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Five College Journeys: A Panel Discussion With Members of The Class of 2022

01 June, 2022

We recently sat down with a panel of five 12th-graders from the class of 2022 who attended our College Camp with Bennett college consultant Jayne Gandy, to reflect on their experiences, perspectives, and lessons learned during the college decision-making and application process. It proved to be a lively discussion indeed, full of valuable “behind-the-scenes” advice for students and parents alike who are preparing to embark on this adventure!  

We covered a range of topics, including where they found the most helpful information during their college search, on-campus visits, and tours, approaching the Common Application, what advice they might have given their freshman selves looking back, and what advice they might give to parents supporting their children through it all. 

What follows is a series of video recordings of our enlightening conversation, held in early May, accompanied by a full-text transcript (lightly edited for reading clarity). We hope you enjoy watching and reading this as much as we enjoyed hosting the evening! 

Elizabeth: Hello everybody, and welcome to a Bennett College Consulting panel discussion with a group of members of the class of 2022.  I’m Elizabeth Sawyer, and as CEO of Bennett, I would like to thank all of you for joining us this evening – especially our young people here, who are giving us their time and their reflections. I will hand it over to Jayne Gandy, who is one of our seasoned education consultants, specifically in college consulting, and has worked with all of these students. So, over to you, Jayne! 

Jayne: Thank you. I’m excited about tonight! I always think it’s great to hear from the students, because we get a real look at what’s behind the scenes. As Elizabeth said, I have helped all of these students through Bennett’s College Camp, so I got to meet them all and work with them for a few days. So, without further ado, I’ll have you each introduce yourselves, and I want to ask when you started this process and where you will be attending next year. 

Andy: Hi, I’m Andy. I’ll be attending the Honors College at the University of South Carolina, And to start off, I could not be more excited to talk to you guys tonight about my personal thoughts and feelings about the college decision-making and application process. I first started when the Common Application first opened with Mrs. Gandy, so, that was the beginning of my vendetta! 

Lily: Hi, I’m Lily. I also started the college application process when the Common Application opened, I think on August 1st, at Jayne’s College Camp. I will be attending the Honors College at the University of Delaware.  

Layla: Hi, my name is Layla. I also started when the Common App opened with Jayne at the Bennett College Camp, and I will be going to Fordham University. 

Anna: Hi, I’m Anna. I will be attending the Honors College at the University of Pittsburgh, and I also started my process when the Common Application opened at Jayne’s camp.  

Piper: Hi, I’m Piper. I’m attending the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, and I started this process in March of my junior year.  

Jayne: So, my guess is that while some of you probably started the process a little earlier, many of you started the actual application during our College Camp.  

Now, I’m going to ask you some questions, just kind of throw them at you. First, we’re going to talk about some campus visits. 

Where did you find helpful information, when considering schools?  

Lily: I got helpful information mostly from people who had already gone through the college process, because they’re very knowledgeable about what happens, and how to go about it, and how to manage everything. Also, my family and my friends helped, because we were all going through the same thing at the same time. I also contacted people that went to the colleges I was thinking about, so that helped a lot too.  

Layla: I got helpful information mostly from some friends at Bennett. Also, I would say doing campus tours, where they walk you around. They give you so much information that you can’t really find online or anywhere else. Those were really helpful. 

Andy: I found a lot of good information from my guidance counselors and the adults around me who helped to guide me. But the best information I found was, like Lily said, talking to people who are in that school or had attended that school. They gave me the most realistic information. 

How many schools did you visit? Were they virtual, or in-person?  

Piper: In total, I did virtual tours or in-person visits of eighteen schools. Twelve of those were walking around on my own or guided tours, and two were online virtual tours in my living room. I ended up attending a school that gave me a guided campus tour. 

Anna: I think I did eleven or twelve “official” tours and then a couple more “unofficial” tours. I didn’t really do any virtual tours. By “unofficial”, I mean, unguided – we just walked around the campus ourselves, and official, I mean, guided tours. I ended up going to school that did a guided tour. 

Jayne: How about the rest of you, just out of curiosity? A show of hands – did you end up in a school that gave you a guided tour? [all hands raised] 

Okay, so all of you! That’s good information.  

 

Which was your most memorable college tour, and what stood out to you?  

Anna: I would say my top two most memorable college tours were Boston College and Pittsburg. Now that I think about it, GW was also a very memorable one. I think, for all of them, I really just loved visiting the campuses. The people that were giving the tours were really relatable. I felt like I could relate to those people and I could see myself being friends with them, which are things that I was definitely looking for in a college, because I wanted to be able to fit in. 

