ultimately, you have to find the confidence to be true to yourself.
— Sophia Hernandez ’16

At Prep, the checklist mentality  associated with the college search  process has been replaced with an  ethos of introspection. The foremost  purpose of the process is self-improvement,  and the by-product becomes  identifying the right college fit for each  student. In college counseling classes  at Prep, students begin to visualize their  possibilities, quantify their dreams,  assess their learning styles and research  options that match their educational  and social goals. The fears are set aside  for that hour, and the idea of selling  oneself transmutes to presenting one’s  most authentic self. 

Brandt Rohde ’15 says that the  process helped him figure out what to  look for in a school beyond academics. 

“I want a balance among schoolwork,  learning independently and learning  from my peers and my professors  informally,” he says. “I want discussion,  collaboration, research, writing. I figured  out that I want to learn a lot from being  on campus, but I want to be able to  access opportunities off campus too.  And I wanted a school with a sense  of humor.” 

Ultimately, he picked Bard College.

College Counseling

“Ms. Ventura asked me what  I would regret about not attending  college X—that helped the most. Many  colleges offer great things, but they  might be missing a vital thing for you.  The self-study involved with choosing  your college prepares you for the  personal growth you’ll experience in  college. You know you’ve made the  best choice based on who you are.” 

There are also tough conversations.  There are reach schools and test scores  to discuss, but at Prep, counselors make  this an active and a thoughtful process  of self-knowledge and self-revelation.  Some say the journey ends at Commencement,  and others say it ends even  earlier, when that last bitter rejection  letter is burned at Senior Celebration. 

The theory behind the novel  approach is tied intentionally and  concretely to the school mission. As  students get to know themselves, they  become better prepared for life beyond  college and begin feeling comfortable  making the series of important life  choices that lead to a successful college  experience. 

And the results are amazing by  any standard. In the last three years,  the college counseling office notes a  3 percent rate of alumni transferring  from one college to another, much  lower than the steadily rising national  average. As it turns out, when you ask students to describe how they learn,  environments that inspire them to learn  and what they like to learn, they ultimately  select institutions that reflect an  appropriate size, location and focus,  overshadowing the campuses to which  they thought they “should” apply. 

I was looking for a place that would offer interesting thinkers and diversity along with a creative, hands-on approach to learning. — Ella Worley ’15

But the means to the end isn’t easy,  and the process can get uncomfortable.  Diaz Ventura says, “Our goal is for each  student to answer ‘Who will I be when  I graduate from Prep?’ The college  application process is nuanced and  complex, but aren’t all valuable experiences  in life?” 

Ella Worley ‘15 at first concentrated  solely on art schools, but when she  toured several as a junior, something  didn’t feel right. 

“I slipped away from the art school  dream, first to liberal arts schools with  strong arts programs, then to UCs, and finally I abandoned everything I thought  I had known about myself and applied  to Cal Poly SLO,” she says. “I was  looking for a place that would offer  interesting thinkers and diversity along  with a creative, hands-on approach to  learning. I’m so glad I found it. Their  motto is ‘Learn by doing’ and they really  honor those words.” 

Sophia Hernandez ‘16 is in the  middle of the college counseling process  now. 

“The college process at Prep  encourages us to explore and do some  soul searching, but I think, ultimately,  you have to find the confidence to be  true to yourself. It’s hard to think about  the ‘right’ questions to ask prospective  colleges, but I’m starting to ask myself,  What do I look for in a school environment?  And can I see myself at this  school in the future?”