This summer and upcoming fall semester is going to be a tough one for all rising seniors. In fact, as Mr. Wilson, YISS’s guidance counselor, described it, senior year is “a sprint that only gets faster.” This in mind, Mr. Wilson was kind enough to provide all rising seniors and underclassmen with advice on how to deal with the stress of senior year.
Originally from Philadelphia, Mr. Wilson attended the University of Michigan with a degree in Psychology, then continued on to receive his Masters in Counseling at Lehigh University. After graduating, he initially moved to ICS (now YISS) as a teacher but has since been counseling for the last 11 years. Mr. Wilson currently serves on the Executive Board for the International Association of College Admission Counseling as well as the Delegate to the National Association of College Admission Counseling. He is also active locally as the Director of College Counseling for the Korea International School Counselor Association. He is married and a proud father of 3 boys.
Note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity
Q: What do you think is the most important aspect of the college admissions process?
A: I would say the most important part is that [the process] helps students identify who they truly are. You can’t go through the process without the toil and refining fire of trying to find out who you are. That’s ultimately what the colleges want to see, right? Colleges don’t get the chance to meet you in person, they don’t get the chance to hang out with you every day. So they get 20 minutes to read your application, maybe more, maybe less, but ultimately what they want to get out of it is “are you a good fit for our school?” They want to know exactly who you are, all the best parts of you: the grades, the extracurriculars, but also the personality. The digging deep is what the college admissions process does, and then my challenge is to make sure the students are a great match and fit with the institutions themselves.
Q: How do you manage to get to know students and write recommendations for everyone?
A: I try to meet with them individually as much as possible, make those meetings count. I meet with them several times throughout the course of the year, which is challenging because I’m in charge of the entire junior and senior class. Other than my interactions in [my] office, in 1 on 1 meetings, the other way to try to get to know them is interacting with them outside of the office. So whether that’s through random conversations in the hallways, times in the cafeteria. But more than that, seeing them in their elements, at concerts, at athletic events, at debate competitions, seeing them there. Another part, although it sounds a bit creepy, is researching them, studying them, talking to their parents, teachers, classmates. All that put together gives me a pretty good idea of who they are.
Q: Are there any common characteristics among students going to their top schools?
A: Nowadays, colleges are wanting students that are intelligent, but what I see happening more and more that is helping filter the great from the excellent, is what I call the “what else?” factor. So, you’re smart, have good grades, have a good SAT – what else? It’s when students have a “what else” that is very clear and is in sync with their passions and interests that you see them going to good colleges.
Q: What is the most important thing students should be keeping up in their junior year besides GPA?
A: I think juniors need to start developing their endurance. Senior year first semester is extremely exhausting. You start out senior year with a sprint that only progressively gets faster. I heard that told to me by a former faculty member of mine, but it really is true. You have to hit the ground running, but it’s a short marathon: four months, very compact, very intense, but you have to have the endurance. You have very few breaks to breathe, and when you do breathe, you have to know how to. I say figuring out good work habits and time management is one of the major priorities that students should be focusing on.
Q: What are some common mistakes other seniors make that rising seniors should be taking note of?
A: Starting too late on their essays. The essay is singlehandedly the most important part of the college admissions process, and with that amount of weight for a single component of the application, you should be putting in a lot of time into it. Some seniors don’t know how to get started, so they wait. Regardless, constantly thinking about it from the start of second semester junior year and all throughout the summer is extremely important. Trying to figure out ways to prep for that earlier on, having a lot of different samples, is a good idea.
Stay tuned for part 2!