According to mindful.org, mindfulness “is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” At Waring School, we promote a mindful approach to college counseling.
Mindfulness, in this context, means being fully engaged in the things that really matter during the college admissions process. We encourage our students to think expansively and to imagine that anything is possible. At the same time, we ask them to identify and then focus on what is truly important to them -- what values define them and which ones are evolving. We ask about their personal, intellectual, and academic priorities. We are not necessarily interested in them identifying prospective majors. We want them to envision the qualities of the journey that will have the most meaning to them and to consider the ways in which they will want to feel supported. In the end, we want them to be fearless as they continue on their path into adulthood.
Many years ago I had the opportunity to travel with Loren Pope, author of Beyond the Ivies and Colleges that Change Lives. Loren, who also had a private college consulting practice, believed that learning about colleges and going through the process of applying to them should be fun. It sounds almost naive these days to think that a process that many consider to be pressure-packed, intense, and unrelenting could actually be something pleasant, informative, and even enjoyable, yet Loren’s perspective is one that we keep at the forefront of our conversations about college admissions at Waring. If you think about it for a moment, it makes perfect sense that learning about new possibilities and thinking about what excites you should be a positive experience.
We also work very hard to stay away from the notion that there is a perfect college or university for any one of our students. In virtually every instance, there will be several schools that have the attributes for which a student is looking. We don’t focus on rankings or perceived prestige. Instead, we ask students to think about how well a college will fit them and encourage them to trust their gut feelings when they visit a campus. We recognize that if the school and student are not a good match, then the quality of the experience will be greatly diminished. One can go to what others might consider to be the “best” college in the country and be miserable, not to mention getting an unsatisfactory education, if it is not a good fit.
We see the college admissions process as the continuation or extension of what happens in a Waring classroom where we ask our students to think about big questions while paying close attention to the details. Most important, however, is our push to ensure that seniors are present for their final year with us. We know that the most successful college applicants are the students who are able to focus on doing well in the subjects they are studying, who are able to enjoy the relationships they have developed with schoolmates and teachers, and who are able to appreciate the leadership roles they have earned.
Most of all, we don’t want them worrying about getting into college. We know that if we help them ask the right questions, look critically at the data we present to them, and make carefully considered, well-informed decisions that the outcomes are going to yield the desired results. Of course there will be some disappointments -- especially for the students applying to highly selective schools. We understand that when a school admits fewer than twenty to thirty percent of its applicants, some number of very talented students are not going to be admitted. However, we work to develop well-balanced lists comprising schools all of which our students would be happy to attend, and again, to downplay -- if we cannot altogether eliminate -- the “best-college” mindset.
In the end, our students enroll at colleges or universities in which they have the potential to thrive. Our expectation is that they will develop the intellectual, personal, and social skills they will need for what comes after college and beyond. Waring is committed to nurturing lifelong learners.
The application process is so much more than taking the first step to college. It’s about exploring new possibilities, discovering what really matters, making decisions that will serve as guides in the journey into adulthood, and yes, about how to deal with some anxiety and disappointment. It’s about growing up.