By Director of College Counseling Kate Ramsdell
Beth Reilly, president of our board of trustees, suggested during her opening of school remarks that optimism is the single trait that defines one’s likelihood of finding happiness and maximizing one’s capacity for leadership. I had one of those “a-ha” assembly moments where I thought, “As college counselors, we, too, ask our students to become optimists!” We urge them to consider the myriad possibilities that lie before them rather than sinking to the belief that, “If I don’t get into x, then I have failed, become a disappointment, and will somehow never find the success of which I once dreamt.”
This quest for optimism manifests itself in the powerful refrain that we use when talking to our counselees about building the balanced list of colleges to which they will apply:
Say no later.
It is generally easiest for kids to fall in love with their ‘far reaches’ and to pay less attention than they should to their ‘likely’ schools. Perhaps it goes without saying, but there is not oneright school for any person. Indeed, there was a time when I thought I might like to marry Tom Brady, that he was the one. No matter how good a person I am, I have a sinking feeling that a life with Tom was never in the cards—one look at me would affirm that I am not Gisele—and my husband is nevertheless wonderful, thank you…but I digress.
A focus on attaining “the one” is an added burden in a process that comes with its share of stressors: Will my child be sad or disappointed by this process? What will our home and family be like when my child is off at college? Can we afford it? What does it mean that I’m leaving home? Will the adults about whom I care the most be proud of me? We try to remind kids that applying to college is overflowing with possibility! It’s an exciting journey into the beginning phases of adulthood, a chance to explore and grow, an opportunity to learn a great deal about oneself and the world.
Say no later is, in our office lexicon, a gentle but direct way of encouraging a student to look at the list and the search process as a landscape populated with a multitude of opportunities rather than a barren tract where the distraction of one perfect college prevents students from imagining themselves anywhere else, even if all the quantitative data and anecdotal evidence point to not getting in.
The graduates who have “said no later” applied to a handful of likely and possible schools that represented a good match (in addition to their reach schools). Once admitted, they often tell us that we helped them to feel good, to broaden their choices and to understand their “value” in a college process that does not always offer affirmation. When students have matriculated at one of their “say no later” colleges, they often remark, “If you hadn’t told me I should at least apply, I never would have been here, and I LOVE it!”
Please know that we believe that the most important aspects of what we do in the college counseling office at Nobles fall into the following categories:
1) Know, understand and care about your child;
2) Educate you about the evolving landscape in higher education;
3) Help your child define the criteria that he or she believes will make a college a good fit;
4) Assess your child’s chances of admission at every college on the list, and build a smart strategy to garner choices;
5) Advocate vigorously for your child and support him or her each step of the way in the college search, application, and decision phases.
Though we love all aspects of what we do, 1 and 5 are the most fun. Yet, we owe it to our counselees to deliver the hard news before colleges do, and we certainly owe it to you to provide you with enough ideas and opportunities so that the decision-making part is joyous.
When we ask students to “say no later,” we’re asking them to apply to colleges that we know will be a good fit and will be schools that would love to welcome them. Acceptance and belonging are two things we all crave and adolescents crave in particular. We believe we should help them stretch, take smart risks and strive. We also want them to discover and embrace an array of colleges where they can continue to thrive.