Layla: My most memorable was probably the Fordham tour, mostly because it was the only guided tour I did, so I got the most information from it. Also, what stuck out to me was just being in a big city. That’s very different. 

Andy: I had two most memorable college tours, just like Anna, and for similar reasons. I loved the campuses at University of Miami and University of South Carolina. Miami was pretty cool, because as soon as you walked off campus, there were these electric scooters you could rent and you could just drive around the whole city wherever you wanted. For me, that was probably one of the most entertaining experiences of my life.  

Anna: They have those at GW too! 

Jayne: I always wonder who maintains them – that that’s what goes through my mind! Who maintains them? And then I worry that they’ll break down or something…  

What advice would you give students on the “Activities” section of the Common Application? 

Anna: You have to rank them from most important to least important to you, and I think you should definitely do that. Don’t put what you think a college would like best. It really shows who you are if you are honest with your rankings. Put what’s actually important to you at the top and what you don’t care for at the bottom.

 

How about tips for students on the essay?  

Anna: My story wasn’t that “deep”. It wasn’t about a huge event in my life, but I think it definitely showed what I value and what I care about, which is what they want to hear. So, I think, be true to yourself, be authentic, and pick a story or write about something that really shows who you are.  

Layla: Like what Anna said, just write what you want to write about. It doesn’t have to be about a big life-changing event – if you think it’s important, you should write about it, and you don’t just have to write what you think they want to hear. You should just write about what’s important to you. 

Andy: I agree with Anna and Layla about writing about who you are and being authentic to yourself. Also, I think it’s really important when approaching your essays to take your time, and to start them as early as possible. You’re going to want to make sure you’re submitting the best essay about your truest self that you can, so the more time you take and the more you space out your time, the better it’ll turn out. Don’t cram it all together right before the deadline. It’s definitely a good strategy to get ahead of it before it gets ahead of you. 

Looking back – you’re all accepted into schools, you’re all happy with the schools you’ve selected, and you’re excited about the next steps. Reflect a little – what was the most enjoyable part of this process for you?   

Piper: I really liked going on campus tours and seeing schools up close. When you’re on campus, you can look around, see if there’s food places you know that you’ll like, and find people that seem similar to you. That’s really important. One of the schools I applied to was the University of Hawaii, which was fun to visit, but while I was there, I realized I didn’t want to be in Hawaii. I needed to be in Minnesota. That’s what made that trip enjoyable – it helped me to make my decision.    

Lily: I would say the most enjoyable part for me was getting acceptances and actually knowing that you can go to college! Also, definitely, touring campuses. It’s so cool to walk around and see if you’d be a good fit, if the food places are cool, see different student organizations, and stuff like that.  

  

So, there are some enjoyable pieces to this whole process. How about the most stressful part of the process? 

Anna: When I was applying to most of my colleges, in the fall of my senior year, it was also field hockey season, and I was taking four AP classes. So, I just had a lot going on. It was definitely stressful trying to get all those applications in by the deadlines. But, you know, I think you could just manage your workload a little bit better than I did, and you’d be fine! 

Andy: Definitely, writing the essay. It’s such a long process, and if you miss a week or take a week off from the work you need to do for college preparations, it all just builds up and eventually can become overbearing. I think it’s really important that people use their time well in this process. Yeah, writing the essay was definitely the most stressful part for me, and getting everything in on time. 

Layla: For me, I knew where I wanted to go, but I would also second-guess myself and think, like, “am I going to be happy here?” I eventually realized that it was just me being nervous and stressed out, but, yeah, that was hard – second-guessing myself sometimes and thinking, “is this really where I want to go?” But once I calmed down, I realized, “yes, it’s fine. You’re just stressed out.” 

Jayne: And Layla, you applied for Early Decision. You made a decision very early while a lot of other people were still waiting and going through the process, which gave you more time to second-guess yourself. I think that’s pretty natural, too. 

You have a time machine and can go one year back, to the Spring of your junior year. Would you change anything? 

Piper: Honestly, I don’t really think I would change anything. I want to say I would have liked to have done my application sooner, but I don’t know how realistic that is… I do wish I would have narrowed my list down sooner. I applied in multiple waves, to schools in October, and then again in November, and again in December. I sort of wish that I’d applied to all of those schools much earlier.  

Lily: Like Piper, I definitely wish I’d looked at colleges earlier, and basically just figured out what I wanted in a school and narrowed it down more by location and such, instead of scrambling through it. I think that would have taken a lot of stress out of the process.  

