This is an exciting–and anxious–time for the members of the Class of 2022 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 recently held a Juniors and Junior Families College Night event. 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 while it was virtual in nature, we could still sense the excitement that the students and families have, and we are excited to be working with them as well! The evening was a combination of a presentation by the three college counselors as well as a panel with college admissions officers who answered questions on everything from determining the “good fit” that I described earlier, to athletic recruiting, to ways in which the pandemic has affected the process over the past two years and how they see the process unfolding for the Class of 2023. This month, we will be 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 draft their college essay 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: Actually, we are about to host our annual 9th/10th Grade Parent/Guardian program this week (on January 6)! In April we work with other independent schools in the area to offer a college fair for our seniors, 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 24th year in the College Counseling Office, and if you include my days as a student, my 30th year at Wheeler! My decision to take this job way back 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 drove five hours home from college this fall to be a demonstrator in the biology labs during our Open House because she feels so strongly about Wheeler and the excellent preparation she received here. 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 sophomore this year, and he has been a Co-President of his class and a member of the varsity baseball team. He also loves being part of the tech crew for our theater productions. They 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!