Mike's Notes: The College Process

Posted by Mike Henriques


It arrives in the fall, like a chill wind driving down from the north. It arrives in assembly with announcements from Mike and Michele, whips through on the ACT and SAT test days. It arrives with representatives from different colleges walking across campus: Dickinson, Warren Wilson, Colby, Gettysburg, Hampshire, Elon, a steady weekly presence of visitors on the campus. It rustles through the library, through the dorms, through advisory, through phone calls home. For many seniors it can feel like a tightening vice of isobars, for many parents it the same. Nothing, seemingly, offers protection.

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It’s a next step, an important one, weighted with expectations, and evolved to the point that a majority of seniors feel caught, buffeted, and in a storm not of their making…which, of course, it isn’t. I watched as our two children wrestled through the essays and applications, took the ACT and SATs, worried about grades, picked their way through conversations with peers and family, wondered about who should write their recommendations. They (we) tacked across the country to different campuses, toured science labs and dining facilities, followed countless chipper tour guides, and weathered it as best they could. As parents, we tried to kindle hope and optimism while managing our own expectations and theirs. It’s a delicate line to walk; I am sure we strayed.

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Thankfully, most of our seniors have perspective, and most of our parents have balance. It helps when collectively we send our graduates to so many different schools in so many different parts of the country and we don’t shoot – or want to shoot – for a narrow US News and World Report ranked band. Getting the right fit seems to be more the emphasis than getting the right ranking, and that takes a thoughtful and self-aware senior and the right guidance and counseling both from within Proctor and from home. It also helps to have the capacity – particularly as a parent – to stand back and see the larger landscape, the weather beyond the current pattern. In this regard, I appreciate and recommend Frank Bruni’s book, Where You Go Is Not Who You Will Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania. For perspective, it’s a terrific companion.

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This weekend I am traveling to a college Parents’ Weekend for our daughter at Gettysburg. We will attend a couple of lectures, hear from the college president, tour through some of the buildings that we haven’t been through yet, and maybe watch a game or two. We’re on the other side of the process. She’s finding her way in a new learning community, chatting about classes, meeting new friends, and is already a huge fan of her college. All the senior year angst? It’s gone.

The wind shifts for all.


Mike Henriques P'11, P'15

Proctor Academy Head of School 

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