The Search Episode Eight Transcript

The Search

Episode Eight Transcript

 

Lee Coffin:
From Dartmouth College, this is Lee Coffin, Vice Provost for enrollment and Dean of Admissions. Welcome to The Search.

We've been talking with seniors in high school who just completed their journey through their college admission process. We've met some guidance counselors, couple of deans, some parents, but we haven't met juniors yet. And so, this episode turns the conversation to the audience in question. So, I've invited today a group of juniors, some members of the high school Class of '21, college Class of 2025, to join us today with their guidance counselor to talk about what's on their mind right now as they start their college search. They're doing it remotely at this moment. And there are lots of things swirling around that they might like answers to. So, we'll meet the three of them and then the floor will be theirs to basically ask me anything that will help the three of them as your representatives of the worldwide junior class. So, no pressure you guys to be the ambassadors of an entire high school junior class, but today we're joined by a group of juniors from Academy of the Pacific Rim, which is a charter school in Hyde Park, Massachusetts in Boston, and it's a really interesting school. It's a charter school, and Diane Scott is their long-time college counselor. And Diane, could you introduce Pac Rim to us? I mean, it's an interesting name for a school. I know it's got an Asian theme, but for listeners who might not know it, tell us a little bit about your school.

Diane:
Sure. People always ask Academy of the Pacific Rim but it's in Boston? It was started by two guys who were on the Boston school committee. One of whom was Chinese American, one of whom is Caucasian, but had served in Korea and taught English in Japan.

Lee:
Oh, interesting

Diane:
And they had a lot of conversations about the changes they wanted to see happen in the Boston schools and what they had seen in their experiences culturally in the East. And when the charter school movement came along, they said, "Let's try and build this school in our community to serve our community that combines the best of East and the West." So, you're right. We have Mandarin is the only language we offer. And we have a partnership with a school in Beijing. So, students, including these guys, have been to China, which is pretty awesome.

Lee:
Awesome.

Diane:
And we are a small school. 500 total in grades five through 12. So, there's about 250 in the high school. These guys will be in a graduating class of 60. And we serve mostly a first-gen college-going low to moderate-income, a lot of students of color predominantly, and a lot of immigrant families.

Lee:
Terrific. So, we have Dasia, Derek Fernandez, and Delia Howley joining Diane Scott. So, four Ds joining us from APR, as the school is known. So, hello to the three of you. Thanks for joining us on the search. So, can we start with just tell us a little bit about yourself? I won't call on any one of you, but just give a quick intro. What are your interests? Tell us a little bit about what you do at Pac Rim.

Derek Fernandez:
Yeah. So again, my name is Derek Fernandez. I'm a junior, like you said. My interests are sort of mixed and Ms. Scott knows this that I'm sort of all over the place at APR, but one of my biggest interests is I'm interested in pre-medicine. And so, it's interesting to go to a school like ours and be interested in a field like that, because it's such a mixed group of people who are all over the place and they have so many different interests and it's like everybody's trying to find their way, which I'm sure is a thing all around the country. I also take part in a few clubs. I take part in [Thespians 00:04:15] and student council and National Honor Society, and those are some of my highlights of what I do during the school year.

Lee:
Thank you. That's helpful.

Delia Howley:
Hi, I'm Delia. Just like everyone else, I'm a junior. Like Derek, I'm also in National Honor Society, Thespians, student council, robotics. I probably do too many clubs. I'm always worn pretty thin, but I enjoy it a lot. My interests are creative writing and a lot of political writing.

Lee:
Oh, nice.

Delia:
I'm really into activism.

Lee:
Terrific. And Dasia?

Dasia Charles:
My name's Dasia. I'm also a junior. I would say I'm more of a science geek. I'm mainly into...Well, the clubs that I do are robotics, science Olympia club. I'm involved in a lot of programs at MIT outside of school. The only social...Well, the only more social thing that I do is probably I'm an intern at the social activist organization for youth called REAP or ACE, as they also like to be called. Yeah. But I'm more interested in research.

