This is an exciting–and anxious–time for the members of the Class of 2023 who are waiting to hear back about their college and university applications. When they receive those decisions, it will mark an important moment that is part of a comprehensive college counseling process at Wheeler. In fact, the school’s expert College Counseling team begins working with students and their parents or guardians in 9th grade to evaluate, explore, select, and ultimately apply to colleges and universities that are good matches for them. We talked with Director of College Counseling Amy Baumgartel Singer ’89, P’20, P’24 to learn more about how she and her colleagues provide guidance and support throughout students’ Upper School years at Wheeler.
Q: While the culmination of the college application process happens when students are in their senior year, Wheeler’s College Counseling team begins working with students and their families several years earlier. What are the ways your team provides guidance and support, whether one-on-one or in group settings?
A: In the 9th grade, we start with a parent/guardian program in January that lays out the timeline for the college application process so that families are informed very early about the ways in which the process will unfold and how our office will guide and support them. In the spring, we meet with the 9th-grade students in small groups to help them understand the intricacies of the process as well. We meet again with them in the spring of 10th grade to help them have an even greater understanding of the process as well as check in to make sure that they are taking advantage of all that Wheeler has to offer them, which not only helps with the college application process, but perhaps even more importantly, helps them have a robust high school experience. It also ensures that our students begin to see themselves as the drivers of their high school experience across all of its realms–both academic and co-curricular.
Q: What are the College Counseling team’s goals as you help students and their families navigate what can be a stressful college search and admissions process?
A: Our goals are very similar to the goals and mission that Wheeler encourages in all of its students–to know their powers and be answerable for their use. We want students and families to consider their individual experiences and needs, and we then tailor a process for each student and family that is right for them. The term “finding great fits” is used often and that is really what we aim to do. We want them to feel well-matched for whatever experience is coming after Wheeler, whether it is attending college, taking a gap year, completing a post-graduate year, or anything else that might be on the horizon. On a less serious note, we stock lots of candy in the office and co-sponsor a fun event with the Head of School’s office each fall that is specifically meant to celebrate seniors as they complete the first quarter of the year.
Q: There are so many schools out there, how do you help students identify their best college and university matches?
There are so many choices–often many more than people think at first glance! We are so lucky that we have a very low counselor/student ratio at Wheeler so we get to know our students exceptionally well through detailed questionnaires and many (many!) individual meetings with them. We also have students take advantage of interest/career inventories that are part of the college application technology platforms our office uses. Wheeler students tend to be highly reflective thinkers anyway as a result of the practice they have in their daily classwork. This certainly provides them with an advantage as they head into the process of defining what will be a successful post-Wheeler experience for them.
Q: The College Counseling team held a Juniors and Junior Families College Night kickoff event in December. What happens at that event, and what sort of questions do students and their parents or guardians typically have at this point in the process?
A: We did have our Junior/Junior Family College Night in early December and we are excited to be working with the Class of 2024! In addition to setting out the timeline of events over the next 18 months, we offered advice on everything from standardized testing to writing essays to ways to manage anxiety and stress in the process. Currently, we are meeting individually with every junior and then with each of them and their families to get to know them better, to create initial college lists, and to provide advice about visiting colleges in the coming months and about any other topics that are important to the student and their family. Later in the spring we begin working with students on their actual applications and drafting their college essays so they are well-prepared to continue that work into the summer months..
We want students and families to consider their individual experiences and needs, and we then tailor a process for each student and family that is right for them.
Q: And finally, seniors! How did you work with them this fall and now into the winter months?
A: Wheeler is pretty unique in that we schedule every senior to meet once every eight days with their college counselor throughout the fall and early winter. (Wheeler uses a rotating 8-day academic schedule). Students attend those meetings as if they were a “class for one” along with their academic courses. In between meetings, we are helping students finalize their college choices, review their applications and essays, and provide moral support for them and their families. A large majority of our students will apply “early,” which usually means submitting an application by Nov. 1 or Nov. 15. Since we begin the application work so early in the junior year, students are well-prepared to meet those deadlines with confidence.
Q: Are there other College Counseling events or engagement opportunities happening in the winter and spring that you’d like to mention?
A: In early January we hosted the aforementioned annual 9th/10th Grade Parent/Guardian program. In April we work with other independent schools in the area to offer a college fair for our juniors, and in May we are meeting with 9th- and 10th-graders during the school day to provide the seminars I mentioned earlier.
Q: You’ve been a part of the Wheeler community for a long time—first as a student, and now you’re the parent of both a current student and an alum, in addition to being a faculty member. Why is Wheeler the school–in so many ways(!)–for you?
A: It’s true–this is my 25th year in the College Counseling Office, and if you include my days as a student, my 31st year at Wheeler! My decision to take this job in 1998 was in part because I knew that I wanted my kids, who I didn’t even have at the time, to be part of what I have come to call this “yeasty” community–ideas and people are growing here all the time!
My daughter graduated from Wheeler in 2020. She is now double-majoring in neuroscience and dance – two subjects she explored in great depth through the Wheeler curriculum. As a student, she was a member of the Wheeler School Dance Company, a Peer Supporter, a member of the Community Standards Board, and was privileged to represent Wheeler at the NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference. She has felt exceptionally well-prepared to be a scholar and a leader in college. My son is a junior this year, and he has been a Co-President of his class, a Peer Supporter and a Math Assistant and a member of the varsity baseball and indoor track and field teams. He also loves being part of the tech crew for our theater productions. Both of them love that Wheeler is a place of “and”–you can be in the performing arts and an athlete and a student leader without having to compromise one for the other. Perhaps most important to each of us, though, are the connections between all community members at Wheeler that last far beyond a student’s graduation. For us, the words Wheeler and family are synonymous–there is no place like Wheeler!
Wondering what’s next after Wheeler?
See our college matriculation list for the Classes of 2019-22.