  

What advice would you give to your freshman self? Imagine you’re just starting the ninth grade. What advice would you give to yourself now? 

Andy: I would probably tell myself to try a little bit harder in school, because I was probably trying to have a little too much fun… but I don’t know how much I would really change. I mean, the whole process was kind of like what I was expecting, except… I would tell, not my freshman self, but maybe my junior self, that a college being ranked #10 and another being ranked #50 doesn’t really matter. I would look more into things like what the programs ranked, what the college is going to be like for me, “why do they want me” rather than “why do I want them?”, and so forth. And just to think more about myself and my individual major than the whole broad ranking analysis of big universities and colleges. 

Lily: I would say, “join things that you care about, and things that you enjoy doing.” I think I cared about my grades maybe a little too much. I feel that letting some of that stress go back then would have been a good idea. Like, when I saw a talent show, I wish I’d gone to that, and enjoyed myself more in general.  

Piper: I think it’s important to start developing a good relationship with your guidance counselor. I waited on that until about my sophomore year, and then had to catch her up on what happened to me during my freshman year. I feel that the sooner you start, the more they know about you, and the more they can help you through it all, telling you “you should apply here,” or “you should look here,” or “I think this would be a good fit for you.” Building a strong relationship with your guidance counselor from the very beginning is wise.  

Anna:. Similar to what Andy said, I would tell myself to be a little more open-minded with my college choices. I didn’t know what I wanted at all, so setting expectations wasn’t going to work. But also, through realizing those expectations weren’t right for me, I realized what I wanted in a school. Also, I would have said, “enjoy every moment of high school, because it goes really fast.”  

Layla: Like Lily said, I would say, “let yourself join a club.” There are so many dozens of clubs you can join – just let yourself find one that can be your hobby. I never joined a lot of clubs because I was like, “oh, I don’t think that’s for me,” or,” I don’t think I’m going to like it.” But if you just give it a go, you might actually find something you really enjoy doing, and I wish I’d done that more. 

  

What advice would you give to your 11th-grade self, when you were starting this process?  

Anna: Like I said, I didn’t really know what I wanted, and it took me a little longer to figure things out because I wasn’t as open-minded as I should have been. You just don’t know how a school is going to fit for you, and that’s something I really cared about – I was really worried about school cultures and making sure they were a good fit for me. Some of the schools I was looking at during the end of my junior year were just not the right fit for me – if I had been a little bit more open-minded from the beginning, I would have been able to figure out what I wanted in a school earlier. 

Piper: Yeah, I definitely agree with everything Anna saying. I think that if you get too focused on one aspect, you lose another. If you decide, “I’m only looking at really small schools,” then you tour it and ends up being too small, you have to totally re-do your list. I feel that you need to have a variety of school choices. You can’t make your decision when you’re only a junior – you still have to go through the whole process. You still have to learn what you’re actually looking for. So, I would say, don’t box yourself in.  

Layla: I was very set on what I wanted – things like location and size. And so sometimes, when I would visit a school, immediately upon stepping on campus, I’d be like, “nope. Not for me.” Then, I would take a tour and afterwards think, “oh, you know, I can actually maybe see myself here.” So, just as everyone said, just keep an open mind. 

What advice would you give to parents of high school juniors who are about to embark on this whole process? They’re probably visiting schools now, over spring break, and into the summer, ahead of the Common Application.  

Lily: I would say, honestly, hound your kids to get stuff done! I procrastinated so much, and it was nice to have someone over my shoulder saying, “you need to get this done, figure out what you want about this,” so I didn’t have everything piling up at the end. Also, know when your kid benefits from being pushed, and when to step back and let them take over to do what’s right for them.  

Anna I would tell them to tour schools in the summer, and to try to get a set list of which schools you want your kid to apply to, because I was adding and subtracting schools from my list in the fall. So, it was like, “oh, well, let’s go on a tour” but then, “well, you have sports!” and such. So, it’s good to get all the tours done – well, you’re probably not going to get all of them done in the summer, but try to do as many as you can. I also agree with Lily – it’s a fine line, but I think there definitely needs to be some pushing from parents, but also that they know when it’s time to step back.  

Jayne: So… how do parents know when it’s time? 

Anna: I don’t know! You can figure that one out! 

Jayne: It‘s very hard to just be ready to be wrong! 

Andy: It’s definitely a trial-and-error process. Just like picking schools, it’s a trial-and-error process of getting to know your kid in their early stages. 

