Prioritizing Student Well-Being in the College Admissions Process: A Q&A with Shipley’s College Counselors

It’s not every day that you hear college counselors suggest you should approach the college admissions process with an open mind and a sense of humor. But with several decades of experience among them, Shipley’s college counseling team knows what they are talking about. While making such a weighty decision is certainly no laughing matter, Shipley’s college counselors want parents and guardians to bear in mind that the process can be stressful with applications differing across the board, changes in testing requirements, and, well, the pandemic that has engulfed our lives.

By keeping an open mind and broadening the scope of the college search, students will not only benefit in terms of their well-being, but they will be able to focus on finding the best possible fit for them—one that is more likely to provide the best possible learning environment and opportunities to achieve their personal and professional goals once they leave Shipley.

Our Panel: 

Donielle Couture
Director of College Counseling 
Princeton University, B.A.

Sarah Sterling
Associate Director of College Counseling
Bryn Mawr College, B.A., M.S.S.

Kelsey Fisher
Associate Director of College Counseling
Franklin & Marshall College, B.A.
King’s College London, M.A.

Q: How does Shipley’s approach to college counseling support the well-being of students? How does it fit into Shipley's definition of educational excellence?

Sterling: Shipley’s college counseling process is individualized such that our students look at, apply to, and then eventually attend a wide range of schools. As they learn more about who they are and who they are becoming, they also begin to understand what their strengths are and how to effectively articulate that message as they apply to schools. They often come to learn that college is not one-size-fits-all. The 10–15 names most people can tick off the top of their heads might not be the best fit for them.

Couture: I completely agree with Sarah. One of the things that attracted me to Shipley was the diversity and variety of Shipley’s college list. It is reflective of the School’s mission to achieve a diverse student body. This might be a hard concept for many to grasp, but if you think about it, there are many fantastic colleges and universities in the United States that aren’t on that “top 10” list that many people have in their minds. If you only consider those schools as contenders, you might actually be eliminating the best match for your student. At Shipley, it is our goal to achieve the best fit for each student, not check off names on a list.

Q: How does Shipley's approach to college counseling encourage personal discovery as part of the college admissions process??

Sterling: I really love this question! An example of this could be helping a student understand that they have a unique quality, like being a risk taker. On the one hand, that student might excel in sports like snowboarding and surfing, but on the other hand, that risk-taking quality comes to the fore in the classroom because they are willing to answer a question when no one else will, even if they know it’s likely to be incorrect. This shows colleges that the student is not afraid to fail; this characteristic shows that the person can experience personal growth in learning from their missteps.

Q: What makes Shipley’s college counseling program different from other private schools on the Main Line?

Couture: I would say the time that we get to meet with students in our weekly college counseling seminars. It really gives us an opportunity to get to know them on a personal level.

Fisher: I completely agree with Donielle. This carved out time each week allows them to fully research schools that would be a good academic or social fit and spend time in a way that works for them. During this class period they can also have their questions answered or solicit peer feedback on their essays or even discuss recent campus visits.

Sterling: Each quarter, college counselors from independent schools in the area meet to discuss strategies and challenges. Counselors from other schools are always asking how they can gain access to students more often. At other schools, counselors are assigned to students, but there is no specific class set aside to work on applications, have meetings with counselors, or engage in these discussions.

Couture: Absolutely. Shipley is unique in this regard. It is the only school in the area that has adopted this model. Other schools might offer five meetings or so spread out over the second half of the fall semester, but at Shipley, we have an actual class that meets once a week where students can dedicate time to work on applications, essays, and seek advice. This amounts to at least 15 meetings in the spring semester of their junior year.

Learn more about College Counseling at The Shipley School, a PreK through Grade 12 private school on the Main Line in Bryn Mawr, PA.


About the Author

Holly Caldwell

In addition to being a mom to students at the Lower and Upper Schools, Holly Caldwell taught history and French at the secondary and university levels for seventeen years before becoming a solopreneur. She is now a freelance writer and editor for academic and non-fiction authors. When she isn’t working on a project, you can find her training for a race along the trails or roads of Montgomery County.