Lee:
OK. So, we have a science researcher, a pre-med, and an English political activist as a trio. So, as you start, that's a really good way of introducing yourselves, and down the road when it's time to apply months from now, those are the kinds of questions you should ask yourself when you're sitting in front of your computer filling out an application. What story am I telling to the college that helps them meet me? What am I interests? How do I want to put my own little spin? Like Delia said, English writing and then she leaned into, "I'm an activist." And amplified that. That's a really...Tell that story through the application you ultimately submit, but let me start, as we're getting going, is you're at the beginning of your college exploration. So, it's your junior spring. Almost done. How are you starting a list? Are you thinking about those majors you described as a starting point and how are you exploring? So, you can't visit campuses right now. So, it's all virtual. How's that going?

Derek:
If I can start, so the majors definitely play a huge part, especially with pre-med, because there's so many different programs around the country that offer so many different attributes for students and how the resource that they can give to students. For me, I've been sort of taking this time to go through just a rough draft of lists that my wonderful college counselor, Ms. Johnson, who isn't on this call, has sort of drafted for me. And that gave me an idea on what am I interested in? Am I interested in a small liberal arts colleges? A big national college? And so that was one of those things that I started narrowing down during my spring of junior year, because it's such an important thing is do, I want to go to a small school? Do I want to go to a big school? Mid-sized school?

And it's a lot of factors too that contribute to that. And alongside that, I've been going through actually colleges' social media, because honestly, during this generation, you see a lot of different attributes of the school through social media. So, I use the social media to sort of get to look at what their students are like. What does the campus look like? What's the overall feel? Because they want to describe what they're trying to present to you. And so, that's definitely what I've been using. And then also just looking at colleges website and doing research on my own about what they offer.

Lee:
Has that been helpful? Are you getting a good vibe as you look around social media and the websites?

Derek:
Yeah. I definitely noticed that they are taking more of a stronger look at social media now because people are spending so much time at home that there's limited resources that they can use to get to know the colleges, but it's definitely helped me. You get to see a lot of the things, even before quarantine, you get to see what picture they're trying to paint for students. And so, it helps me to get to know what sort of vibe I'm going to get for that college. So, it's definitely helping determine what colleges are going to be on my final list.

Lee:
That's good. And as you were answering that question, Delia and Dasia were both smiling and nodding. So that rings true for the two of you as well as you think about your exploration to date?

Dasia:
Definitely. I mean, especially during this time, because we're all online basically. Social media has definitely been a huge part of my college search right now. I mean, I already knew that I wanted to go to a college that was very small liberal arts, but especially one that was near nature only because I know I want to be an environmental engineer right now. So yeah, that was definitely already part of it, but actually limiting those schools down, because there are a lot of schools that are near a natural environment. I've been talking to a lot of students that are actually planning on going to those schools or already in those schools who want to talk about their experiences.

Lee:
Yeah. And how...So, that priority around a natural environment, how did that emerge for you? Because you live in Boston. Did you just want a different setting than what you've had so far? Or what's pulling you towards the woods?

Dasia:
Well, not exactly. I mean, yeah, Boston is definitely more of a city type of place, but I've...Well, when I was younger, I had a backyard that had plenty of trees that I definitely got acquainted with. And then as I moved more into the city, I've definitely found a home at the local arboretum so that was definitely where I developed my interest.

Lee:
Yeah. Well, and it's connecting, you mentioned, environmental engineering, so you've got a connection between what you say is your, I think you called yourself a geek. So, you've got the geek and the trees kind of in combination there as you're thinking about your academic program.

Dasia:
Definitely.

Lee:
That's fun. Delia, how's your early journey been?

