St. Martin's College Counseling

Preparing students to thrive in college and in life through Faith, Scholarship and Service.

Month: April, 2013

You say goodbye, I say hello

I spent a lot of my senior year of high school thinking about identity. I was a runner and captain of the cross country team, and I thrived on living up to that definition.

Senior year, I placed 6th in our state meet with a personal record time. Unfortunately, though I was quick for a small school Louisiana girl, I was far behind any national times that would make me competitive in college.

Still, I clung to my runner identity.  I wanted to compete in college, and only one of my options was a D1 where I could walk on to the cross country and track team.  I enrolled there.

One of my first races was a 5k on an indoor track (that’s 3.1 miles around a 200 meter track…25 laps).  I ran the best time of my life, and after being lapped at least twice by every other runner, crossed the finish line dead last.

I continued running and ran in almost every meet that first year. Not because my times were improving, but because in order for our team to score points, we needed 14 girls to start a race. I became a number – it didn’t matter whether I finished a race so long as I stepped over the starting line at the gun.

It took a year for me to cope with the fact that I wasn’t a good runner in the context of college. But when I finally decided to quit, my coach encouraged me to stay on and asked if I’d ever considered another event.

I hadn’t. What other event did he have in mind? Hammer throw.

Needless to say, I left the team and didn’t look back. And the next year I ran a marathon. I was still a runner.

As graduation nears and final college decisions are due, you’re preparing to say goodbye to your friends and teachers. You’re also preparing to say goodbye to the identities you’ve lived for the past four years. Even if you hold onto yours, like I did, the meaning of it will change.  Every identity exists only within its context.  As you make your final college decisions, you are in control of choosing your next context. And by doing so, you choose how you define yourself and your future.

You can choose to hold on to what you don’t want to leave behind. But you can also leave behind the undesirable identities that have been given to you without your permission. You can redefine; you can make mistakes.

So as you cope with the imminent changes and the letting go, embrace this choice. It’ll make the goodbyes less bitter and much more sweet.


What can I do to make myself a more competitive applicant?

It’s true. The most selective schools are getting more selective, and getting in depends on a lot more than perfect grades.

If you are looking at the Ivies or their cousins, or any highly ranked school, there is simply no guarantee that you will get in. These schools are reaches for everyone.

The good news is that there are ways to increase your chances. Here’s the quick list.

1. Take AP courses and do well on your AP exams. Good grades aren’t good enough unless you’re in the most rigorous courses available. Your AP scores are important to show mastery of the material.

2. Take college level courses for credit during high school. During the summer, or during the year if it’s available to you, take a college level course for dual credit (counts for high school credit). This shows you’re prepared for college level work and allows you to take classes that may not be offered at your high school.

3. Test prep and take standardized tests seriously. SAT and ACT scores matter. Better scores improve admission results and improve chances of being offered scholarships.

4. Demonstrate leadership. At Vanderbilt this year, 100% of the class of 2017 received one or more significant honors or held major leadership positions while in high school. You simply can’t get in if you don’t have real leadership on your resume.

5. Be involved. Go above and beyond your service hours. Participate in clubs and sports. The more involved you are in your community, the more likely you are to be involved in the community of your university. Plus, more experience means better stories for your essays. Better essays mean better chances of admission.

6. Decide on a school and apply early. Approximately 50% of the freshmen classes at the Ivies were filled after Early Decision. Just as badly as you want to know if they want you – these schools need to know that you want them in order to make a decision. So decide early, and tell them early. Then don’t get your hopes too high for the ones you didn’t say were your first choice.

You’re competition is already checking these boxes off the list. If you want to be competitive, the time to start is yesterday.



3 things you need to do before choosing a college


Choosing your school is a serious decision. For many of you, it’s one of the first big choices you are allowed to make on your own. For some it’s the beginning of an adult, negotiation-based relationship with your parents, and for others it is a decision that you alone will have to make.

When you choose your home for the next 4+ years, you are also choosing a peer group that will contribute to your future decisions and a brand that can affect how you are perceived and how you perceive yourself. There are no right or wrong answers necessarily, because you really can make the most of your college experience (more on this soon), but there are some key things you need to think about and do before you make the choice.

1. Take a personality test:

Whether you fully buy into it or not, the Myers-Briggs personality test can help you understand your personality traits and what kinds of careers are best fits. Think of it this way: what does it feel like if you sign your name with your dominant hand? Now how does it feel to sign with your other hand? No matter how hard you practice with the non-dominant hand, signing your name will never come as naturally as it does with that first hand.

The 8 characteristics (Extrovert vs Introvert, Sensing vs Intuitive, Thinking vs Feeling, Perceiving vs Judging) will give you insight on what is that dominant hand in terms of personality. But don’t take this too far – characteristics like being shy are not fixed personality traits. Introverts and Extroverts can both be shy. The key of learning about your personality is to learn how to use it to make the best of the situations you’ll face.

Which leads me to the next point.

chicks2. Do something where you have to interact with people without anyone you already know.

Do anything. You may think it’s tricky in the GNO to find an activity where your peer group isn’t, but this is one of the most important things you can do to learn about yourself. Volunteer by yourself. Join a sports league or go to an event by yourself and meet other people. (Note – be safe about this! Make sure someone you know knows where you are.) The point is, you often get stuck acting how other people see you and lose an opportunity to feel your real feelings and think your real thoughts (or say those real thoughts out loud).

So do yourself a favor before you make the big decision and spend some time away from your known group.

And finally…

3. Try something that is the opposite of your “stereotype”. Stereotype may be the wrong word here, but the point is the same. Do something that surprises yourself and others because it’s not your usual “thing”. Try out for a school play or sports team, join a club with a group of students you normally wouldn’t interact with or take an elective that doesn’t fit in with your normal interests. It doesn’t matter if you get a role in the play, make the team, become president of the club or get an A in that class.

Depending on how you choose to live, you might have your whole life to figure out what you want to do. But chances are you’ll have to have it sort of figured out when you graduate college in order to get a job or in order to prepare for a further degree. So by trying something different now when it is okay to fail, you’ll be that far ahead of everyone else in the game.