As high schoolers await college acceptance letters, one counselor has some advice
NASHUA – The fateful letters will be arriving soon. They’ll carry postmarks from places with dining halls and dorm rooms, emerald quadrangles and stately stone libraries.
Places like Durham and Hanover. Or Amherst, Mass., and Kingston, R.I. Campus cities along the Sun Belt or tucked into the Pacific Northwest.
The thickest packages will contain letters that begin this way: “Congratulations!’’
College acceptance season will soon be in full flower. And seniors everywhere are on edge.
“They’ve been going to school, some of these kids, for 13 years now,’’ veteran school counselor Brenda Poznanski told me the other day. “They know exactly what they’re going to do every day. Where they’re going to go. When they’re going to eat lunch. What they’re going to wear. What the expectations are for them.
“And now, in their senior year, they’re going into this big black hole. Think about your own life as an adult. You didn’t even know how nervous you should be when you look back on it.’’
Few people are as familiar with the nail-biting college application and acceptance process as Poznanski.
She’s seen it from both sides of the table. She knows about the stress. She knows about the expectations. She’s looked into tearful faces of disappointment. She’s applauded soaring academic achievement.
Poznanski is the director of school counseling and admission here at Bishop Guertin High School, a private independent Roman Catholic school. A native of West Springfield, Mass., she worked for a couple of years at Mitchell College in New London, Conn., and then spent a decade as the associate director of admissions at Bentley University in Waltham.
She’s been in this business long enough to watch as the term “helicopter parents’’ has fallen out of style, morphing into something even more colorful and wonderfully apt.
“Well, we’re now calling them Zambonis,’’ she said. “You know how the Zamboni comes out on the ice and it’s all smooth and there’s no bumps. No dings. Nothing. They come through and they get on the Zamboni and it’s all clear.
“And it’s dangerous. Kids have to make mistakes. And they don’t always get what they want. And it’s OK. They’re going to be OK.’’
Poznanski is a past president of the New England Association for College Admission Counseling. She was named its counselor of the year in 2017.
And the kids who come to her office seeking counsel knows she speaks with uncommon authority about this high-stakes rite of passage.
“Instead of guessing about what it is that they want to hear, you know what college admissions people are looking for because you have someone who used to do that work,’’ said Eric Cieszynski, a 17-year-old Bishop Guertin senior. “That’s really helpful.’’
So what is it that colleges want to hear?
Drawing on her years of experience, she’s given this year’s class her best advice: It’s basic and it’s solid.
“You have to do well in school,’’ Poznanski said. “You don’t become a good soccer player if you don’t practice. High school is practice for college. You have to be able to write. You have to be able to communicate. You have to be able to do reading, writing, and arithmetic. To be successful, you have to be able to do those things.’’
And in the age of the ubiquitous iPhone, small and simple skills call for a refresher course whose watchwords are these: Eye contact. Self-advocacy. Honesty. Integrity.
“Do you remember those days on a bus for a field trip?’’ asked Poznanski. “Today, kids aren’t talking. They’re not singing silly songs. They’re not chanting crazy things. They’re talking to each other via text. They’re snap-chatting. Or they’re sharing earbuds and they’re listening to a movie or music.
“And it’s quiet. The only reason you get a headache on a field trip these days is because of the rattling of the school bus. It’s not because of the kids.’’
Her advice to her students: Polish that application essay. It’s the most important way to sell yourself to the college of your dreams.
“It’s the piece of the application that stops them in their tracks,’’ she told me. “These kids are not used to writing about themselves. They’re used to writing about something. You answer questions for history. You write an essay for English based on what you think the writer was trying to say.
“You’re not writing from the inside out. You’re writing from the outside in. It’s a really different type of writing at the most critical juncture.”
And these seniors know it.
As I sat around a conference table the other day at Bishop Guertin High, Cieszynski and his classmates – Emma Wallat, Emilie Laurendeau, and Charlie Kenny – talked about the angst and the excitement of high school’s final chapter.
Some of these kids have been together since the first grade.
Now, they’re ready to cheer mutual success that will send them into the unknown, the unfamiliar.
It’s thrilling. It’s terrifying. And they’re ready.
In her college essay, Wallat wrote of her love of hockey, of endless early-morning practices, of sharp blades sweeping over a clean sheet of ice – and, poignantly, of how all of it strengthened her bond with her dad.
“I see my father towering over everyone for the best view,’’ she wrote. “People may argue that he is blocking that view but I would refute that by telling them that he earned that view a long, long time ago.’’
Poznanski has earned a view like that, too.
She’s watched some of them grow from 4-foot-8-inch freshmen to 6-foot-2-inch seniors. She’s seen shy kids mature into starring roles in school musical productions.
On the wall of her office, the admissions chief has framed tiny slices of guidance written in the colors of the rainbow for the students who sit next to her desk, seeking her good counsel.
“Dream more. Complain less. Hope more. Fear less. Relax more. Worry less.’’
It’s sound, time-tested advice. Advice that will be easier to heed once the e-mail arrives or the postal carrier has handed over those thick packages with this magic message:
Congratulations! Welcome to college.
Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at thomas.farragher@ globe.com.