Delia:
I've been enjoying it a lot. Just like everyone else, I've been using a lot of social media, but also, I've signed up for all the colleges that I'm interested in, their mailing list, just to see what's going on campus and what students are doing. Like the other two, I feel like since we're from such a small school and everyone has such differing interests, small liberal arts colleges are more of, at least for us, I know they're more comfortable for us because we're so used to small schools. And one thing that I definitely look at is the support systems that are in schools. I look at the website and I see how the alumni connections work and what's the student to teacher ratio just to see if you're going to get that one on one time that I feel like I would work better in that sort of environment. So, it's definitely comparing what I've been used to and what I'm comfortable with and then seeing if I could step a little bit outside of my comfort zone, but still seeing if I feel like I'll be able to succeed in that college.

Lee:
Yeah, no. That's...I mean, all three of you using your time at APR to imagine what college would feel like, that's very smart. I mean, because you know...I mean, a lot of students who go to a smaller school say, "I want something huge." I say, "Well, a class of 400 is going to be huge relative to what you've experienced so far." So, a small liberal arts college, as all three of you are kind of imagining, would be a much bigger campus community than what you've had, but you still might want huge. You might say, "No, I'm really interested in being in this really big, fast-paced kind of campus environment." Delia, I want to go back to your introduction where you noted that you're an activist. You introduced yourself as somebody who's interested in social media. Is that a component of your college search as well? Are you looking for campuses that have more of a political pulse that goes along with your academic interests? Or is this something separate?

Delia:
It's definitely intertwined in some aspects. You see on some college campuses that student activism is much more prominent, and students are always doing protests or they're speaking out against certain things that are unfair. So, when I looked at colleges, especially with mailing lists, it helps out a lot, because with college mailing lists like I talked about before on emails, and then I have a drawer back there full of brochures.

Delia:
You get to see the student's perspective of it. You get to see what's important to students and what they're really passionate about. And so, I think what's important to me is seeing if students on that campus share same interests with me so that I can really learn more about it and grow with people that ... I don't want to say that I want to go to college with people that are exactly like me, because that's completely wrong. Activism is all about getting to know people who have different interests as you and who feel different, so that you can clash those interests and see what you can learn from it. But just the passion overall is something that I look for to see if students have that same passion.

Lee:
No, that's great. So, if the three of you are looking at social media websites to understand the place and what it offers. Do you value student to student narratives? Or do admission officers like me enter into the story or do you kind of roll your eyes and say, "Well, they're the admission people. They're supposed to tell me happy things." And the students have been more authentic kind of conversation with you? Or are both valuable?

Derek:
I think that it's sort of like a 75/25 relationship because for me, I definitely rely more on student opinions, because at the end of the day, you will never really get to know a college unless you talk to a student because they have lived those four years, because admissions officer move around. They're not necessarily ... They haven't ... Not all of them have been to that college. They don't necessarily know what type of relationship or environment actually exists, but I think it is helpful to consider what the admissions officers are telling you, because they're not just going to plain out lie to you, but I think it's important to sort of use the two and use what they've told you and sort of build your own opinion, and see if the student said this and the admissions officer said this, this is true. This rings true for the campus. And I think that's so important because then you really get your true, unbiased opinion, because you use two of these sources to make this one, great source that tells you what this college is like.

Lee:
No, that's great. And when you said the ratio of 75/25, you didn't identify, which was which, and I knew that I was in the 25%. I just have this feeling that the scale tips in the other direction from where I'm sitting, which is fine, and that's different. For the parents who are listening, you rewind 10 years ago even, social media wasn't as pronounced. And so, the student to student conversation that Dasia, Derek, and Delia are able to have, could not have happened.

And so, the admission officers were the primary microphone, if you will, to the way you met the college, and I've seen a big shift over time to...I often will say I'm curating the conversation. My job is to create the platform and get out of the way and let you have conversations among yourselves and own it. I think that's how you just said.

Let me use that kind of question to turn this conversation around and invite the three of you to ask me questions. How can I be helpful as your junior peers think about navigating college admissions right now?

Delia:
I have a question that I've been wondering, [crosstalk 00:16:54] and I talked to Ms. Scott a little bit about it. Definitely since campuses are all shut down and fly-in programs are an if, it's really up in the air. How do you suppose that students should go about demonstrating interest? Because I know that's a big part in college processes.

