The College Process at Belmont Hill: Campus Culture and The Counselor Perspective

In Issue 5 of Volume 66, The Panel executive board examined the culture of the “college process” on both the Belmont Hill and Winsor campus. This article is the fourth in a five-part series on the topic. All five articles in the series can be found here.

Campus Culture:

At Belmont Hill, the college process endures as a prominent dimension of campus culture. College admissions frequently appears in casual conversations among Belmont Hill students, whether seniors in the midst of the application process or middle schoolers talking about a recent athletic commitment. With a plurality of students starting to think about college in seventh and eighth grade (42%), discussions of commitments and matriculation pervade every grade on campus.

For Belmont Hill students, college matriculation seems indicative of academic success on campus; thus, students often find their stress related to college tied with the pressure of succeeding on the next test, exam, or paper. Furthermore, the college process at Belmont Hill has become less stressful for students who have come to trust that their success in the classroom will translate into the college admissions process. While the majority (79.7%) of the senior class considered the college process to be either “more” or “equally” as stressful as they had expected, the atmosphere on campus and among friends remains overwhelmingly open and positive. Teachers and college counselors urge students to adopt an open-minded perspective, and most Belmont Hill students fundamentally understand that the correlation between college acceptance and happiness may not be as pronounced as they may have previously thought. With Belmont Hill students often encouraging each other throughout the college process, nearly 70% of boys found their classmates to be supportive rather than competitive; moreover, 62.3% of Belmont Hill respondents felt comfortable discussing the details of their college with “anybody.”

College-related stress at Belmont Hill stems more from personal challenges rather than from a culture of competition in the community. To students and their families, grappling with rankings, understanding their nuances, and searching for a “dream school” can be intimidating; as one student describes, “Searching fruitlessly for a dream school has been most challenging. As opposed to tests or essays or applications, finding the right school that I truly like—not what “society” expects or what others think I’ll like—has sometimes been the most frustrating part of the process.” For other students, the uncertainty and waiting time associated with receiving college decisions become the most daunting element of the process.

Belmont Hill college culture encourages students to strive for their best while encouraging their peers. At times of personal stress and tension, members of the Belmont Hill community, whether friends, teachers, or college counselors, all offer their encouragement. One student writes, “Even though I don’t think I can get into my ED school, my friends are always quick to support me. They make make me feel that I can succeed.”

The Counselor Perspective:

For seniors around the country, the “college process” is synonymous with chaos and confusion. Facing an array of mixed messages from parents, online forums, friends, and family, many students grow disheartened at the “randomness” of the undertaking. In combating this feeling of discouragement, Belmont Hill College Counseling seeks to empower students to take ownership of their college process. Operating with the same invested learning model championed by Belmont Hill faculty, College Counseling seeks to provide students with the analytical “tools” to tackle the problem — in this case, the college process. As Ms. Bobo explained, “our focus is on giving students the tools and help that they need to interpret the data…we hope that all boys can recognize their agency in the process.” Ultimately, this increase in agency allows students to make informed decisions; still, this increased freedom and power for the student does not equate to a lack of engagement from the counseling team. Indeed, rather than making decisions for the students, the team looks to support students by “chopping up the numbers and helping with interpretation of data.”

With this goal of empowerment in mind, the College Counseling office seeks to balance firm deadlines with personally tailored goals and expectations. Having established five non-negotiable deadlines from creating a resume and filling out a college questionnaire in Junior year to finalizing the college list in Senior year, the College Counseling office helps students break down the college process in manageable segments. Still, with just over 80 students in a typical fifth and sixth, the Belmont Hill counseling team has a rare opportunity to work extensively with their students in a one-on-one setting — a near impossibility in typical public schools with hundreds of students per grade. As accessible and honest advocates for their students, Mrs. Bobo, Mr. Coppedge, and Mr. Doar empower Belmont Hill boys to make informed choices and successfully navigate the college process.

Ultimately, the College Counseling office’s efforts to foster a supportive environment have facilitated an overwhelmingly positive campus culture. Indeed, with the office alleviating many of the stresses associated with the actual application process, much of the stress for survey respondents stemmed from the wait for decisions. An April 2017 study of stress among upper class students at Belmont Hill corroborated this sentiment. Conducted by Stefan Beljean, a PhD candidate at Harvard University’s Department of Sociology, the study applied the “Perceived Stress Scale (PSS)” to rank stress among students at Belmont Hill and other local high schools. Beljean found that students at Belmont Hill expressed only moderate levels of stress when compared to other students from two larger public schools. Through a survey asking “how have you been feeling about the college process on a scale from 1-5 (“very calm” to “very anxious”),” which was administered to all juniors at Belmont Hill in the spring of 2017, Belmont Hill juniors’ (class of 2018) responses compiled for an average score of 2.4—which translates to a verbal response of “calm.” As Belmont Hill students move through the college process, they find ample support in the College Counseling team the school has developed.

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