Lest any of us forget, the P in NDP stands not for preppie as in 50 shades of khaki, but rather for preparatory as in college and beyond. It is highly unlikely that anyone in the greater NDP community would – or could – forget. College prep is, after all, Notre Dame’s raison d’être. From the earliest days, the process has been – for the most part -an exciting adventure, albeit a labor intensive one. Fifty years ago, it was also a bit tedious. The only tools you had at your disposal to guide you through the search process was a daunting set of 2 equally thick, picture-less books – a wordy compilation of all the colleges and universities in the country – stored in the library and in demand by all. Can you say, “Get in line?” An NDP student would comb through these tomes hoping some description of a course or campus would catch her eye and imagination. She’d discuss her options with her parents and the one counselor on duty at NDP who did her best to single-handedly shepherd every last student. Time, incredibly innovative computer software, and the Internet (with its virtual tours and its glossy online college catalogs) have changed all that. Not to mention a continually progressive and rigorous approach adapted by NDP and spearheaded today by a highly qualified, dedicated, and enthusiastic Counseling Department of 8 with the remarkable Ellen Starr at the helm. Together, Ellen, her staff of counselors, and the entire faculty and administration of Notre Dame do everything in their power to ensure that NDP students are exposed to, have access to, and are accepted at some of the most competitive and prestigious colleges and universities in the country. More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that Ellen and her team spend absolutely endless amounts of time and research, year in and year out, matching up each girl with a set of colleges that will be a good fit for her. This is how Ellen explains it to the girls:
“There are more than 5 states in the country and there are over 4,200 colleges and universities. Don’t limit yourself. Think outside the box. And let me help you do that.”
While the search for the perfect college is still an exciting adventure, all this progress has made the process even more labor intensive…for everyone involved: students, parents, faculty, and most especially, the Counseling Department. Back in the day, if the process were perhaps considered a sprint, beginning in junior year and really picking up speed in senior year, today it is a marathon. And they hit the ground running… as freshman. Ninth-graders at Notre Dame are required to take a course called Freshman Guidance where, among other things, they learn about testing, time management, and transcripts – all aspects of high school life and the college prep process. Juniors and Seniors are required to take a course called the College Guidance Seminar, which includes counseling on the college search and application process, GPA’s, transcripts and other forms, essay writing, interviewing, financial aid, scholarships, and more. During that time, Ellen and/or a member of her team meet with every single NDP junior and senior and her parents. They also host guest speakers, college admissions officers, and other experts in the field. Ellen calls the course “boot camp for college” in the sense that it is an intensive time in which the students are immersed in the college prep and admissions process. If a student is on track, she will begin visiting colleges during her junior year spring break, continue doing so through the following summer and into the early part of her senior year. But by the end of junior year, every student should have a tentative list of schools to which she’d like to apply. I met with 3 seniors – Amanda Abraham, Minnie Jang, and Erin Caubo – who are right on track and feel good about their lists and their chances for admission. Two of the girls are interested in pre-med and one is interested in business. The list of schools they are applying to is quite impressive and ranges from the Ivy League to some of the top private and public institutions in the country. Individually and collectively the girls had nothing but praise for the guidance department, to whom they have unfettered access. The girls were almost teary in their appreciation.
“The counselors here are awesome,” Erin testified with heartfelt admiration. “They are a huge support system and our biggest fans. And you can sit down with them and talk anytime you need to. I mean, I talk to my parents as well, and that’s important…”
“…But it’s nice to have someone objective to talk to.” Minnie said, finishing Erin’s sentence.
“I agree,” Amanda chimed in. The support here is unbelievable. They help you every step of the way and open your eyes to possibilities…”
“Yeah! Like scholarships. There are literally thousands of scholarships offered every year. The counselors bring all that info to our attention, help us go after the aid we need…” said Erin.
“Plus,” added Minnie, “They just guide you through the whole process. Every girl here has a list of schools she wants to apply to and that list usually includes schools that are a ‘reach’, schools that are a really good fit, and a couple of ‘safe choices.’ You really can’t lose,” Minnie concluded.
“How’s that?” I challenged.
“Because,” Erin offered, “In the end, college is what you make of it.”
Just judging by the three girls sitting in front of me, I thought, “The freshman class of 2014 is going to take every college campus by storm! A school would have to be crazy to turn down any one of these amazing girls.”
It’s true. In the end, it is the young woman who gets herself into college. It is her test scores, her GPA, what her teachers say about her in their letters of recommendation, and what she says about herself in her personal essay that makes or breaks her chances of getting into the college of her choice. But in the process, Director of Counseling, Ellen Starr, and her team will do absolutely everything in their power to bring the right schools to each girl’s attention and – harder still – to bring each girl to a school’s attention. This requires a tremendous amount of one-on-one attention within NDP and considerable networking outside NDP, between Ellen and the thousands of college admission directors around the country. It is a daunting task, but one that Ellen and her team thrive on and love. To help them manage all these relationships and applications, not to mention, expectations and communications, the department has a state of the art computer program called Naviance, which helps them organize and track each student’s college application process. If a school calls and says, “We didn’t get Susie’s letter of recommendation with the rest of her package,” all Ellen has to do is look at her computer and say, “Sorry, you’re mistaken. That was sent on September 5th and signed by so and so on the 7th.” Just one more value-added benefit NDP provides to students whose applications are but one of thousands sitting on any given college admission director’s desk. Which, at the end of the day, is what Ellen and her team care about the most.
“The best part of my job is sitting down and getting to know each student. Learning who they are and what they aspire to. I tell them, ‘I’m a dream-weaver.’ I want to help make their college dreams come true. As an administrator, a good year to me would be if 100% of the girls get some sort of scholarship. Last year, 92% of the class received scholarships. So, we’re getting close to our goal. But personally, I just want to see every one happy. When an alum comes back for a visit and says, ‘ I love it! I love college’ …well, that makes me happy,” Ellen said with a smile. And then, another student knocked on her door, looking for a little advice, and I left Ellen to her weaving.