St. Martin's College Counseling

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Dear Juniors

Dear Juniors,

We asked the seniors to leave behind some college advice for you as they leave behind their final week of school, final assembly and final late start Wednesday. After all, today is their last day to make a decision and enroll in their school of choice. Some decided before applying to college what this first choice was – and committed upon submitting their application. Some are still deciding today.

Tomorrow we’ll learn all final decisions. In the meantime, here’s the advice from the Class of 2013.


On testing:

“Take the ACT and SAT seriously, take prep classes, and plan ahead. The test deadline dates come up faster than you may think and it’s easy to miss the few opportunities you have to take the tests (…I missed the deadlines quite a few times.)”

“Take the ACT multiple times! Do prep and always do the writing portion! I feel that ACT scores are such an important part in the decision process and an even bigger part of scholarship possibilities.”

On visiting schools:

“I strongly recommend visiting the schools’ campuses. You may love the way a school seems in pamphlets and college meetings, but spending time on campus and interacting with current students and faculty makes all the difference.”

“It helped me to write down my impressions of the schools right after I left campus so I would remember exactly how I felt about it. When I went back and compared my notes from all the different schools, the differences of my first impressions were astounding. And definitely go with your gut feeling. I thought I would love certain schools, but they just didn’t feel right for me when I visited.”

“Honestly…I never visited my dream school…But I was in love with everything I had read about, the atmosphere that was described to me, and all of my friends that visited told me it was the school for me. I was infatuated with the idea of starting new at a beautiful school. But I was living in a fantasy land…”

On the importance of reality

“”This past July I took Mrs. Flanagan’s summer class with an open mind. I was ready to start applying to colleges that were out of state. My main focus was on getting out of state and going to a popular/well-known college. I didn’t take into account my grades or money. Mrs. Flanagan and my parents gave me a reality check and I realized that some of my choices would not be possible. Be sure to communicate with your parents and make sure that everyone is constantly on the same page so you don’t get your hopes up and then are disappointed.”

“Always keep communication with your parents! Make sure everyone is on the same page! Talk finances with them and explore the compromises they are willing to make.”

“Be realistic about the colleges you plan to apply to. Push yourself, but also don’t set only goals that are impossible to reach.”

On applying early

“The college process is not easy…no matter what you do or how early you start preparing. But starting early does give you an advantage! Take Mrs. Flanagan’s class over the summer if you have the opportunity… or get an older sibling to help you!”

On thinking for yourself

“Do research on the college list Mrs. Flanagan provides for you, but explore other choices as well!”

“Mrs. Flanagan gave me a list of 10 small schools and 10 larger schools that would be a good fit for me… Now, I should have done more research on that list. But I didn’t. I didn’t meet Mrs. Flangan half-way. I played it safe and picked 10 schools out of Mrs. Flanagan’s list of 20 that appealed to me or seemed to be well known. I was accepted to all 10 of my schools. I did not challenge myself… I played it too safe. I wasted my parents money applying to some of these schools knowing that I had no actual interest in them… I just wanted to know that I was accepted.”

On asking for help!

“Be good to Mrs. Flanagan and Ms. Larimer! They are there to help you! Don’t feel uncomfortable to chat with them (I’ve had many therapy sessions with them)”


A big thank you, congratulations and best wishes to our 2013 graduates!


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.


Why Rejection Is Good

There’s no way around it. Rejection hurts. Being told you’re not good enough, you’re not what we’re looking for or you’re not who I want to be with is painful. It is a blow to our egos, and in many cases seems like a blow to our future.

  • I didn’t get the girl/boy who was going to make me happy.
  • I didn’t get the job that was going to solve all of my financial worries and career aspirations
  • I wasn’t elected class president/football captain/scholarship nominee
  • I didn’t get into the college that was going to make me successful and give me the life I dream of. (Read this if the preposition at the end of the sentence bothers you. But if your English teacher asks, you didn’t hear it from me.)

It’s a common misconception that rejection is a problem and that rejection prevents you from being happy, from solving financial problems or limits aspirations. And it’s a bigger misconception that getting into your dream school will give you a dream life and make you successful.

Rejection is not a problem. The problem is what you do once you are rejected. (We’re not even going to entertain the notion of “if”. You’re going to be rejected from something sooner or later, and IMO the sooner the better.) Rejection gives you an opportunity to be resilient, to find other ways to make yourself happy, to reevaluate your decisions and to determine if what you think is right for you is actually right for you.

