Academic Foundation for College Success
by Alex Domine
Unique — this is the word that continues to come up when parents, faculty, staff, and community members describe each CWA student. This characteristic is especially evident to the CWA College Counselors who usher upper school students through the college application process, all of whom have unique needs, characteristics, and experiences at CWA.
“Any student (all grades) is welcome, at any time, to pop in with a question or make an appointment to chat with us about planning for college,” said Director of College Counseling Katie Ryan. “Throughout their time at CWA, we give them an opportunity to see the wide range of post-secondary options available to them and to interact with college representatives.”
The formal program begins in the fall of junior year when counselors begin working one-on-one with students in order to meet the needs of each individual, encouraging self-reflection, informed decision-making, and maturity.
However, the actual process of working towards success after college begins much earlier than junior year. The upper school’s trimester curriculum allows students to discover what they are passionate about so they can focus on those areas—or explore a variety of options to see if there’s something else they might be interested in.
“What will best serve students during the early part of the upper school is to focus on establishing a good academic foundation at Charles Wright and engaging in a variety of extracurricular activities, here at CWA and in their communities,” said Ms. Ryan.
By spring of sophomore year, students are assigned a college counselor and invited to make a first “get to know you” appointment. Fall of junior year is when college counseling begins in earnest at CWA. Students participate in a half-day college counseling workshop during which they think about how to begin their college searches, what to consider, where to find information.
For current parent Jessica Corddry, this order of events set her boys up for success.
“When it comes time to apply to colleges in junior year, the counselors have a better understanding of what they enjoy learning; what they want to learn more about – and what college will fit into that passion,” said Ms. Corddry.
Her son Jack graduated last year with a Headmaster Award for intellectual curiosity, and her other son Ted is now exploring college options.
“Before they can evaluate colleges, students need to look inward and ask themselves, “How do I learn? What is important to me in a college? What environment suits me best?” Said Associate Director of College Counseling Noel Blyler.
“I appreciated this type of personal attention and understanding of what made my son tick and suggestions for schools that would fit with his personality and interests,” said Ms. Corddry. “When we came in to talk with his counselor Mr. Blyler, we were his only focus. We could ask all the questions and, not only would he answer them but, he’d offer suggestions and say ‘have you thought of this?’ with a reassuring note that everything would work out fine.”
In addition to individualized attention, families have access to admission and financial aid workshops, as well as guidance from deans and admissions directors from all over the country. Nearly 80 colleges made individual visits to CWA in the fall of 2019.
“Selective colleges always evaluate applicants within the context of the environment from which they come, and college admission officers take great care to understand the grading policies and curricular opportunities of an applicant’s school before making any conclusion about that applicant’s fit for their institution,” said Ms. Ryan. “Students from Charles Wright are never compared directly on the basis of grades or any other factor with students from other schools. Thus, Charles Wright’s reputation as a challenging school serves students very well in the college admissions process.”
CWA hosts a college fair every year to provide more opportunities to interact with colleges beyond individual visits. Every year, approximately 100 colleges come to the CWA college fair where students have direct access to college admissions staff, many of whom are application readers who evaluate applicants from Charles Wright. This also gives colleges and universities the chance to interact directly with CWA students, who they know will be successful students at their institutions.
Juniors and seniors are required to attend the college fair, while 9th and 10th graders are encouraged to attend. Parents are also welcome.
“When I attended, I learned that getting into college is not just about grades. Colleges are looking for applicants who are taking advantage of all that their school has to offer,” said Ms. Corddry. “That means get involved in clubs, sports, government, arts, community service, get involved period. Colleges want to see a multi-dimensional student. They want to see passion and big picture thinking. They want interesting applicants.”
At the fair, students and families learn about what makes individual colleges or types of colleges distinctive. The attending colleges range anywhere from state universities, private universities, conservatories, or specialized institutes.
“Part of their (college admissions staff) jobs is not just to recruit students, but also to get to know the high schools in their region, and identify the high schools where they are most likely to succeed at recruiting students,” said Mr. Blyler. “They know that essentially all of our students are planning to go on to college, and that all of our students are well prepared to do well once they get there.”
By senior year, students finalize their college list, complete applications, and ultimately decide where to enroll. The process begins with helping the student go through a process of self examination. Their answers will help narrow the universe of possible colleges into a more manageable group to learn more about. This process extends beyond CWA and follows the student home.
“Conversations at home that center around what college is like and what the student hopes to gain from their college experience are very helpful for setting the foundation for a college search based on good decision making,” said Ms. Ryan. “Perhaps most importantly, parents can help by keeping an open mind about the colleges in which their children show interest and making clear that they’ll be proud of their child’s college choices no matter what they may be.”
CWA offers a summer boot camp in August for seniors who want to get a jump start on applications and four days during fall Experiential Education week that are devoted to completing college applications with the college counselors nearby to answer questions and give advice. Throughout the year, college counselors support the seniors through all stages of the application process, from feedback on college essay to making a good final college choice.
“It’s a different process for every family,” said Ms. Corddry. “But once everything was out the door and in the mail – I felt like the entire ‘team’ had done everything we could – and for that I was grateful. My advice to any parent would be to enjoy it while it’s happening.”