Lee:
Yeah. so, I'll answer that. It's a two-prong answer. I think there's the demonstrated interest piece, which shows the college that you're engaged and you're exploring the option in a thoughtful way, as opposed to what can happen as you get to the deadline and you just start clicking the common application or the QuestBridge application multiple times and say, "OK, I've just applied to 20 places because that's the limit." And so, the conversation between you and us is what we're recommending, so that you have us, and I think you're all doing that.

Lee:
You're also trying to understand in that conversation is this the right place for you? And I think each of you touched that and what I hope happens as we move into the summer and then the fall, by the time we get to spring '21, so your senior spring, when you've got multiple offers of admission in your pocket, and you're saying, "OK, where do I see myself?" My prayer is that the campuses are all open again and we could move about the country so that you get that in person perspective, because one of the things that's important, and I think you're touching on this, Delia, how do I know the community is the right one for me? And though we don't have that opportunity right now, unless you're just looking at the window of a car, which is OK. You can still do that, but it's not quite the same thing as going on a campus.

Delia:
Thank you.

Lee:
Yeah, you're welcome. What else?

Derek:
So, for me, I had a question on another big part of the college application process is how are colleges looking at testing? Because it's such a huge part, and it's usually, it's such this big determining factor for college. Does this student meet the academic requirements for admission? And so, I think for me now, there's so much uncertainty at the moment, and even now, we've been in this crisis for three months and I feel like we're still at the same point we were in March. It's not that the colleges ... It's a lack of communication between the colleges and the future students, but it's sort of the situation too where even colleges don't know what's going to happen come fall. But how are colleges going about considering what is now the best way of determining if students are eligible for admission? Because if you can't see scores for some of these students, how do you determine that?

Lee:
Yeah. Great question. So, the testing piece is one of those structural challenges of the pandemic. If the crisis continues and testing can't happen, you're going to see more colleges saying to you, "This has to be an optional element of your search." And you've seen many colleges already do that. The most important part of your academic portfolio is the transcript you have developed at Academy of the Pacific Rim or wherever you're in high school. I mean, we start there.

What courses are you taking through the junior year? How has it set up your senior year? How have you been doing? What are your teachers saying about your performance in that course of study, particularly now where you're working remotely and are you on a pass/fail or are you still getting letter grades? Pass/fail now?

Diane:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Honor's pass and fail. Yeah.

Lee:
Honor's pass. Yeah. So, the teacher rec is going to be able to explain in more detail what does this honors grade mean? What's a pass mean? Hopefully you don't have a fail, but you might have a fail, because the circumstances at home might be such that this course in that setting just didn't line up. And so, some of the things we're going to be doing this year is reading your transcripts and the testing that we look at in combination with your transcript, and that's the most important thing. Your test score is a supporting piece of information to your four-year transcript.

I think the bigger question wrapped around your question, Derek, is how will a college admission officer understand the disruption? It manifests itself in testing, it's in extracurriculars, it's in what you might be doing this summer. All of those things are part of a slightly more open-ended admission process that the three of you will navigate than the seniors in your school did this year.

And I say that to be reassuring that the college admission officers, just like you, are home and we are ... I miss talking to you. That's why these Zooms are fun because I get to see kids again. Is that helpful, Derek? As you think about testing and how to do it?

Derek:
Yeah. 100%.

Lee:
Got it?

Derek:
Yeah.

Lee:
Yeah. I think take what you can and if you can't, don't worry about it, because there are enough of us that are starting to give you that open ... We're going to be flexible about this. I mean, some of us are starting to add video elements to the application. You can send in a portfolio. I mean, literally just take your phone and record yourself and attach it. So, there are going to be other new ways, I think, of storytelling that will be part of this year's application that weren't part of last year's application.

And I think the experience you're going through in the next few months about applying, my suspicion is you're going to teach the colleges a really important lesson in re-imagining what counts. Re-imagining how a student in 2020, 2021 can represent themselves to a college in an application that might feel really alien to someone who applied 20 years ago. But for all of you who are so comfortable in social media in particular, you must say, "Yeah. This feels normal. This is a good way for me to tell my story."

