Episode 97: Obsess over Ideas

Episode 97: Obsess over Ideas

Date of Publication/发布日期
March 3, 2023
Curtis Westbay
Files & media
Volume 3 2022-2023

If you had to guess, what is the one question that we hear at just about every parent event, no matter what the topic is? Last week, we held a parent event on fine art college programs. Before that, there were two parent events on UK universities and liberal arts colleges. These topics have little overlap. There are art programs in the UK (some of the best in the entire world, in fact); there are art programs in liberal arts colleges. But that ubiquitous question had nothing to do with UK admission exams, nor portfolio preparation, nor the marketability of a liberal arts degree. That question?

Is it necessary to find a college counselor outside of school?

Necessary? Absolutely not. External counselors aren’t all made the same—some are actually quite good, while some are an out and out detriment to a student’s college applications. It’s easy enough for me to spot when a student has been working with someone who has “helped” them with their college applications. Of course, I know my students and their voices, so when application essays don’t bear much of a resemblance, it’s not too hard to see. Application readers at colleges don’t know students firsthand, but they are probably also quite adept at spotting the discrepancies between a student’s academic and testing performance and their application materials. An ineffective external counselor doesn’t see how over-helping can make a reader discount a student’s application from the very outset of application review. An effective external counselor ensures that the student’s voice is preserved and that every piece of the application is still authored entirely by the student. And, well, there’s not much of a need for this kind of support, given the time we can give our students in Grade 12.

Before Grade 12, we schedule meetings with students and depend on them to show up, to follow up, and to speak up. With nearly 400 students in Grades 9-11, we can absolutely give adequate attention to each student, but we can’t chase them down and force college guidance upon them. If the solution to a student’s passivity and disorder is to hire an external consultant who can lead them around by the hand, so be it. I shudder to imagine the implications of this apparent need on a student’s future performance once in college.

The fact of the matter is, when a student only seeks advice at the last minute, they won’t be able to prepare for the college application well. As a parent, you can make this preparation for the college application more natural by supporting your student in the pursuit of their true interests. Let your students obsess over the ideas that get stuck on their minds, and if they don’t have any preoccupations, there is no better use of your time than helping them find that thing that stimulates their curiosity. Top colleges accept very few students from mainland China. The distinguishing identity that comes from a student’s application when they have an abiding interest will help a student stand out.

If your student doesn’t have an idea that grips them, maybe they are overwhelmed with coursework. The coursework at our school gives each student a superb foundation from which to enter college. Still, some students don’t find any of these subjects captivating, and that’s okay. Be attentive to your student’s greatest interest and support them in exploring it more deeply. Worst case scenario, the interest wanes and they have found yet another thing that they don’t want to study further down the line. They may not have found their passion yet, but they are still narrowing in on it, one subject at a time.

When a student does find something they want to explore and they are empowered to do so by their parents, they don’t need me or an external counselor or anyone else, to be perfectly honest. They have an internal source of inspiration, and that’s enough. Their college applications are really a secondary concern, because they have found something that enriches their life. That’s the greatest reward all on its own.