This is the seventh and final post in a series about a high school senior attempting to navigate through the college admissions 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, have documented her application process in a posts that started last fall and included the voices of her parents, teachers, friends and others. I published her story to 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.
In the first post, which you can read the first post here, Samantha Fogel and Brennan Barnard wrote about the beginnings of the college search. Fogel explained how starting the application process was like “being sent out to sea by myself with 20 different maps.” The second post, with thoughts from Barnard as well as her parents, Erin and Jeff Fogel, speaks to the issue of how to parent a child trying to finish high school while undergoing the anxiety-ridden college application process. The third post looks at her unconventional search for colleges to visit. The fourth piece explains how she decided which college to apply to through the early decision process, and the fifth was about how not to bomb the dreaded college application essay. The sixth post was about her emotions after her early-decision application to Bates College was deferred. Here’s the story of where she wound up being accepted and where she is enrolling this coming fall.
From: Brennan Barnard, director of College Counseling, The Derryfield School, Manchester, New Hampshire:
I sat in the third row of our 1980’s Volkswagen Vanagon, heart racing and palms sweating. It was the final day of March of my senior year and I had just returned from a school exchange program in Mexico. As we pulled away from the crowded airport, my mother handed me a stack of envelopes of all sizes, uniform both in official appearance and the ability to evoke extreme emotion. I tore open each letter, as my father watched stealthily in the rear-view mirror. One by one my admission decisions unfolded from the eight colleges to which I had applied. My heart swung from disappointment to excitement and back again. Six acceptances, one denial and one wait-list. All and all, not a bad outcome, but then I was faced with the enormity of making what felt like a monumental decision.
The moment one receives the college admission decision is hard to forget. More elusive is the process of deciding where to enroll. With May 1 come and gone, high school seniors have chosen what college’s sweatshirt they will be wearing. Multiple options for higher education is a fortunate problem to have, but the choice often feels like it will dictate one’s future, success, career and happiness.
How does one begin to unpack the many competing interests that will determine an intellectual and social home the next four years? Parents, friends, neighbors, classmates, teachers, relatives, College Confidential, Facebook; everyone has an opinion. Rankings of colleges exist based on everything from academic program to food to beauty of the campus. While the validity of these “scientific” metrics could certainly be questioned, often students and their families are swayed by these external judgments.
Seniors need to allow space for this decision to unfold, unfettered by the clutter that a rush to judgment can create. Writer and poet Gerald Blake Storrow suggests that, “freedom is the time between our perception and our opinion.” If students can resist the natural urge to be influenced by external opinions and force a quick conclusion, then the freedom found in this open space can facilitate the decision process. As newly admitted students return to experience each college, a blank slate that is receptive to new impressions will inform the choice.
Samantha Fogel has approached this adventure with a healthy perspective and belief that there is not a single right answer. She has experienced disappointment, excitement and confusion, among many other emotions. Her willingness to be receptive to life’s lessons has served her well and brought her to a place where she is enthusiastic about the road ahead and the opportunities that her college will provide.
As my father steered our van into the driveway, my thoughts had yet to arrive. The month of April that year has been blocked from my memory, but I know it involved a great deal of angst for me, and perhaps even more for my parents. Ultimately, I made a good decision, because it was uniquely mine. Sure, I took into account the food, the town and the attractive classmate from my high school who had enrolled; however, my decision also involved a close evaluation of the academic, social and athletic opportunities that awaited me. In the end, it was the freedom to trust my gut that confirmed the appropriateness of my choice.
[He earned a bachelor’s degree at Franklin & Marshall College, and later, a master’s degree at the University of Vermont.]
By Samantha Fogel, Senior, The Derryfield School, Manchester, New Hampshire:
After desperately roaming the streets for a venue advertising the sacred words, “we have wifi,” I settled into a crowded café tucked into a corner of a bustling street in Budapest one day last month. Bates College had promised to post admissions decisions that day and I was not going to let a school trip, the time difference or lack of internet stand between me and my collegiate fate. My friends sat at a separate table, animatedly discussing our plans for the day while, hands shaking, I opened my email to reveal my decision. I glanced over the message, searching for any key words that would indicate the results. Sure enough, I found them. Record number of applicants. We regret to inform you. etc. Of course, this rejection was momentarily heartbreaking. Momentarily.
Unexpectedly, I bounced back quickly, already imagining myself on the campus of my next dream school. This optimism, however, took a few more blows before settling down. That night I received a notification that I had been wait-listed at Colby College. And then another notification from Hamilton College (this one I opened with bated breath as it had become my top choice). Wait-listed.
I had a stretch of really wonderful news last fall. My first acceptance arrived early from University of New Hampshire with a generous scholarship and an invitation to join the honors program. With optimism and a new sense of security, I began to relax, knowing I had at least one option for next year. Clark University and the University of Vermont rolled in next, offering merit scholarships as well, along with a plethora of e-mails and letters laying out all the reasons these were the perfect schools for me. Northeastern University’s acceptance arrived next, followed by the long notification drought until this day in the café in Budapest. Deny, wait-list, wait-list. Unfortunately, suspension was a mental state I had already grown accustomed to. A deferral and a wait-list are one and the same; a sense of collegiate purgatory. And so I remained on these wait-lists with a tentative and slightly pessimistic outlook.
My last college decision came in the form of an excited call from my father. My sister, my mother and I sat cramped in the car, three hours into our road trip into New York City. I had already made a preemptive decision to attend Northeastern in the fall, but then came this news from my father: “You have a big envelope from St. Lawrence!” I instructed him to open it and he read the acceptance letter over the phone. My excitement was subdued; I only had eyes for Northeastern in Boston at that moment.
Yet, between the scholarship and the raving reviews from St. Lawrence alums, we all decided I owed it to myself to at least visit the university. Excited about a city school, I was wondering what I could like about this small university in upstate New York, where my mother and I witnessed an Amish couple drive past with a horse and buggy. Turns out, I loved it. The decision to commit and deposit there was not difficult; I came home ecstatic about being a Laurentian. But as I warned when we began this series, my decision-making process is anything but straight-forward.
Plot twist. On April 29th, I got a call from Ben Rose, the New England representative from Hamilton College. He asked me if I was still interested, and assuming this was merely to gauge interest, I replied automatically with the affirmative.
“Well great! We just wanted to let you know we have a spot for you!”
I was thrilled. And so, with the admission from what became my top choice, I will be attending Hamilton College in the fall. I feel incredibly fortunate to have found not one, but multiple colleges at which I would have been equally happy and comfortable. Although I would never have thought it given my initial excitement for Hamilton, the ultimate decision between there and St. Lawrence was shockingly difficult. Ultimately, I decided to attend the school where I had that immediate gut feeling of belonging.
My college process went in a completely different direction than I ever could have imagined. I stand by my original statement, I always felt that I had been sent out to sea, overwhelmed by a million different options. In this voyage, however, I have been so thankful for all my teachers, peers, and family that provided me with an incredible amount of support this school year. The process was never easy, but the outcome has been worth it.
I am ecstatic to begin as a Hamilton Continental next fall.