It’s okay (normal, expected and good) to be sad about it. To be hurt by it. To seek help for feeling sad and hurt about it. (That’s why we’re here…come visit us.) And it’s a good idea to talk to your family and friends about it. You’ll often be surprised at how many other stories of rejection you’ll hear. And sometimes it’s just helpful to read about other rejection stories or listen to them.

Rejection is good because it makes you better able to adapt to challenges.

Rejection is good because it can improve your own emotional intelligence.

Rejection is good because you can turn it into an opportunity.

Rejection is good because it humbles you. (Yes, this is a good thing.)

I’ll leave you with a few suggestions from other people on how to handle any situation (including rejection):

  • Say yes, and… lessons from improv by Tina Fey. Embrace whatever happens by saying “yes” and seeing what you can add to a situation that is presented to you.
  • A little from the entrepreneur world about how your failures can help you succeed. Rejection can often work in the same way. Why didn’t you get it the first time? What can you improve for next time? Was that the right path for you to begin with?
  • Don’t lose your ability to dream. As our responsibilities grow and the anxiety and stress of achieving our goals become more overwhelming (often because of rejection, fear of rejection or fear of failure), keep dreaming. The ability to dream about solutions is often the difference between people who change the world, and people who don’t.

Will colleges see my entire transcript or just sophomore and junior years?

Wouldn’t it be great if colleges only looked at the A’s on our transcripts and gave us a free pass to get rid of that one class or that one subject that kept us from a perfect 4.0?

Or maybe  even that one year during high school when we were still adjusting/going through family problems/distracted by social obligations/moving to a new city/transferring to a new school?

Unfortunately, your grades are here to stay. And what happens freshman year doesn’t stay in freshman year. It shows up on your transcript, and is one of the main components of your application that college admissions reps have to look at while making a decision.

transcript example3a

This transcript above is a sample of what your admissions committee will see for an early action or early decision application – that is, before you have any final senior grades. So you tell me – would you judge this student off of sophomore through senior grades or would you use all the information available? For regular decision, add in one semester of senior year.

Using standard A+=4.33, A=4.0, A-=3.66, B+ = 3.33 and so on, what would it take to achieve a 4.0 or higher on your final transcript? Here’s a hint – unless you have bumps with APs and Honors, you can’t afford to get any grade lower than an A. Even that A- (3.66) will set you back.

But don’t get discouraged, this doesn’t mean you need a 4.0 to get into a good and selective school, and it doesn’t mean that not having straight A’s or even any A’s on your transcript will ruin your life or keep you from being a successful adult. It means that your options will be different, but you may even end up with more options or better opportunities depending on how you play your cards (or your transcript).

This also doesn’t mean senior grades don’t matter, because colleges do request a final transcript before you enroll and WILL revoke acceptances if you don’t maintain your grades through senior year. Looking at these admissions statistics you can see that not many schools are suffering for potential enrollees.

Moral of the story – Freshman year matters. Sophomore year matters. Junior year matters. Senior year matters. In a place where we pride ourselves on lifelong learning, every year matters. It matters because we want you to make the most of your life, and we hope you do too.

How To Pick a College Without Knowing Your Major


Q: How do I pick a school without knowing what I want to major in?

[Source: 10th grade questionnaires]

Deciding where to go to college does depend in part on what you want to major in. If you want to be an engineer, go to a school that offers engineering. But, if you’re like most students, you either don’t know or you’ll change your mind. So basing a college decision primarily on major may not be the best (or even a good) idea.

The objective for college is unique to each individual, but I’ll just go ahead and assume that most of you want some sort of career when you graduate. And unless you want to become a doctor, or pursue other sciences or health related careers, you can gain at least half of the top 10 most desirable skills for employment in almost any major.

With predictions that 40% of America’s workforce will be Freelancers by 2020 and that US job growth is mainly in the service sectors, it’s more important to focus on schools where you can gain skills that will help you be successful, rather than focus on one particular area of study. Not to mention that when you graduate, you’ll probably be applying for jobs that don’t even exist today.

