Samantha Fogel, high school senior who is applying for college. (Photo by Annie Branch)

With the 2014-15 school year now in full swing, many high school seniors are finding that they have two jobs: keeping up with classes and filling out college applications. This blog will follow one senior as she navigates the college search and application process. She is Samantha Fogel, a student at The Derryfield School, a private college preparatory day school for grades six through twelve in Manchester, New Hampshire. Samantha and her college counselor, Brennan Barnard, will document her experience applying to college in occasional posts that will include the voices of her parents, teachers, friends and others. Her story may help debunk some myths surrounding selective college admission while providing a window into a time of transition for one young woman growing up in rural New Hampshire.

Here’s the first post, with both Barnard’s and Fogel’s voices.

From Brennan Barnard:

She sinks back into the sofa, as if to disappear in the overstuffed cushions. With her mother at her side, she looks at me with a characteristic smile and a hint of trepidation. “Do you want to go to college?” I probe, breaking the silence. This elicits a blank stare of skepticism from Samantha and a hesitant grin from her mother. “Yes!” she responds, as if I have two heads. “Why?” I quickly counter.

I begin every initial meeting with my juniors as such. At an independent, college preparatory school, this seems like an unusual line of questioning, as it is assumed that this is the logical next step. On the eve of this transition, however, I encourage students to pause and to articulate to themselves their intentions, dreams, desires and needs. It is from this place that they can start a thoughtful search for a college or university, which will best fit their interests and aspirations.

Samantha’s answer to my question is a refreshing change from the generic responses. “To embrace and seek adversity,” she responds without hesitation. It is immediately apparent that this young lady is not after the predictable college experience. She is a renaissance woman, bohemian in her interests and approach to the world. We will learn more about this dynamic student as the coming months and application process unfold. Needless-to-say, she is not one to be wedded to a college search dictated by rankings and status. With a sister who is starting her sophomore year at Dartmouth College and parents with degrees from Williams College, Vanderbilt University and Fairleigh Dickinson College, there is no question that the importance of education runs deep. Sam has high hopes, but her process will be her own.

Many cultures have rites of passage that mark the shift from adolescence toward adulthood. Whether a Bar Mitzvah, a sweat lodge, a vision quest or otherwise, these rites usually involve a challenge to overcome, paired with a healthy dose of self-reflection. For numerous young people in our society, one of these rites is the process of applying to college.

We are living in a hyper-competitive climate of college admission to the most selective colleges in our country, with acceptance rates dipping into the low single digits and numbers of applications soaring every year. Applying to college can seem like a daunting pursuit, not dissimilar from a sweat lodge or other daunting rite of passage. I see my role as a college counselor as that of a guide, with the intention of drying the sweat, alleviating the angst and helping students find schools that will serve them best.

William Deresiewicz, author of “Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and The Way to a Meaningful Life,” recently wrote in an article for The New Republic, that the admission process is “squatting like a dragon at the entrance to adulthood.” I aim to tame the dragons and I am fortunate to do so at a school that encourages balance, ambition, thoughtfulness, healthy risk taking and introspection. It is within this environment that Sam Fogel has challenged herself, explored her interests and grown as an intellectual, athlete, thespian and individual.

From: Samantha Fogel

Starting the college process was like getting sent out to sea by myself with 20 different maps and no set location. I had only a vague sense of a select group of schools I wanted to visit, suggested to me either by guide books, friends, or my biased parents. The day of my first college meeting I went in completely clueless as to what would be happening. As my mother and I drove to my college counselor’s office on a spring morning, I eagerly anticipated discussing my college options. Although the prospect of actually applying to colleges seemed far in the distance for me, I wanted a more concrete sense of which schools I would be interested in next fall. We arrived and Mr. Barnard, my counselor, welcomed us in, leading my mother and I into a cozy office with couches and arm chairs. I relaxed a little in the comfortable atmosphere.

Our conversation began with the familiar questions about my personality and hobbies. Through our conversation, I discovered Mr. Barnard shared my passion for theater and Spanish. Learning that I shared similar interests with my college counselor reassured me that he understood the type of person I was and which environments I would feel most comfortable in. After much discussion we came to the conclusion I was looking for a small school in the south. (As a disclaimer, I would like to explain that this choice has changed since my first college meeting, but more on that later.)

I was dreading the next part of the conversation that I knew was coming. I had taken the SAT once and after sharing my scores, we explored strategies that would accentuate my strengths, reading and writing, while finding a way to increase the trouble spot, math. Ultimately, Mr. Barnard recommended that I take the ACTs and SAT II Subject Tests in math, Spanish, and literature within the next few months and revisit the SATs in the fall.

After exploring grades, interests, and scores, Mr. Barnard ultimately gave me a large and helpful list of schools to begin considering. Although the idea of finding the perfect school on that list still weighed on me, I felt reassured by the notion that I was no longer blindly looking at random colleges as I had done before. The feeling of being sent to sea without any determined destination still remains, however, I now have a savvy crew and a more detailed map, full of helpful direction.