By Vicky Liu ’20, School News and Features Reporter
Spring Break is just days away, which, for juniors in particular, means that college visiting season is almost here! To gain perspective and insight into the college application and visitation experience, I contacted a couple of FCS alumnae, Zoe Walker ’17, Mira Kauffman-Rosengarten ’18, and Miss Emily Harnett ’09. Zoe is in her sophomore year at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) while Mira is in the midst of her freshmen year at Skidmore. Miss Harnett also earned her undergraduate degree at Penn, then went on to Yale, where she obtained a Master’s degree. She now teaches in our school as a literature and poetry teacher. These three intelligent womens’ differing experiences makes their respective answers to some college-related questions particularly interesting. Read their wise insights below!
F: What did you learn about your dream school during college visits in your junior year, maybe even during spring break? What was the experience like? What drew you to the school(s) you visited?
Walker: Touring colleges for me was extremely exciting and entirely exhausting. Reflecting back, I think I often looked for attributes in a school that as a college student I now know aren’t all that important. Those features that woo a lot of prospective students — for me it was the architecture and layout of campus — is [sic] a nice aesthetic touch, but it really can’t tell you all that much about the character of an institution.
The most memorable things that happened during my tours were because of the tour guides. It’s funny how easy it is to assume that one tour guide can represent the qualities of an entire school, but when you’re touring you really only have small details like that to go off. My favorite guides were always the ones who improvised their rehearsed script enough to show us a glimmer of their unique personality.
Kauffman-Rosengarten: For me, a dream school didn't necessarily exist. I never visited a school and fell in love with it. I didn't really do college visits until the summer in between my junior and senior year. They were fun for me, I liked traveling with my parents on them, but I got stressed out because I wasn't falling in love with any colleges in particular. I remember visiting Skidmore, where I am now, and getting frustrated at the end of the tour because I liked it, but it just felt the same as the other colleges. I think, in that moment, I realized that I will be pretty happy no matter where I end up. As I let myself think about it, I ended up liking Skidmore enough to apply E.D.
Harnett: I toured a lot of lovely campuses, and the schools I was attracted to all had the same sort of vibe: pretty old buildings, trees, lots of brick paths that seemed very College to me. Penn was the essence of that college aesthetic, or so I thought at the time. I was very impressed by Locust Walk then, precisely because it looked so old-world and collegiate, but I ended up avoiding it when I was a student, because it was swamped with undergrads and it stressed me out.
F: What do you wish you could have done differently in high school? Any regrets?
W: The cliche that college initiates a lot of personal growth has been very true for me. Since getting to Penn, I have found it much easier to let down my guard and dabble in extroversion. In high school, I was rarely the most-outgoing person cracking jokes at the lunch table, but being in such a large, eccentric, and exciting pool for these four years has pushed me to question the artificial limits that I put on myself in high school.
K-R: I loved getting to know my teachers well. Sometimes I wish I would have talked to them more and gotten to know them more. I still find that I can become close with professors here; however, it's not as easy, and sometimes they're not as easy to talk to. At FCS, I was surrounded by them, and it felt like they really wanted to get to know me. H: I just regret being so distraught by the college process. But those feelings are so hard to tame when you're going through it.
F: Any advice to juniors, who will be doing their college visits very soon during Spring Break?
W: Juniors, know that colleges need you as much as you think you need them! A lot of the college touring process gets to be very performative and for me, intimidating. If you can find a way to tour rigorously, but still enjoy your spring break, that’s a great balance to strike.
K-R: I think keeping an open mind is really important. It's also important to remind ourselves of our privilege as we do this. The fact that we can go to college and have the opportunity to further our education is extremely special and something that a lot of people wish they could do, but can't. So, reminding myself as I went on these tours that I was so lucky and that I was about to experience something really special was important. I would also say that [the process] is scary and it's going to be scary. So the stress and the anxiety you're feeling make SO much sense. Those feelings are valid, and they go away in due time. For me, it was the biggest change in my life I'd ever had, and probably will ever had [sic]. It was a strip of my childhood with a huge amount of independence thrown on me all at once. I prepared a lot for it, and it was still hard. I would remind yourself of this, but also remember that, no matter what you do, the unknown will always be scary, and there's a lot of unknown ahead when you look towards college.
H (to all upper school students): I say this all the time, and I sometimes wish someone had said it to be me, but: College is school, and I know how my students feel about school! In other words, you'll be fine. College is so exciting largely because it's the beginning of adulthood and (somewhat) real independence, and you'll get to enjoy that independence no matter where you go. So stop worrying so much about the name and pick a school which seems like it will actually nurture you intellectually.
F: Any advice to freshmen and sophomores, who have more time to explore and change their interests？
W: Don’t do things because you think that’s what colleges “want to see”! Especially as a younger student, you should be using these years to explore, settle into high school, and figure out a bit about yourself. The college process is a lot easier if you have a solid sense of self and a clearer focus on what you love to do (which might change!), but the only way to get there is to spend your time on things that feel right and fulfilling.
K-R: Take your time. There's absolutely no reason to rush it. I didn't really start thinking about college until the summer before my senior year and that was plenty of time. Enjoy where you are now, soak it up, and know that there's so much good to come in the future!
F: What are your thoughts about being accepted into your college? What does entering the school mean to you?
W: A lot of schools, including Penn, are vigorously pre-professional, which is a double-edged sword. While I appreciate the ambition around me, and I think it’s good to have an understanding of how college work translates into a future career, sometimes this attitude can be to the detriment of deep learning and curiosity. While I eventually pieced this together for myself, it would have been helpful to know when I first started college that it is perfectly valid to not know where you’re going and often figuring that out is the best part.
K-R: I was really excited. I got deferred when I applied E.D. 1, and then got in regular decision. So, I was forced to explore other options, too, and make sure that I really wanted to go to Skidmore. Getting deferred sucked. There's really nothing to make that better. It just prolonged the process when I just wanted it to be over. I'm glad I'm at Skidmore, though. I am aware that Skidmore is a really good school for me, but not everyone.
F: Is there something you wish you had known before you entered college?
K-R: I wish I would have been more aware that everyone is feeling the same as me, some people are just better at hiding it. I also wish people would have told me earlier that it will be the most awkward thing that you'll do, and there's no huge way around that awkwardness. Orientation week is just a lot of small talk and introducing yourself to people in ways you never really have before. It consists of many awkward conversations, but ones that are also necessary for your growth and comfort at school. Everyone is in it together.
H: I would say, and often do, that the assumption that students who graduate from Ivy League schools are the smartest people in the world is false and classist. Students from elite high-schools and wealthy backgrounds were absolutely overrepresented at Penn when I went there, and I found that fact troubling, and still do. While Ivy League schools have great resources, they by no means have a monopoly on talented professors or talented students, and the belief that they do is very damaging.
F: Is there anything else that you would like to share about college as a whole?
W: Something my mom told me during the peak frenzy of the application process was very soothing to me: she reassured me that she could either drop me off at my dream school next year or drive me to some random school I’d never heard of in a random state, and I would probably have pretty similar experiences. At the end of the day, what is so amazing about college is not a function of the specific school, but a function of being a young adult exploring her interests and living with other people doing exactly the same thing.
K-R: Be patient with yourself!
I hope the suggestions and stories of these fine, collegiate individuals will help you! May you enjoy their words and find them useful in some aspects of your daily thinking. Perhaps Mira sums it up best when she says, “[College] almost always works out. It's just really, really hard at first, and then it's really, really fun!”
~Vicky Liu ’20