LETTER TO THE EDITOR: “Specialize college advising”

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We always encourage readers to respond to the articles we publish with a “Letter to the Editor.” In response to the article “Specialize college advising” published in the May issue of the paper, the Upper School college counselors have submitted this one. 

Dear Editor,

In the most recent edition of The Patriot Post, there was an opinion piece titled “Specialize college advising.” We wanted to address some of the comments in the article.

First, we are always looking for ways our department can improve because our ultimate goal is to help students apply and get accepted to college. We love what we do, and we adore working with students.

What was a bit surprising to us is that we don’t consider what we do as “general guidance.” We see ourselves as college advisors, and we are all pretty well versed in what is necessary to get students into colleges for STEM, pre-med, fine arts, or any other major an applicant might want. And we believe all of us have had success with students in all of those areas. For most majors (with the exception of fine arts), colleges want students to have solid academic preparation across all five core subjects: math, science, English, social studies and foreign language. Of course, there are always exceptions, and certain schools have special requirements; AP Calc at GA Tech comes to mind, and FSU wants students to be academically admissible even if they are auditioning for fine arts. One of the quotes in the article asked, “Which part of admissions ‘weighs’ the most? My grades, my test scores, or my auditions?” We can tell you that the most common answer is that this depends on the college; there is rarely one ‘correct’ answer. There are over 3000 colleges in the U.S., and they are always making changes, adding programs, changing programs, and changing requirements. Our job is to know where, when, and how to get this information to students (along with writing letters of recommendation, reading and helping with essays, gathering teacher letters, and looking over applications), but more importantly, how to lead the students to that information as they have to be the one in the driver’s seat. We often recommend books, websites, former students, college visits, faculty (when it is appropriate), and other resources students can consult. To stay up to date, we also attend conferences, workshops, and counselor events, visit colleges, and research questions so that we can find answers.

Every fall, there are approximately 10-15 fine arts students applying to college. If they are all assigned to one counselor, what if they change their mind (believe us, this happens all the time)? We have had students finish the pre-med track go on to study law, and others win international science fairs go on to pursue non-science careers. And what if someone discovers their passion for the arts during junior or senior year? Each advisor having knowledge in each area allows for more help across all disciplines. We also believe counseling students about their major is most logically done in college, where students can be matched with a major-specific advisor. And speaking of changing minds, a 2013 Penn State study discovered that 75% of students change their major at least once before they graduate, while approximately 35% of students enter college undecided: https://dus.psu.edu/mentor/2013/06/disconnect-choosing-major/

We enjoy having discussions about college, but we just don’t happen to agree with the authors on this particular topic. However, please do not interpret this as our not being open to input; we most certainly are, and we appreciate your opinion and that of the other juniors who contributed to this article. If students feel there are things we can do, learn, or change, please do not hesitate to let us know. This article started a conversation, and journalism is important for that very reason; it gets people talking, thinking and sharing ideas.

To provide some more thought related to this issue, we leave you with a short excerpt from an article by J.M. Olejarz entitled Digital Companies Need More Liberal Arts Majors: Liberal Arts in the Data Age:

“Hartley believes that this STEM-only mindset is all wrong. The main problem is that it encourages students to approach their education vocationally—to think just in terms of the jobs they’re preparing for. But the barriers to entry for technical roles are dropping. Many tasks that once required specialized training can now be done with simple tools and the internet. For example, a novice programmer can get a project off the ground with chunks of code from GitHub and help from Stack Overflow.

‘If we want to prepare students to solve large-scale human problems,’ Hartley argues, ‘we must push them to widen, not narrow, their education and interests.’ He ticks off a long list of successful tech leaders who hold degrees in the humanities. To mention just a few CEOs: Stewart Butterfield, Slack, philosophy; Jack Ma, Alibaba, English; Susan Wojcicki, YouTube, history and literature; Brian Chesky, Airbnb, fine arts. ‘Of course, we need technical experts,’ Hartley says, ‘but we also need people who grasp the whys and hows of human behavior.

What matters now is not the skills you have but how you think. Can you ask the right questions? Do you know what problem you’re trying to solve in the first place?’ Hartley argues  for a true “liberal arts” education—one that includes both hard sciences and “softer” subjects. ‘A well-rounded learning experience,’ he says, ‘opens people up to new opportunities and helps them develop products that respond to real human needs.’”

To read the entire article, please follow this link:  https://hbr.org/2017/07/liberal-arts-in-the-data-age

Sincerely,

Your College Advisors

Luciana Mandal, Kelly Bennett, Kara Morreale, Tammy Kowitt, Sharon Bikoundou, Erik McLeod, Beth Taubman, and Orley Malloy

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