Pathways to College Recap 2014

Peter Warsaw, Academic Dean, and Mark Spencer, Director of College Advising, took to the newly renovated Hess Center stage to provide an overview of Deerfield’s advising on Friday afternoon of Fall Parents’ Weekend. The audience was primarily parents of juniors, sophomores and freshmen and the “Pathways to College” presentation was helpful in putting the advising process in context, from first year through the college advising process in the senior year, and providing an overview of what students and parents should expect.

Peter Warsaw opened the presentation with a review of the six qualities of an ideal Deerfield graduate: disciplined work habits, productive collaboration/class discussion, grit/resilience, initiative/independence, creativity, and curiosity. He cited research by two acclaimed authors: Daniel Pink, who wrote Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and Tony Wagner, who wrote Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World. Pink’s groundbreaking research reveals that individuals achieve more and derive greater satisfaction in life when three elements of motivation are present: autonomy (the desire to direct our own lives), mastery (the desire to get better at something that matters), and purpose (the desire to contribute to a cause that is greater than ourselves). Tony Wagner’s work addresses how the forces of passion, play and purpose drive young innovators in today’s world. The goals in the classroom are to nurture creativity, spark imagination while teaching students to learn from failure and to persevere.

Peter described several exciting new initiatives this year designed to enhance learning and develop the desired qualities in Deerfield students. First, he described a new Grade 9 Rubric which replaced traditional grading for the fall mid-term of freshman year and focuses the evaluation of new students on four of the ideal student qualities: work habits, class discussion, grit, and curiosity. New library spaces have been designed to encourage innovation, collaboration, creativity, and learning as fun. These include the Innovation Lab on the main floor and a technology-enabled classroom designed to encourage collaboration and creativity. For seniors, there is an increased emphasis on Capstone Projects and senior research courses so as to enable our students to end their time at DA with a culminating project, written report, and presentation. Beyond the current on-campus community, Peter briefly described an initiative to expand Deerfield Talks to TEDx Talks, which Deerfield has recently been authorized to host, and The Experimentory, a new Summer Program for rising 7th and 8th graders, which will be offered next summer. Peter then introduced Mark Spencer to share the college advising process and how it overlays the students’ four years at Deerfield.

Now in his second year leading college advising, Mark Spencer is building the staff and working to document and improve the process for students and their parents. The new DA College Advising Handbook is complete and was distributed at the meeting. It is also available on the school website at Link to College Advising Handbook. The advising staff is currently located on the second floor of the Main School Building and has expanded by one to include Mark plus four additional advisors – Jamie Bucci, Amy Lareau, Sarah Tarrant Madden and Spencer Washburn – plus an advising assistant, Joyce McCarvill, and a testing coordinator, Vita Thiel. Staff bios and contact information are provided on the college advising webpage (see link at end of article).

Mark emphasized the philosophy of the college advising office as follows:

Applying to college is a process of discovery, of pondering who you are and who you want to become, of contemplating what role you want to play in the larger world. The college search is, in essence, an extended research project, which will require students to look within themselves for many of the answers. Students will learn to identify and assess themselves, to set priorities, and to make major decisions. How a student navigates through this process is just as important as where he/she ends up. Along the way students will develop and hone their organization, communication and research skills.

While many students and their parents arrive at Deerfield already thinking about college, Mark described the following process and priorities by year, noting that while some activities have shifted earlier, the bulk of activity remains in junior and senior years.

  • Freshman Year: Be freshmen and focus on adjusting to life at boarding school. Freshman year is the time to develop foundational skills and disciplined study habits. Advisors can assist with academic planning questions and guide any student who may take SAT subject tests at the end of the year. “Freshman year does matter” and so start high school off well.
  • Sophomore Year: New this year, the college advising office has added general sessions with the sophomore class each term. These sessions will cover such topics as self-discovery, testing, curriculum, and summer opportunities. As they have done in the past, all students will take PSATs in the fall of sophomore year and should not feel pressure, as this test is intended for practice purposes. (Students may also choose to take a practice ACT in February of sophomore year.) It is important to note that the SAT format will change in spring 2016 to a more ACT-like format. The class of 2017 will be the first impacted by the SAT change. As juniors, the class of 2017 will again take the PSAT, but the format will change to prepare for the new version of the SAT.
  • Junior Year: The timing of the junior year process has shifted earlier in the year. Students now attend a fall seminar in September or October. They complete fall information forms and are encouraged to begin building a resume and take a “Discover Yourself” test in Naviance to help define interest areas. Students are assigned an advisor by early November and one-on-one meetings with advisors begin shortly thereafter. Parent involvement begins with a kick-off meeting on Sunday, January 4th. During the winter and spring, juniors develop a standardized testing plan, initial school list, senior course selections and summer plans. Spring break is a good time for some initial college visits. As for testing, by the end of the junior year, students should have completed a SAT or ACT and 2 SAT subject tests. The office also encourages students to ask their teachers who will be references for them at the end of the junior year.
  • Senior Year: The Common Application goes live each summer on August 1st. Thus, college advising strongly urges students to begin to work on that application in August. Students should put together an outline and draft or two of their college essay before they return to school in the fall. With research and college visits completed during the summer, in the fall students can focus on completing standardized tests and finalizing college lists and essays with their advisor. Mark encourages students to remember that a Deerfield education, with its emphasis of morals, character and community, is unique. Although each year many students apply to an early program, Mark encourages his advisees not to “play into peer pressure” and to explore all their options before they decide if early-decision is right for them.

In closing, Mark and Peter stressed the need to focus on our children’s long-term success beyond college. Often there is too much focus on the moment of college acceptance rather than how the college choice and the experiences that follow build the foundation for a fulfilling, productive, happy life. Peter noted recent feedback from Austin Sarat, an Amherst College political science professor, who shared the following key attributes for students’ success in college and beyond –-

  • Ability to deliver clear, understandable communications, and specifically learning to write well,
  • Psychological scaffolding to guard against “crash and burn” that afflicts many college students. Helpful scaffolding includes well-developed identity, grit/resilience, and well-practiced coping strategies and mechanisms.
  • Meaningful sense of purpose beyond just getting into a competitive college. The danger is that students, thinking their goal has been reached, will let down and lose focus and drive just as they most need to be intrinsically motivated.

As our children grow and learn and prepare to move on to college, we must keep these thoughts in mind.

For more information on College Advising, including staff bios, information on the college process, and standardized testing, go to the College Advising page on the website — Link to College Advising.

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