Freewheeling with Grant & Friends

13 July, 2022

Freewheeling with Grant Calder & Colleagues

Shot at a meeting of Bennett College Consultants in Center City Philadelphia. Holding the floor is Grant Calder, preeminent college counselor who goes a ways back with Bennett.  

Emma Hoffman is the colleague spiritedly going head-to-head with Grant at the start. Jon Harris adds his thoughts. Joining & enjoying the party are fellow college consultants, Julie Bickings, Erin Brady, Jayne Gandy, Brent Spicer & Elizabeth Sawyer, CEO. 

Off the cuff, insightful commentary that is unlikely to be heard in the typical college consulting scene.

Below is a transcript of the conversation, lightly edited for reading clarity.  


Emma Hoffman: Before, you said ninth & tenth grades don’t matter in college applications, but to me, ninth & tenth grades really do matter, because it shows character. It shows a kid who’s mowing the lawns from ninth grade, looking after his grandmother… Those are the things I think colleges are really looking at quite closely. I mean obviously, many other things too, but that character piece –

Grant Calder: Yes, but a lot of those families, to the extent they’re even thinking about a “character” piece in their college applications, think that profile-building involves just writing more checks and sending your kids off to more programs. And colleges don’t give you credit for going to programs.

You’re spoon-fed by a bunch of people who’ve organized your day, and you shouldn’t get any credit for that. They’re not going to give you academic credit for that summer program. I mean, you have other options. You could even go to St. Joseph’s College in New York in the summer and take Biology 101, or History, or this, or that, and they’re not going to give you credit for that, either.

Erin Brady: Consider a first-year student – they would have many of those credits.

Grant Calder: Well, that’s an issue if you want credit transferred. But so many people think that you just get credit for taking certain classes and having more transcripts –

Elizabeth Sawyer: – Not really more credit, just “credit” in the larger sense, is what you mean?

Grant Calder: Academic credit, specifically. Not necessarily credit in the sense of, “I don’t have to take this class in college,” but credit in the application process. As if having taken these classes in St. Joseph’s in the summer is going to put you ahead; at an advantage. It doesn’t.

It doesn’t – and it’s weird, because the kids have done the work, so they have a hard time, and say “I took this class, I got an A in it. How can I not get credit?” Well, that’s the kind of thing we have to explain, because it’s not that obvious in this process.

Jon Harris: We want to, say, ask a student, “if you went into a book store and I told you I’d see you in half an hour, what book would you be reading in 30 minutes?” It’s a different profile, but one that I think is enormously helpful. Bennett’s team is more interested in that sort of introspection, and how the student really sees herself or himself. That, I think, is incredibly helpful to Admissions people.

They’ve all done A+ work, right? But let’s get to know the kid a little better, okay? Let’s ask them some really provocative questions and see how they respond.

Grant Calder: It’s one thing to visit Dickinson College or any other campus, but most college consultants out there don’t have a clue about the bigger complex reality of higher education in the United States. But I’m immersed in that stuff every day. I read the Chronicle of Higher Education and The Economist – that’s how exciting my life is.

I would love to sit ourselves down and get a better grip on that, because we could potentially approach clients in a whole different way than the typical IECA college consultant, for example. We could do a much better job of selling all the incredible advantages of small liberal arts colleges to a much broader international audience.

They may not ever have heard of them, but if you get a kid to such a place, all the feedback, all of the family is going to be great, because you just get so much more for your money. There’s just no question about it. And, we can show how kids who are coming out of those kinds of schools are getting into all the grad schools they want. You get a much better chance of going to graduate school at Harvard if you go to Dickinson or Wellesley first than if you just try to apply as an undergrad, for example. There are a million ways in which we could think about this on a more “macro” scale. People running groups in places like Dubai, which I think would add value, who happen to meet international families who simply don’t have that point of view.

Well, it’s 11:01 am. I know somebody’s going to throw us out!

Grant Calder has worked in College Consulting and Admissions Counseling for over 30 years and is Co-director of College Counseling at Friends’ Central School in Philadelphia, where he also teaches American History and German. In the past, he has taught at the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University in Philadelphia, and the Middlesex and Choate boarding schools in New England. Additionally, he was a guest teacher at the Evangelisches Gymnasium zum Grauen Kloster in Berlin, Germany.

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