Originally Posted: Oct 3, 2011
Last Updated: Apr 3, 2013
Anne Macleod Weeks is the Upper School Director at The Agnes Irwin School in Rosemont, Pennsylvania. She has 27 years of experience as a college counselor. Anne holds a B.A. from Lawrence University and an M.A. from Villanova University. She is a member of NACAC and NAIS and is a Certified Educational Planner.
Insights and advice
What are some of the common challenges your students (and their parents) are currently facing in the college admission process?
More families are facing financial constraints. Students feel driven to "do it all," and many students, as a result, are over-extending themselves, have little free time, and do not get enough sleep.
What are some of the steps you take to help them successfully overcome those challenges?
It is important to do projected outcome planning starting in ninth grade. Where do interests and passions lie? How to balance school life with extracurricular life. How to build a résumé that is balanced but also indicates intentional decisions.
What are your top goals for the students you work with?
To plan well while also having fun in the process, and to keep options open.
Have you seen any noticeable changes in college applicants in the recent economic climate? Have you seen any shifting trends in the majors students intend to pursue?
Students and their families are including a broader list of colleges in their choices, including those that are "financial back-ups." Students are also much more career-minded, and as a result, they are questioning outcomes in terms of job placement of a college's graduates.
What advice you would give to college counselors who are new to the profession?
- Find a mentor. This is key. Find someone you can call when you are unsure of how to answer a question, when you need some feedback on suggestions you plan to make, or someone who simply has a broader knowledge of how to navigate the waters with both families and colleges.
- Read, read, read. Read everything you can get your hands on.
- Network at professional meetings/conferences.
- Visit as many campuses as you can.
- Talk to alumni from your school who are currently in college and find out what their transition has been like.
What are some common misconceptions that students have going into the college admission process?
The most common misconception is that you can control the outcome. There are so many variables that go into a college's decision, you can't begin to predict an outcome with any certainty. All you can do is present yourself in the best light possible and hope that you meet what the admission committee wants at that moment in time. The second misconception is that any one piece of your application packet can influence a decision.
Do you ever encounter situations in which students and their parents have different goals in mind?
I always tell families in this situation to find a compromise. Allow the parents to choose some schools and the student to choose some schools, wait until you get the decisions, and then discuss. Often families can be arguing over a college/colleges, and then the student isn't even admitted! What a waste of energy! See what lands on the table in the end, and then you can negotiate with what you have to work with.
Have you seen any students successfully use social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.) as a tool in the college admission process? How do you advise students to edit their online presence?
Yes, I have. All schools should be teaching students about their online presence starting in middle school. If that is not happening in a child's school, parents need to be educated and doing the same. My students have used Facebook to search about the social life at various colleges through posted photos and comments. I have also had students find the blogs of undergraduates in certain majors and have read them to ascertain what the student community and professors are like in a specific college's department.
What can/should a college counselor do to help students prepare for the SAT or ACT?
I know the test prep gets a bad name, but in terms of learning test-taking skills, I feel test prep is worth it. I do not think cramming content is worthwhile. For the ACT, too many students take it just once. My experience has been that a student's score will increase significantly simply by taking the test a second time, due to more familiarity with the test's structure.
What is your strategy for helping students find financial aid?
Ultimately, this the family's responsibility. I do tell them two things:
- Work with the college's financial aid office ahead of time. Ask them questions about their process and the general process. Let them get to know you. They are the experts.
- Always ask the college if private scholarships will be applied to the family's contribution or will it be applied to diminish the amount of grant money the college is offering the family.
Describe what are, in your opinion, a few of the cornerstones of a successful college admission essay.
The two most important aspects are 1.) proper grammar/spelling/structure and 2.) voice. The college wants to hear your voice. Who are you? This is where you are able to distinguish yourself as an individual.
What is your process for helping students narrow down the list of schools to which they will apply?
This takes time and many conversations. It means really knowing the student, family, and the nuances of the college itself. You want to see a theme in all of the choices that resonates with what the student wants/needs. The hardest part, always, is finding schools that are pretty much guaranteed for admission that the student is happy to attend. It is easy to find a dream school--it's harder to find that sure bet that will satisfy you.
What are, in your opinion, some of the best ways that students can make themselves stand out beyond their applications?
Visits. E-mailing the director and then following up to say hello when on campus. Asking to meet with a professor in the discipline that interests you. Meeting a coach. Writing thank-you notes. Showing independence (not having your parent talk for you, make appointments for you, etc.).
What would you consider your biggest accomplishment or your proudest moment as a college counselor?
Whenever a student reached for the stars and was successful. When my colleagues voted me PCACAC Counselor of the Year for Maryland.
Favorite book: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by David Eggers
Favorite hero of fiction: Tess Durbeyfield
Favorite movie: A River Runs Through It
Favorite band or musician: Grateful Dead
Favorite quote: I am a part of all I have met. -- Tennyson's Ulysses
Favorite place you've traveled to: Poland
Favorite college memory: English with Dr. Thomas Dale at Lawrence University
Five people you would invite to a dinner party: David Eggers, Bill Clinton, David Simon, Barbara Mikulski, and Carolyn Hax
Your personal motto: Hold fast.