College Counseling Update: Focus on Early Decision and Early Action Programs

Robert Harry, Director of College Counseling, poses with students who applied early action or early decisionIn honor of National School Counseling Week (February 4-8), Mr. Robert Harry, SJS Director of College Counseling, was featured by The Princeton Review as one of "20 School Counselors Who Make a Difference."

Mr. Harry works hard to find the right college fit for each of our students, as evidenced by the fact that 85 percent of Saint James graduates are the only member of their class at the college they attend.

Mr. Harry said of why he loves his work, “Empowering students to embrace their own narrative is what I enjoy most about my job because it makes the college application experience authentic and genuine. Colleges and universities need individuals who are courageous enough to question the world around them, become innovative thinkers, and advocate for others. However, it all starts with the process of self-actualization.”

Starting in January, Mr. Harry began meeting individually with fifth form students and their families to discuss their college goals.  In addition to hosting several programs on campus, including panels and workshops last autumn featuring representatives from Davidson, Duke, Emory, Franklin & Marshall, Gettysburg, Maryland and Penn, fifth form students and families participated in an interactive presentation with Peter Van Buskirk (best-selling author and former Dean of Admission), and admission officers from Johns Hopkins University visited Saint James in March to discuss extra-curriculars and the admission process as well as lead a college essay workshop.

Visiting colleges, building networks with admission professionals, and sharing best practices with colleagues is a crucial component of being an effective college counselor.  Spring is a busy season for Mr. Harry, with visits to The College of William and Mary, Furman University, Carleton College, Macalester College, St. Olaf College, Rice University, Southern Methodist University, the University of Texas at Austin as well as attendance at the Mid-Atlantic College Counselors meeting at the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey and the Fitzwilliam Conference in New Hampshire.

Mr. Harry introduces panelists from Johns Hopkins University during a College Counseling event.

As of March 31st, the 54 members of the Class of 2019 have been accepted to 122 different colleges and universities in 26 states, Washington, D.C., and further abroad in Canada and Australia.
In what is becoming a more common trend, 71 percent of the class applied through an early action or early decision program. Early decision plans are binding — a student who is accepted as an ED applicant must attend the college. Early action plans are nonbinding — students receive an early response to their application but do not have to commit to the college until the normal reply date.

"Saint James students are following the national trend of increased numbers applying to college through an early decision or early action plan,” said Mr. Harry.  “The obvious benefit is that a student receives a decision earlier in the process, and thus can potentially avoid the long wait until April 1st.  But, it also means that those students need to be organized, intentional and thoughtful about their process from the day they start their sixth form year.  Applying early is not for everyone, but for those who do, it can be a great way to jump start the college admissions experience." 

Roula Hammer ’19, who was admitted early decision to Wellesley College this year, said at first the ED process was difficult because it forced her to make a decision that would affect the next four years of her life by ‘saying yes to one, and no to all the others.’  However, she feels working on the advice of her family, Mr. Harry, and Father Dunnan that she was able to make the right choice.

“It feels wonderful to be done with the college process and to know that my future is secure in a school that I have worked hard to be a part of,” she said. “I feel like my perseverance and dedication has finally paid off, and I am now able to focus on exploring more of my extracurricular interests.”

Roula plans to major in International Relations, while also studying political science and music.  She aspires to run for political office (specifically the office of the president—look for Hammer 2036) or work in the United Nations. She is excited for her next step at Wellesley.

“I am looking forward to partnering with bright, articulate, and passionate teachers and students,” she said. “I am excited to lead thoughtful discussions with those who have opposing views, and I am ready for some good snowfalls!”

Robert Purnell ’19 will attend Washington & Lee University, where he will also play football. He applied early decision, an interesting process as he was also being recruited as an athlete.
“It was stressful being funneled to one school, but I’m thankful that it did make my college process easier once I got my acceptance back,” Robert said.

He will major in business/finance and is looking forward to playing football, jumping into a new setting with new people, joining a Capella, and getting involved in their outdoor programs.

Jared Zhang ’19 was accepted early action to his future college, the University of Michigan. He was drawn to its top-ranked engineering school and strong sports culture.

“I found the early action process to be helpful because I received my decision in December, which reduced my stress with my regular decision college applications,” Jared said. “It also gave me ample time to further research my schools in order for me to make a very informed decision to where I will go for college in May.”

Jared will major in Computer Science Engineering and hopes to be a software engineer. He looks forward to opportunities for collaboration with like-minded individuals through clubs and extracurriculars.

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