As Darlington's youngest students were being dropped off for their first day of pre-kindergarten on Monday, the Class of 2016 was beginning the first leg of the final stretch toward graduation at College Boot Camp.
Seniors dove head-first into the new school year with the twelfth-grade tradition, hosted every August by Darlington's College Guidance Office. Student attendance is mandatory at the event, which guides future graduates on the path to success by helping them to set and carry out their objectives for higher education.
The centerpiece of the program was a full school day of helpful tips, remarks and honest answers from experienced admissions deans representing Auburn University, Emory University, Southern Methodist University, Spelman College and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“We do College Boot Camp on the first day of school to relieve stress early on before the students get too busy in the fall,” said Sam Moss (’63), dean of college guidance. “Having these admissions representatives spend an entire day with our students is huge. Many schools don’t do anything like that at all.”
Each year the rising senior class is strongly encouraged to fill out a practice college application over the summer to become familiar with the procedure, and already have the first draft of an essay in hand to potentially submit to schools.
“By devoting the entire first day of school to the college admissions process, we are demonstrating the importance that it plays in the senior year,” added Moss. “It gets the seniors thinking about college early to know what they need to do to accomplish their goals.”
Different breakout sessions were facilitated by the visiting admissions personnel and members of Darlington’s college advisory staff, spanning topics like financial aid, athletic recruiting, essay writing for international/ESL students, interviewing tips, and sessions dedicated to the different colleges represented.
“I enjoyed the workshop about the value of a liberal arts education,” said senior Ethan Pender. “We saw some statistics that would make you think math and science are the only important fields to go into, but I learned there are many other factors to consider, like picking a major that would make you most happy.”
Searching out the right school for the individual has become a central theme for today's seniors, and a battle cry for college guidance as a whole. It is not always about an institution's Ivy League status, its athletic standing, or location.
“The academic program and academic foundation of a university and a college are important, but most important [to the prospective student] is finding the perfect fit,” said Cindy Singley, Auburn University director of university recruitment and Boot Camp panelist. “When you go to college, it is four years of your life—you want to make sure it is a fit as you grow socially, emotionally, spiritually. You want to be in an environment where you can thrive.”
“For me the most valuable piece of advice was making the most out of your college visit,” said senior Charlie Shorey. “Ms. Singley talked about how most of the time when you're visiting the college you'll end up attending—you’ll feel it when you're there.”
Not only did students get to here from professionals about the changes to expect in increasing academic rigor, but other changes to welcome, as well.
“My favorite breakout session was the one where we discussed the transition from high school student to college student. It really focused on the social and personal aspects of how your life will change,” said Victoria Pierce.
As it has done for the past five years, the program welcomes seniors in the morning as they meet with advisers to pass along college paperwork, sample applications and essays to review. Over the course of the day students learn a variety of tips to help with the application process, like common mistakes made on essays and apps and the importance of paying attention to every last detail. Seniors learned different terminology, the basics of financial aid, and the importance of “depth” over “breadth” when including extracurricular activities on resumes.
“As an international student it helped me to understand what does applying to colleges really mean and how much effort you have to put into your application,”said Kiira Riihijarvi, a boarding student from Finland. “It gave a sense of what colleges are looking for and what to write in your essay.”
An alliteration offered by Associate Dean of College Guidance Ivy Brewer served as a helpful reminder not just for that particular day, but the rest of senior year: “Proper preparation prevents poor performance.”
Ultimately, members of the College Guidance Office staff strongly encouraged students to take ownership of the application process, offering their support and resources as seniors continue on these stepping stones towards adulthood.
As the reality of the next two semesters begin to settle in for the Class of 2016, Darlington’s seniors continue to gear up for what comes next after they walk across the Morris Chapel Lawn in May.
“It’s important to get the seniors into that mentality—this is our last year and we need to buckle down and get ready,” added Pender. “There is a life beyond high school and beyond Darlington, and we are being prepared for it."