MVP College MajorsCareerSatisfaction

What should you focus on instead? In no particular order:

1. Location – Though seemingly superficial, the location of the school you choose does matter. You can’t necessarily determine where you’ll be happiest by a visit or by looking at statistics. Your best chance at success is feeling by feeling good in your environment – and that can be affected by factors such as temperature, sunlight, rainfall, distance from family,  proximity to city life or proximity to nature, and cost of living.

2. Size – Do you want to be anonymous or do you want everyone to know your name? The size of the school can also determine the number of opportunities available – often, the larger the school the greater diversity in ideas and interests. In large schools you may have more chances to redefine yourself and your goals, but fewer professors or advisers to mentor you.

3. Peer group – What kind of people go to different schools? One of the most important reasons to choose a school is to define your peers. Do you want to be surrounded by highly motivated people who look at you funny if you aren’t working on interesting projects and aren’t working towards professional goals? Or would you rather be in an environment that is less competitive and more social. Choosing a college is choosing your peer group – and your peer group can often be a major factor in your own success.

4. Opportunities outside of coursework – Regardless of whether you are interested in a more rural or more urban school environment, there are always things to do besides your classes. The more opportunities you have to pursue in your areas of interest, the quicker you’ll decide what you like, what you don’t, and what your strengths are.

5. Strength of alumni networks – Some schools have very weak alumni networks and their graduates still find jobs and satisfying careers. But if you’re looking for how to determine if graduates are happy and successful, the alumni networks are the best place to start. And it doesn’t hurt that keeping alumni connections strong can lead to future employment or relationships.

6. Educational assistance/career services – If you really don’t know what you want to do, you want to find a place that has services to help with this. Some schools are better than others, and this is a great item to keep on your list.

7. Cost – What can you afford? What will you need to take out in loans? How long will it take to pay off the loans – and what kind of salary will you need to pay it off in 10 years? Can you get a scholarship? Is the school need-blind? No matter where you go, it is important to have a financial plan in place while deciding where to apply.


The College Choice


Yesterday was the first day of spring. In the college counseling office, this time of year is marked more by the anxiety of waiting for final college decisions than by the flowers or the bees or the warm weather that we expected weeks ago.  The good news is also part of it, but too often overshadowed by the rejection, the deferrals and the waiting for any sort of answer. Those are hard parts, but they aren’t the hardest.

So what is?

Making the decision of where you want to spend the next 4+ years (and what you want to spend it doing). Rejections are blessings. Deferrals, too. Any decision made for you is because it allows you to move on and own the next steps.

But two or more acceptances…this is when it gets hard. This is often when we freeze – given more than one choice, all with pros and cons. (There really is no such thing as the perfect school, even for you). Maybe one is the “dream” but the other has the money. Maybe neither are the “dream” and you are choosing between options that seem subpar. Or maybe you’re (un?)lucky enough to have all of the options.

What do you do with all of the options?

  • First, answer this question honestly: Why do you want to go to college? Not why your parents, teachers, counselors or siblings want you to go, but why do you want to go?
  • Focus not only on what you will gain by going to one, but by what you may lose not going to the other.
  • Talk with your parents seriously about finances. What are they willing to pay? What can they afford to pay? What will you need to take on financially on your own? What if you have plans for graduate school? Is it necessary to go to grad school?
  • Take time now to get to know yourself. When you go to college, even if you stay in-state, you’ll be allowed by your new community to change who you are. Don’t let the preconceived notions others have about you now influence who you want to become.
  • If you’ve been waitlisted at your top choice school, make sure they know you’re still interested. Reply to the offer immediately requesting to remain in consideration. Visit if you haven’t visited. Send a formal letter to your rep thanking them for the offer and expressing sincere interest. If it is your first choice school, tell them.
  • Visit any schools you haven’t seen yet.
  • Think about where schools are located and if this could affect your happiness and success.
  • Start planning for an interesting summer – get a job, take a class, volunteer or travel. It will not only give your mind a rest from the decision process, but will also help you know what you like and what you’re good at as you decide on a major or career path.

I’ll leave you with a look at how your peers have made their decisions in the past. Which category would you rather be in?

  • StM’s Class of 2012’s 54 graduates attended 37 different colleges and universities.
  • 20 graduates (37%) stayed in Louisiana.
  • 29 graduates (53.7%) attended a college where they were the only St. Martin’s student from their class.