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Students in graduation

COLLEGE ACCEPTANCES FOR CLASS OF 2021: THE EARLY BEE GETS THE HONEY

January 2021

Five members of the Class of 2021 have been offered Early Decision acceptances at selective colleges, no small feat given the complicated nature of college admissions this year and particular hurdles in the college process for St. Benedict’s students.

The seniors that received acceptances were Agnes Aghanwa (Lehigh University), Tyler Jenkins (George Washington University), Reuben Kadushin (Swarthmore College), Matthew Meles (Northeastern University) and Maurice Tabron (Rochester Institute of Technology).

“We really pushed kids to apply Early Decision this year,” said the Dean of College Placement Didier Jean-Baptiste ’86. It is always an uphill battle, he said, because students have to get a very early start – not just on applications, but also on familiarizing themselves with the colleges, understanding the intricacies of financial aid and even convincing their parents to agree to a college without having seen the financial aid package.

Determined to avoid the mid-winter crunch of other years when seniors practically live in the college guidance office and Jean-Baptiste and College Placement Counselor Jacob Drill spend late nights and  long weekends in their school offices, the college guidance team began preparing students last spring. But of course, preparing students then required major adjustments as the limitations from the COVID-19 pandemic became apparent.

First things to go were the college campus visits St. Benedict’s provided and the visits to The Hive by collegiate admissions officers. But Dean of Administration Michael Scanlan suggested mobilizing alumni currently in colleges to participate in what he called Benedict’s College Alumni Round Tables or  B-CARTS – virtual conversations among the young alumni and current juniors and seniors. Scanlan contacted the alumni and Drill corralled the students. Since Sept. 24, when Gray Bees at Delaware University met virtually with members of the Class of 2021, more than a dozen B-CARTS have introduced seniors to life in various colleges.

One of the hallmarks of the College Guidance program at Benedict’s is the almost constant contact kids have with the two counselors. Starting in the spring of junior year, through the summer and fall, College Guidance classes are part of the curriculum. But meeting virtually, as they have been doing since March 2020, is not the same as being able to interact in person and check kids’ work on the spot. “It’s just not as efficient,” Jean-Baptiste said. But Drill has been continuously meeting one-on-one with most of the 127 seniors, which includes the 24 seniors from the new Girls Prep Division.

In his earlier meetings, Drill would make suggestions about appropriate colleges, talk about family situations to get a handle on financial needs, and just get to know the kids. But without the constant informal gathering in the college guidance office, Drill said that process was far more time-consuming. “It just didn’t feel as organic,” he said.

The decision to add structured lessons and individual sessions on writing the Common App essay during the Summer Phase proved invaluable, Jean-Baptiste said. Students could not earn a grade for the Summer Phase College Guidance class unless they completed a draft of the 650-word essay. So, almost all came into the Fall Term having worked on their essay with either history teacher Susanne Mueller or Advancement Publications Managing Editor, Noreen Connolly. The individual session for all students continued into the Fall; kids had support not only for finding colleges, figuring out financial aid, filling out the applications, but also for completing the essay.

Mueller’s administrative work making sure transcripts are correct and scheduling virtual presentations for the seniors by college admissions also helps keep the process running relatively smoothly.

By Jan. 1, more than 40 percent of the Class of ’21 had applied to college. The rest will continue through January, February and into March. Acceptances will come a little later. During Christmas break, Drill and Jean-Baptiste responded to dozens of  texts and phone calls every day. Drill wrote the official recommendations for most of the students and Connolly met with dozens of students to coach them through the additional essays that those applying to the most competitive schools needed to compose. Some of this work involves talking to parents; but for the most part, the kids handle the process with hours of support from the counselors.  The work Jean-Baptiste, Drill, Mueller and Connolly do have been as much art as science. And their availability and flexibility has not gone unappreciated by the students.

After his early acceptance to his first choice school. Rochester Institute of Technology, Maurice Tabron ’21 emailed the college guidance staff and his favorite teacher to thank them. “All your hard work has paid off,” he wrote. “Without all of you... this [acceptance] might not be possible... I doubted myself all throughout this process but because each of you [I was] willing to do everything possible to make my application look better... I value and appreciate every single call and meeting on google meet double and triple checking every aspect of my application.”

Karen Calles ’21, the Senior Strategic Leader of the Girls Division, wrote to thank the team for all its help, saying that she would have had to tackle this process by herself since her parents don’t speak English and never went to college. “I will be the first to go to college in my family,” she said, “so it really makes a huge difference that I have people to help me make my applications strong. I am eternally grateful for you all.”

--By Noreen Connolly H’11