Unique Perspectives on the College Process


As the Class of 2023 is approaching the finish line of their senior fall, college is the buzzword flying through every hallway, advisee group, and family conversation. KO students fall into many categories: student-athletes, artists, adventurers, go-getters, and more. “We truly believe that the student is the prize, not the college,” Director of College Counseling Jami Silver has often stated. Many seniors bring their specialized interests forward into college, which adds unique layers to the application process.

One KO student who is taking her application process across the world is senior Bella Theodorou. Bella hopes to study history in college, and she is applying to four universities in the UK, in addition to schools in the United States. “Applying internationally opened the possibility to be more adventurous and explore more in college,” Bella shared.

KO College Counseling usually sees around one or two students applying internationally each year, but they are committed to providing the same support and guidance that all students that come through their office receive. “They’re really helpful in committing time to helping you,” Bella said, “and they recognize it as your priority, instead of saying ‘This is kind of scary, let’s not do it.’”

Bella has completed a variety of different applications, with some of her schools accepting the Common Application and others accepting the UCAS, a UK-based application. In contrast to the generally holistic application colleges in the US seek, many international schools seek a more objective application with an emphasis on metrics. For Bella, many of her applications required her to submit AP and standardized test scores and to write an essay describing why she wanted to pursue history. This process, albeit different from applying to schools in the United States, is highly rewarding for students who want to venture out of their academic and personal comfort zones. “It’s especially great if you’re extremely passionate about the subject you want to study,” Bella said. “Moving outside of the country would be difficult if I were to do it later in my life, so it’s a great step to get out of your comfort zone where there’s still a lot of support for you as a college student.”

While the majority of KO students choose the path of applying to universities in the United States, Ms. Silver noted that every student’s process is unique. “The framework we use in this office is that no two students are alike, and everybody’s process is going to look a little bit different based on the needs and wants of that individual,” she said. 

A great example of a student whose application process is driven by many unique factors is senior Keira Sullivan. Keira is verbally committed to play volleyball at Grinnell College next fall, and she plans on pursuing studies in environmental law. “From pretty early on, I knew I wanted to pursue volleyball at a higher level, but academics was always the most important aspect of what my next steps in life would be,” Keira shared. “I think that’s the mindset everyone should have, because you can get hurt and there are so many unknowns. When you’re looking to go to college, you need to be prepared for whatever is going to happen, and you need to be happy with your choice of school even if athletics aren’t a factor in that.”

Keira began the bulk of her recruiting process in the summer before her junior year. Grinnell College was one of many schools to reach out to Keira after she competed at AAU and USA Volleyball nationals. After researching Grinnell’s academics and visiting with the coach, Keira knew the program, academics, and community were the right fit. “Grinnell is a really great hub of political science with the Iowa Caucuses, and the midwest is a really big agricultural region so they do a lot of great, innovative things with the environment,” Keira said. “Those are some of the types of things that you’re looking for during the recruiting process in addition to finding a team that fits you.”

Keira talked about the importance of prioritizing a balance academically and athletically during junior year when the recruiting process and coursework are both at their peak. “I think putting academics first opens opportunities for you as an athlete because you can have schools where you’re meeting two of the requirements that they’re looking for, both academically and athletically,” Keira said. “Sitting here now, I feel really lucky and grateful that those questions of where I’m going next have already been answered, and I’m really happy with how my college process worked out.”

Taking her passion for theater, singing, and dance to the big stage, senior Faith Potter has dived into the audition process for pursuing a BFA in Musical Theater in college. “I chose to pursue a BFA in musical theater due to my intended career path,” Faith said. “It really is the thing to study if you want to be a performer after college. It gives you the training and preparation you need to enter the workforce as a musical theater performer.”

In addition to submitting the traditional Common Application, BFA applicants like Faith have to submit a pre screen for theater programs. This portfolio contains two singing videos, two acting scenes, a dance tape, and a wildcard submission, where Faith chose to show off her baton skills. “These prescreens are a first audition,” Faith noted, “and you receive an email a few weeks after submitting your prescreens that says whether or not you passed. If you passed, you’re invited to have an audition. If you didn’t, the process ends right there.”

Faith’s application process has brought together resources from all avenues of support at KO. “With the help of my advisor, Jami Silver, along with Mr. Reynolds, who has been acting as my audition coach, I couldn’t ask for a better and smoother process,” Faith reflected. “Whether that be extensions to tapes being due, extra help, or just words of encouragement, my teachers and counselors have been my biggest supporters in the process.”

Reflecting on her application process, Faith advises students pursuing a similar path to not let the stress distract them from their passion for a program. “I like to compare it to doing two college processes altogether; it really is that much work,” she said. “You’ll have a lot of people telling you things, that it’s a waste of time and money, that you’ll be unemployed for the rest of your life, and that there’s no point. To that, I say, it’s a risk I’m willing to take. You’re going to be really busy, so make time for the things you love, and build yourself a team of supporters and people who want you to succeed.”

Associate Director of College Counseling Matt Waldman highlighted the support the college counseling office provides for students like Faith, Bella, and Keira who have added complexities to their college process. “Staying organized throughout, doing research, being communicative, those are all things that are really helpful,” he said. “We believe in every kid that comes through this door 100%, and we want to make sure that no matter what happens in the next year ahead that they’re going to have good options.”

Looking back on the fall of 2022, a defining factor for many seniors, especially those pursuing unique programs in college, was early application deadlines. Senior Tess Chapman plans to pursue political science in college, and she chose to apply to her universities early. “I think that submitting early shows colleges that you are interested in them, and it also eases the workload for the regular deadline, which is beneficial,” Tess shared.

While many KO students are just applying to academic programs in the United States, each college’s application has its nuances. “One of my schools’ applications wasn’t through CommonApp,” Tess said, “which was definitely unique. They also required all test scores to be sent, and didn’t allow any superscoring, which was different from many of the other schools I was applying to.”

To reap the benefits of applying to schools early, Tess echoed the sentiments of other KO seniors about the importance of time management and organization during the college process. “Once senior year begins, it can become really difficult to balance school, sports, extracurriculars, and college applications, so definitely take advantage of the time you have,” Tess shared. “With the regular deadline, there is time over Thanksgiving and winter break to work on applications, but you won’t have as much built in free time before the Nov. 1 deadline, so I highly recommend getting a head start over the summer.”

Ms. Silver noted that, as a small independent day school, KO College Counseling has the privilege to give individualized and personalized attention to each student. “The more a student knows who they are, what needs they have, and what kind of environment they thrive in, then the more conversations we can have to point them in the right direction,” Ms. Silver said. Many seniors expressed gratitude for the guidance that the College Counseling office provides. 

Reflecting on her college process, Keira brought together the sentiments that Mr. Waldman, Ms. Silver, and other seniors have expressed. “It’s really about learning what you really want to pursue,” she said, “and being able to put your mind to it and make it happen.”