Students in graduation

Despite the pandemic, St. Benedict’s Guidance office still getting students into quality colleges

March 2020

The always bustling College Guidance office at St. Benedict’s had been operating smoothly and efficiently for months. Students in and out – crowding around the computers, polishing college essays, asking  questions, sharing advice, hanging out.

Dean of Seniors and College Placement, Didier Jean-Baptiste ’86 and his team had worked with 133 seniors since Summer Term, introducing them to colleges, helping them fill out applications, answering questions from parents, and coaching them through their essays. They write recommendations and advocate with admissions officers.

College acceptances had been coming in, including recently from the most competitive schools in the nation. (unless a student applied for early admission last fall). College counselor, Jacob Drill, who writes most of the College Guidance recommendations said how rewarding it is “to see students I have worked with from the beginning of their college search and hearing from schools that are a good financial, academic, and social fit for them.”

However, since March 16, the College Guidance office – like every other corner of St. Benedict’s – has been empty.  But not closed for business since the Coronavirus pandemic blitzed the nation. The work, supporting and advising kids through this momentous time in their lives, has continued – remotely – and there is still a lot for the Class of 2020 to do, according to Jean-Baptiste.

Although the bulk of the application process has been finished since early January, some of the most difficult aspects remain.

Students who have been wait-listed need to be encouraged to actively pursue that school’s admissions office. "Just checking the box that you want to remain on the wait-list is not enough,” Mr. Jean-Baptiste said. “Kids need help persuading colleges that they belong there. We do that with them and for them.” 

And the team has intervened with admissions officers who might be on the fence about a student. “Since early March, we have been calling colleges,” Mr. Jean-Baptiste said. “We try to get a read on what might be happening with a student and advocate for him.

“Most important, financial aid applications are complex and require much information from parents. If parents don’t speak English or are overwhelmed by family and work considerations, especially now, they need assistance.”

Jean-Baptiste and Drill are helping kids get documents and wade through the red tape. Now, using Google Meet, the two guide the students through the aid applications and explain the document requests and additional proofs of income that some families have to provide. And now, as Drill explains, “You can’t corner the kids after convo; they’re not here. We have to track them down”

 Personal, frequent one-on-one contact has always been a hallmark of St. Benedict’s College Guidance team. This year is no different.

“We will call every student by May 1, the day they have to commit,” said Jean-Baptiste, who admits, in some ways, being away from the ever-busy office gives him more time to connect with the kids. “This is the first time I can use all of April to talk to them one-on-one,” he said. “And I can be much more clear-headed than when my office is full of kids.”


"This year it has been extra gratifying to see quite a number of classy, resilient, and hard-working Benedict’s men, many who have dealt with very challenging circumstances, earn acceptances to some of the most competitive colleges and universities in the country,” Drill said.

Two students each have been accepted to Bowdoin, Boston College and Cornell. Seniors have also received acceptance letters from Columbia, Franklin & Marshall, Georgetown, George Washington, Haverford, Notre Dame, Rensselaer, Rutgers Engineering, Tulane, Union, University of Southern California, U.S. Naval Academy Prep School, and Wesleyan.

Other notable responses include admissions to Albright, Birmingham Southern, Clarkson, Drew, Fairfield, Fordham, Ithaca, Lawrence, Providence, RIT, Saint Anselm, Saint John's (MN), St. John's (NY), Stetson, Stevens, The College of New Jersey, Tulane, University of Delaware, Ursinus, and Wheaton.

“As always, a good number of our guys will go to solid schools with good communities and administrations that take a personal interest in them, such as Caldwell, Felician, Montclair State, Saint Peter's, Seton Hall, Rutgers-Newark, Saint Vincent and Stockton,” Jean Baptiste said.

--By Noreen Connolly H'11