Derek:
So, if I can just ask, so for example, over the summer, like I mentioned earlier, I'm interested in pre-med. So, I actually work at Brigham Women's Hospital here in Boston. And so that, obviously, is ... They haven't officially canceled it, but I imagine my mother doesn't want me to work in a hospital regardless during these times. Super unsafe. But then I asked you, especially with pre-med, it's kind of complicated to show, at least that I know of, I haven't seen any programs that you can take part in that show your interest in pre-med, and that's definitely something I'm doing research in now, and I'm going to ask my college counselor to help me with that.

Lee:
You don't need to do an internship to show your interest. It's good to do the internship, because it helps you answer the question for yourself, "Do I like this?" So, if the internship can't happen or your mother has fair worries about having you visiting a hospital during this moment, the other way you can tell the college about that is just reflect on what's pulling you towards medicine as a junior in high school? Approach it a little bit more philosophically. And so, it doesn't have to be in your extracurricular column where you tell that story. It might be the essay or one of the supplemental essays or an interview when we get to that stage where you reflect on what it is about healthcare that is drawing you towards it.

Dasia:
I actually had a really quick question about extracurriculars.

Lee:
Sure.

Dasia:
So, one of my hobbies, since I love research, is researching extracurriculars for low-income students, and because of the pandemic and everything going online, a lot of the extracurriculars now cost a lot just because online teachers and just usually online programs usually have a tuition. So, what would you say about that in respect to all of the low-income students that want to apply to these colleges versus all of these applicants who can afford these extracurriculars?

Lee:
Yeah. I think the answer to your question, Dasia, is similar to the one I shared with Derek about the internship at the hospital. So, the things that interest you, you mentioned robotics, you mentioned some activism, and those issues that are important to you, those interests that you love can also be expressed in a different way. And that's, I think, what I think this is a really interesting, unexpected theme that's emerging around your college application can be framed around these ideas as much as the actual experience.

So just saying, "I did this internship and putting it on my resume." Is one way of capturing it. But a more powerful way is to say, "I'm going to share my interest in robotics with you." And say, "In a typical summer, I would have participated in this program in robotics for low-income students. Sadly, the pandemic and some of the financial issues have erased that opportunity for me." And just that sentence is powerful. And as the reader, as we're trying to build a community that's drawn from a broad socio-economic background, you've just shared something really important to me.

One of the questions I'm weighing in the Dartmouth application next year is how has the pandemic impacted you? So, let's think a bit about your stay at home moment. So, you've been taking classes remotely. I think a couple of you, maybe all of you, are first-gen college-bound. How are you finding both the discipline to keep moving forward in your search and your academic program and following your dreams? And how is the stay at home moment tested you in some way to be a better...Not be a better version of yourself, but how has it tested you to rise to the moment in a way that maybe in February, you weren't thinking about this?

Derek:
So, I'm a first-gen student. And so, this process has been hard, to say the least, for me, because as much as education is stressed in my house and the importance of education is stressed in my house, my siblings graduated from high school. My mother didn't even get to go to high school. And so, that opportunity was just stripped from her. And so, me, I've always known the importance of education. And so, I've always taken it seriously, but I can tell you firsthand that being at home has been so hard for me, because I can't find a way to stay motivated. That's sort of something that I have definitely in the past month, and even since we started quarantine, have tried to develop, but the second I found out school was canceled for the whole year, my mind went into, and I think a lot of students went through this, is, "Oh, it's summer vacation now. And we have no responsibilities. There's nothing we need to do."

And then it hit me. I sort of hit that wall that I hit rock bottom. And I was like, "No. Colleges are going to look at this period of time and they're still going to say, 'Derek did absolutely nothing or he did something amazing with this time.'" And so, it's so incredibly important that I take this time. Now in the past few weeks, I've shifted my mindset and I've said, "No, absolutely not. College are still going to look at this time. And this is where I really show how strong I am as a student, and how important motivation is towards me becoming a prominent applicant for their college."

