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Nowadays, having a virtual event is pretty common and this year’s Alumni College Day was no exception. The format moved from in-person to virtual, and this year we broke our day up into two separate talks, the first a requirement for Grades 9/10 and optional for Grades 11/12; and the opposite during the latter half of the afternoon. We didn’t want to interrupt class time for all the students to participate, so we decided to do it on a Day 9, which is a day where Upper School students are home with no scheduled classes, kind of a “catch-up day” that is new in the pandemic world. I was a little nervous about participation, but those Upper Schoolers made me proud!

The first part of Alumni College Day was a conversation with Rachel Pasternak ’99, Admissions Counselor and Mental Health Liaison at SUNY Geneseo. Rachel has a bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University and a Master’s Degree from Nazareth College. She is our local expert when it comes to students building up and creating a solid resume as they prepare to apply for college. We have been fortunate to have her share her information with previous groups, but never had so many participants on the Zoom: 71!

Rachel shared her own student experience while working with her Harley college counselor, Len Wilcox, as she prepared to apply for college—with her 8-page resume, which she had been compiling for quite some time! She then shared the importance of quality vs. quantity on a resume and that the activities admissions counselors notice most are volunteer work, service-oriented activities, and leadership within a club. She stresses you should participate in activities you want to do, not ones you feel you “should” do, and don’t be afraid to say “No” if your plate is getting too full. Time management is a critical key. Admissions counselors want to see that you can keep a good grade point average (GPA) and participate in outside activities at the same time. Rachel also reminded the group that you need to leave time for family, friends, and fun. What activity do you have that is just for you? Maybe’s it’s TikTok, reading a book, talking with friends. You need to have something separate from your academics and your resume-building extracurricular activities.

Rachel also shared that is okay to explore and figure out what you want to do; and you don’t have to stick with something just because you signed-up for it (a problem she had). She said college admissions folks notice the length of time you participated and like consistency.

She also spoke about building your college resume, a “polished, thoughtfully-written presentation of your qualifications to a college.” She said you can use any of the following to start collecting information for your resume: Canva, Resume Genius, Google Docs or SCOIR (what Harley uses).

She suggests the following timeline for students:

Starting in Grade 9, sit down with a parent/guardian, a teacher, or counselor and talk about your accomplishments. Make a list, keep track, start that resume and edit it later. She also suggested tracking the college mail you start receiving because you are going to get a lot. Even if you don’t look at it right away, put it in a designated box, basket, folder, or a bag and keep it together so you can take a look at it later.

In Grade, 10 start taking a look at your college options. Go to websites, set up visits, or do an informational webinar. She highly suggests creating a unique college email address for yourself. She apologized that college send a lot of emails to prospective students, and said creating a new address for college inquiries ONLY will keep your personal and school emails from getting clogged up. Budget time to scroll through them so as not to get overwhelmed.

In Grade 11 is a very important year when it comes to college applications; keep track of your GPA and keep it up. Join some clubs and make them worthwhile, remember quality vs. quantity! Check-in with yourself often and make sure you are doing okay, working hard, and getting excited about your next steps!

It was a tremendously helpful and focused part of Alumni College Day and the students were full of questions and appreciation.

For part II of Alumni College Day, we had a wonderful group of alumni join our 85 participants for a general talk about “Life at College”: Meg Green ’19 (University of Cincinnati), Kristin Jones ’18 (Northwestern University), Kyle Lacey ’19 (Lynn University), Holly Peckham ’18 (Purdue University), Eileen Reinhardt ’17 (SUNY Geneseo), Audrey Scudder ’19 (Vanderbilt University), Lia Urban-Spillane ’17 (Trinity College), and Corey Zhang ’19 (University of Rochester).

The first question that Harley College Counselor Amanda Edelhardt threw out to the group following introductions was, “What do you look for when applying to a school?”

  • What majors are available?
  • Location (close to home, city vs. rural)
  • School size
  • Internship opportunities
  • Opportunity to be out of comfort zone

A couple members of our group transferred schools in the first year or two, but did not regret their choice and simply said that plans change, expectations change, and you move on.

“Tell us about the college application process.”

  • One of our guests had done so much research ahead of time and applied so early, that the excitement about applying to schools wavered. She did essays for schools that she was not even excited about anymore. She said it’s fine to do your research, but stay flexible.
  • Several people said to get to know the school you are applying to. You might not like the people you might be joinin—and you should learn that before you get there
  • One person applied to too many schools, even ones she didn’t want, and the one she attended was one she applied for on a whim as it didn’t really fit any of the criteria she was looking for, but she is there now and loves it. You need to be open-minded. It’s a big decision, but not irreversible. Academics and the social aspect of college are kind of equal and you need to make sure you like the people.
  • Sometimes finding the right college takes a while, so be patient.
  • One of our speakers felt pressured to apply early decision, she got in and she’s happy, but finding a good college takes time.
  • Set deadlines to write essays and have someone hold you accountable for the deadline.
  • Don’t save all of your essays for one time.

“Tell us about academics and when you declare a major”

  • For some schools, you have to pick your major sophomore year and keep in mind, that taking one class can deter you from a major and that’s ok
  • You might go into college with one idea and totally switch—again, that’s ok
  • Take a variety of classes Freshman year and see what you are interested in
  • Internships are a great opportunity to try working in the field you THINK you are interested in
  • Classes don’t have to start at 8 o’clock am like at Harley, choose times that work best for you

“What about the non-academic side of college?”

  • It’s okay to change friends. Your orientation friends might not be your friends the whole time.
  • You need to be flexible. Sometimes your schedule doesn’t always line up with your friends, be willing to grow and expand your connections.
  • You might find your best friend at orientation, but be able to expand your friend group, and definitely make friends with people outside your major.
  • Take advantage of activities on campus.
  • Take advantage of activities like pre-orientation, and clubs you can make  friends with similar interests.
  • Board game nights are fun at freshman orientation.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of social media and making friends with similar interests.
  • When looking at schools, research the quality of life, like: student health access, mental health resources, even nearby grocery stores or coffee shops.
  • Make sure you know how to get around if you don’t have a car or if you do have a car, where do you park?
  • Don’t be afraid to knock on someone’s door and introduce yourself.
  • Don’t be afraid to pick the brains of older students, ask for advice.
  • Don’t pick a school based on a particular club or activity, all schools have tons of clubs and options.
  • Does your college have a career center to help you with your resume, find internships and jobs after college?

Any other advice?

  • Don’t overload the fall of your senior year of high school, take a writing class, know which schools you want to apply to and spend the fall going on visits.
  • If you are feeling overloaded, let your teachers know, they will understand, communication is the key.

We are so thankful every year for our alumni guests and their sage advice to our current Upper Schoolers!