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College counseling program: personal, particular, powerful

At around nine o’clock of a winter evening, Greenhills senior Zoe Chrissos sent me an email, asking for suggestions about a supplemental college application essay she had drafted, with a 100-word limit and the clock ticking.

Zoe was in the habit of seeking writing feedback from me as her college counselor and, equally appropriately, from other Greenhills mentors.  Her draft stood at 108 words.  A superlative writer, Zoe produces discursive, anecdotal, lively prose that she has trouble fitting into college-prescribed word limits: her drafts of suggested 250-word essays tend to come it at 380 or so, while her 500-word efforts start at maybe 800.  Zoe just has more to say, in a style very much her own, than these word limits allow.  The trick, for Zoe as writer and any editor trying to help her, is to meet the word limits without killing her voice.

So: here was this 108-word draft.  I sent her back a version that totaled ninety-five. A suggested version, mind you – and this is important.  Zoe was not asking me to rewrite her essay: I needed to respect, and she knew I would respect, her voice, her style.  She was in charge. But our relationship in connection to this particular short essay, like our relationship around every aspect of the college process, was collaborative and, in the best sense, personal.

What’s remarkable about all of this is that, at Greenhills, it’s not remarkable. With regard to college counseling, it’s standard. Going back to last spring, Zoe has sat on the couch in my office numerous times — to chat, and at the same time to talk seriously, about the arc of her own emerging college choices.  She was sitting on that couch just last week. Many others, students and parents alike, have sat there.  Concurrently, half of Zoe’s classmates have been interacting in the same ways with their own college counselor, Kevin Brown.  Look in his office, most times of the day, and you’ll see somebody, a current senior or increasingly now a junior, sitting across from him, talking about college – and often enough, as we encourage, a parent or two will be sitting there as well. Same for my group of college counselees – the other half of the class.

Late in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which as it happens all Greenhills juniors will read in their English classes this year, Gatsby says about Daisy’s relationship with her husband Tom, “It was just personal.”   This inherently perplexing view suggests the ineffable nature of Gatsby’s dream: his sense of his own relationship with Daisy is somehow beyond “personal,” different from “personal.”  Well, college counseling at Greenhills is nothing if not personal, and we don’t consider our students’ college aspirations ineffable.  Instead, we respect those aspirations, help them to keep them reasonable, and work hand in hand with our students as they seek to achieve their goals.

The Greenhills college counseling program has many aspects.  I make no attempt to detail all of them here.  But “personal” is at the center, and broad-based faculty involvement is characteristic.  In the end, it’s all very particularly about Zoe, just as particularly about every one of her classmates. This particularity will prevail with regard to every aspiring Greenhills college applicant to come.

— by Dick Tobin, Director of College Counseling

Saturday, April 24
Open to anyone ages 16 and up. Limited quantities available.
Greenhills is closed for mid-winter break and will return on Tuesday, Feb. 22.