This article was first published in the Summer 2018 issue of Parker Magazine
By Tiffany Yu
“Where do you want to go to college?”
It’s probably the first question you’d expect a college counselor to ask a high school student. At Parker, however, that question is more likely to be, “What is your passion?” or “What gets you excited?” Students may also be asked to think a step or two ahead, prompting their thoughts on future careers beyond college.
These questions are indicators of a vision recent Parker graduates know well. For counselors at Parker, the goal is not to shape each student to fit a certain school, but to find the right school that fits each student. Getting to know students’ personalities, interests, and goals is key to their success.
Parker’s college counselors sat down for mini-interviews with Class of 2018 graduates about the college search process and what they learned along the way. Excerpts of those conversations follow.
Conversations have been edited for space and clarity.
Emily Potts ’18
Wake Forest University
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
With her heart set on being a doctor, Emily Potts ’18 initially thought her next stop after Parker should be the Ivy League. The college-search process, however, changed her outlook. Campus visits, counseling meetings with Director of College Counseling Bob Hurley, and personal reflection helped Emily realize she wanted a school that combined outstanding academics with a close-knit, supportive community—just like the one she had at Parker.
In the fall, Emily will attend Wake Forest University in North Carolina, where she will study biochemistry and molecular biology with her sights set on becoming a neurosurgeon. Emily credits Bob with helping her find her school, to which she might never have applied otherwise.
Bob: What did you learn about yourself through your college search process?
Emily: I’ve learned that I thrive in a supportive community. I want to go to a school where I can make an impact—somewhere where I won’t be lost in the crowd. A place where I can make a name for myself and be a part of a larger community.
Bob: What is it about Wake Forest that stood out to you?
Emily: Wake Forest has everything I want in a school: amazing academics, which was top on my list; a supportive community; and school with a lot of spirit. I looked for a school that has a four-year residential living program to create that “community” feel. I want to be at a school that offers extracurricular activities similar to the things that I did at Parker, and new activities as well. Wake Forest has them all. When I first walked on the campus, I immediately felt it was the right fit; it was where I was meant to be. I had the same feeling when I toured Parker, so I kind of “knew.”
Bob: Thinking back over the process of choosing your school, what resources or people did you find most helpful?
Emily: College visits were super helpful: being on campus, being with the people, experiencing a snippet of what I might experience if I were to attend school there. College representative visits at Parker were also helpful. I started going to those in my sophomore and junior years. It also was very helpful to be able to talk to you. You were the one who put Wake Forest on my list from the beginning. Without being able to tell you what I wanted in a school and you giving me options, Wake Forest would never have been on my radar.
Bob: What advice would you give to the underclassmen just beginning their college search?
Emily: I would tell them not to worry about the name of the college. That is something they will hear from their counselors, too. For a while, I wanted to go to an Ivy League school, but through the college search process, I realized I wanted a less competitive environment. I would suggest that younger students think now about which school is going to be the right fit for them. Where are they going to be comfortable and thrive? They are going to spend four years at the school they choose—they should enjoy it.
Ashkon Aghassi ’18
Claremont McKenna College
The college essay is a student’s opportunity to make a connection with a college. For Ashkon Aghassi ’18, summing up his life experiences and passions in 900 words or less proved difficult. But with help from Dean of College Counseling Terri Devine, Ashkon was able to dig deep and tell his story.
Ashkon, a Parker lifer, was accepted to Claremont McKenna College and plans to study economics and computer science.
Terri: What was it like writing your college essay, and what did you learn about yourself through the process?
Ashkon: In my Grade 11 English class, we wrote a practice college essay. If it weren’t for that assignment, I would have put it off until the last minute. It was pretty difficult, because when someone says, “Write a college essay,” you have no idea what to do or where to start. We’re used to answering a prompt or writing about a book we’ve read, but not writing about ourselves.