Piper: I’m very stubborn and self-motivated. So, when my parents were hounding me and saying, “you need to fill out your applications,” and “you need to submit the Financial Aid,” it was just making me not want to do it at all. I had to decide to do it on my own. So, I think, if your kid is like that, perhaps don’t pressure them so much. Every time my parents pressured me, I would just get really annoyed and less motivated. As Anna was saying, I definitely think it’s important to step foot on campus as soon as possible, just to take everything in. And while it’s good to tour campuses in the summer, if you’re going somewhere like Minnesota where it’s usually freezing, you have to experience campus in the winter too. You really need to see what the campus will be like while you’re a student there. 

Layla: In my experience, junior year is when everyone starts getting panicked – “it’s time to apply to colleges!” It’s time to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life!” School can become very stressful at that time, obviously. So, I think, there’s a balance for parents – everyone knows their kid, what they need, and how much they need to be pushed.  

Jayne: Yes, I think that balance is probably key, but it sounds like it could be a little tricky too! 

You’ve all picked your schools, and you’ll be graduating in a month or sooner. Very exciting! Congratulations to you all. When looking back, how do you feel about yourself, the journey, the next steps, and your future?   

Andy: I feel great! It was definitely a roller coaster ride. I thought I’d end up at one school, but instead ended up at another, but overall, I’m happy where I did end up, at South Carolina. I really couldn’t be more excited for college to start and for high school to end. I’ll miss all my friends and all the high school experiences, but I’ve had a great journey so far and I’m looking forward to the future and what it holds.  

Lily: I feel the same as Andy. I’m also proud of myself for making it through the process! There were a lot of ups and downs, like Andy said, but now I’m really excited about college. I don’t know what I want to do yet, but I think that’s okay. I’ll hopefully learn that while I’m at college.  

Piper: Yeah, similarly, I’m really excited for college and just seeing what the next four years will look like. I’m also really proud, because there are a lot of steps to this process – the ups and downs. It does get pretty challenging and a lot of times, you’ll change your mind about what you think you want, but I feel that the whole entire journey is necessary. You have to go through the full experience in order to understand that you’ve made the right choice. 

Anna: I agree with what Piper said about having to go through the whole process to know you made the right choice. Even though it was like a roller coaster, and there were a lot of ups and downs, I’m really happy with where I’m ending up, at Pitt – but I don’t think I would have known that that’s where I wanted to go without having gone through the whole process. I’m really excited.  

Layla: I’m happy with the way things worked out for me, and the way I went about the whole process. I’m excited to learn more about myself, step out of the bubble that I’ve been living in for so many years, and just figure out what I want to do with my life – hopefully!  

Jayne: So, it sounds like the roller coaster, the twists and turns and ups and downs, were all part of the ride that you needed to take. I think that’s good for kids and parents to know – that this is a part of it, and that as they embark on this journey, that they should expect it, knowing that the ups and downs are absolutely a part of the process and a necessary one, it sounds like, in order to get to the end. 

You all seem really happy, pleased, and excited about what the future holds, and I’m excited for you all! So, thank you. Elizabeth, do you have anything else to add?  

Elizabeth: Just to say, thank you all again for sharing your time and your thoughts with us. I think that together, you’ve woven a nice tapestry, a sort of roadmap, for those who will come behind you, by letting them know that everything will change between when they start and when they finish, and that’s okay, and they’ll learn a lot along the way. So, best of luck to all of you next year, and who knows? Maybe we’ll reach out to you again in a year to see how the first year went! Thanks, everyone. 

 

[end of transcript] 

 

Jayne Gandy has been supporting students with their college applications and essays for over 20 years. In addition to her work with individual students, each summer she co-leads a successful and popular college application preparation “camp” for rising seniors. Prior to joining Bennett, Jayne was a school and college counselor at a highly competitive public high school in Pennsylvania. She also worked as an academic advisor to incoming freshman and sophomores at the University of Delaware, counseling students in appropriate course selection and advising them on future planning. A graduate of Rutgers College in New Brunswick, NJ, Jayne earned her M.A. in Education, with a specialization in School Counseling, from the University of Delaware. She was a Division I All-American Field Hockey player and was also Rutgers Headley Singer Award winner (Senior Female Athlete of the Year). Jayne lives in Mullica Hill, New Jersey, with her husband and two children, and she continues to be an accomplished athlete, competing in triathlons and coaching youth field hockey.

We honor the respect and the trust that our student clients and their families place in us, and we’re dedicated to helping them identify and gain admission to institutions that will be the best fit for them academically, socially, and culturally. We believe in the uniqueness of each student and are committed to providing professional and personalized guidance to each one we serve.