Lee:
Yeah, A plus answer. I also, as I was listening to you, Derek, just then, I was reminded you introduced yourself as a thespian from the technical side. And I'm like, "I can't believe this kid's not on stage." So, I'll just say that. So, Dasia and Delia, how have you kind of [surfed 00:30:17] the moment?

Delia:
I can definitely see what Derek was saying about hitting that block and you're realizing this isn't vacation. This is definitely still school. And so, I didn't really hit that wall as much. It's probably because this sort of period that we're in right now, it's giving students a taste of what college is like. You don't have teachers constantly on you. You don't have people constantly reminding you. You have to ... I have an entire schedule written down on my notepad. You have to be on it yourself. You have to really sit down. See, there. It's all on you. It really is. It really is all on you to just get yourself into that, and then if you're thinking about how to keep yourself motivated, what really motivates me is thinking about college in the way that it's not a chore. It's an opportunity.

College is something that's going to give you that...What pushes me is that college is something that's going to give me the opportunity to not only create a better life for myself, but for my family. To help my family who has helped me to get where I am now. I want to be able to give back to them. So, what keeps me really going, even though we don't have a set schedule, and even though things are up in the air and things might not seem really serious right now, what keeps it serious is that thought that we're still moving to the future. Time's not standing still, it's still moving towards something. And so, I have to keep moving towards something as well.

Lee:
Yeah. Well, and that's a really optimistic answer. And I've said to some of the seniors who have been worrying about the fall of their college freshman year, this is a four-year window. It's not a September, October window. And someone I said that to recently said, "Oh my God. I hadn't ... You're right." And I said, "It's a longer horizon than just where we are now."

So, Dasia, you get to wrap us up.

Dasia:
Yeah. So, I guess I would say that I didn't really hit a roadblock, and not in a good way where it's just like yeah, I was on my stuff immediately. But in a way where it's just like even in school, and Delia can attest to this because she's my best friend, but I've always been the type of person that was anxious about my future. So, as soon they said "OK. School's out." I was just like, "OK, let me try to rearrange my schedule so that I can try to get every part of the college application done in the next month." Which of course was not going to happen, but that's the type of person that I tried to be immediately.

But the thing that definitely keeps me going about trying to get the whole college process done is I've always wanted to have a better future for my mother and I. I mean, when I was younger, we didn't really have our own apartment at all. We always were with other family members or whatever, but when I'm older, I want to make sure I want to get a college education so that I can buy myself a house and buy her a house.

Lee:
Nice. That, beautiful. All three of you answered that question about the moment and the future in such an eloquent way. So. Thank you for that. And as we sign off, I wish you all well as your journey moves through the summer into your senior fall and the colleges get to meet you as applicant's next year. Just as an admission officer, I will say that you each are going to offer a really compelling application for us to consider because you're already telling your stories in a really animated, personal, compelling, vivid way. So, just type what you just said, and you are good. Diane, thank you for introducing us to Delia, Derek, and Dasia.

Diane:
Absolutely. Am I the luckiest person on the planet or what?

Lee:
You're the luckiest person. So, really appreciate it, guys. And take care.

Derek:
Thank you.

Lee:
OK.

Delia:
Thank you.

Diane:
Now, get off the Zoom and go write your essays.

Lee:
I want to thank our junior guests for a really animated and thought-provoking conversation about where they are in their searches. This podcast has been planned for the very students we just met. And so, it's been fun to have this conversation with them and to hear where they are, what they're thinking about, where they're going. Our next episode, we'll look at some of the practical matters that we may have touched on in previous episodes that we'd like to come back to with a little bit more clarity or detail about why it matters and where it fits into the act of searching and applying, and we'll be joined by two more college counselors to help us think about some of the specifics that help you wrap up the search in a really effective way. Until then, this is Lee Coffin from Dartmouth College. Thanks for joining us.