In my essay, I talked about my background. It was a good way to learn about myself and my [Iranian] heritage. I wrote about how on college applications or standardized testing forms, I have to identify as “Caucasian” because the form says, “Caucasian: includes Middle Eastern descent.” That is something that I don’t completely agree with. It was very interesting to put that onto paper—what I believe and how it made me feel. It’s not something that everyone goes through.
Terri: What was the most challenging part of the college search process?
Ashkon: For me, narrowing down the colleges. I was so open to many options that it ended up being a problem. It eventually was really rewarding to narrow it down to the ones that I really enjoyed, and I could only do that by visiting the schools.
Terri: What resources were most helpful?
Ashkon: The College Counseling office. The School does a great job matching you with a list of colleges. Also, visiting campuses and meeting with Parker alumni at the colleges you are interested in. At Claremont McKenna, there were a few Parker alumni who are really involved in the school. That gave me good insight as to how I would adapt to the school.
Julia Lafferty ’18
University of Hawaii
Early in her Parker Upper School career, Julia Lafferty ’18 had no idea what her future career might look like. During a service trip volunteering at hospitals in Nicaragua, she figured it out: nursing was her calling. College Counselor Andy Losier helped to harness this newfound sense of direction to lead Julia through a more focused college search, which led her to the University of Hawaii.
Andy: What about your travel experience inspired your decision to go into nursing?
Julia: On the community-service trip to Nicaragua, we worked in hospitals. I got to meet doctors and nurses, and that sparked my interest.
Andy: How was the application process different for you, applying for something as specific as nursing?
Julia: You have to write more essays and complete several applications that require distinct information. It’s a lot of work, but you just have to keep organized.
Andy: Were there nursing-specific questions you made sure to ask while on school tours?
Julia: I asked about the differences between their program and programs at other colleges. I also made sure to ask about their program requirements from high school, like APs and test scores.
Andy: What is your advice to pass on to Parker undergraduate students?
Julia: I’ve been noticing that freshmen and sophomores are obsessed with college stuff, and I don’t think that is necessary yet. They may feel pressure from friends who are upperclassmen, siblings, or even parents. Focus on your experience learning at Parker and spending time with your friends, because high school goes by so fast. Worry about college when it comes time.
Liam Fay ’18
When it came to writing his college essays, Liam Fay ’18 had too much to talk about. He had to mention his popular team-building workshop, “The Secret to a Better Robot,” which he was invited to share with faculty across San Diego County. He couldn’t leave out his work on the Diversity Day curriculum, his student leadership roles, or his music awards, among so many other things. How would he fit it all in?
With the guidance of College Counselor Jasmin Taylor, Liam was able to peel back the layers of accomplishments to let his essays reveal the core of who he is. That true self is now headed to Stanford University, with plans to go into marketing, design, or teaching.
Jasmin: What were the qualities you were looking for in a school? Did that change throughout the process?
Liam: My general wants in a school didn’t change much throughout the process. I knew I wanted a large student body—not too large—that felt authentic. I wanted fluidity between majors, knowing that many students change their majors in college. And good weather. So I only had six schools on my list.
Jasmin: What would be your advice to juniors and seniors going through the college essay process?
Liam: Don’t think you have to write a resumé for your essays. There isn’t a topic that is off limits as long as it reflects you. One essay prompt asked, “What class would you teach?” I wrote that I would want to teach a class analyzing Kesha, the singer. I didn’t write about that to refer to a music club I had started or the fact that I got an “A” in AP Music Theory—it was what I found interesting. Colleges get to know you through your essays.
Jasmin: What are you looking forward to most at Stanford?
Liam: Like people at Parker, [Stanford] people are intellectual and smart, but no one feels the need to tell you. At Stanford events, I met an Oscar winner, a poet laureate, and a person who had an asteroid named after them and I didn’t know these things about them until afterwards. I found that the Stanford community has the mindset that what’s in the present and the future is more important than what they have done in the past. I look forward to and appreciate that.