Lucas Monserrat '17, Obi Nnaeto '18, and Shea Smith '18 are just three of more than two dozen college athletes using the Greig Center over their winter break to stay in shape.
The art class anecdote exemplifies a larger philosophy among all of Pingry’s college counselors—getting to know the whole student, or, as Ketaki puts it, “not just our activities or super college-related things, but who we are.” A Peer Leader and co-Editor-in-Chief of The Pingry Record, Ketaki remembers a planning meeting held recently by the newspaper’s faculty advisors, one of which is a member of the College Counseling team. When the meeting concluded, the conversation seamlessly turned to college essay ideas. “That really showed me that you can talk to any college counselor in the office,” says Ketaki. “They are always working together.”
What is she most excited about as she enters her senior year? Her answer reveals just how painless—perhaps even productive—Pingry’s college counselors try to make the application process. “Parents and other adults tell you to think about who you are and what you want to do, but it’s something that you kind of push away. Before, I wasn’t ready to think about it. Now that it’s time, I’m excited to learn about what I like and who I am,” she says. “I’m excited to watch my friends and my peers go through the process, too. It’s a way for our grade collectively to find out who we are and what we stand for. To have us all go through that together feels very unifying.”
Andrew appreciated their candor. And, as a Pingry lifer, he sees parallels to his school experience. “What has made my time at Pingry so rewarding is learning that it’s not always going to be easy. You have to put in the work to get the rewards. It’s figuring out how to apply the tools you’re learning—how to write a five-paragraph essay that’s better than the last one you wrote. Or how to write one that no one else has written,” he says, by way of example. “Everything here is so worth the effort.”
He admits that the college application process is a similar give and take. “The grill is turned up your senior year, but the College Counseling Office is very good at not being overbearing and making the process horrible,” he jokes. “Mrs. Finegan [his college counselor] underscores that it’s not the end of the world—it’s just a big part."
How will Andrew think about Pingry 30 years from now? “I will feel proud to have been a part of this class,” he says. “Maybe I’m saying that because I was elected by all of them! But, I really do enjoy the company of all my friends and classmates, and I’m excited to see what we all do in the future.”
Kevin has come to find calm and quiet in the pool—whether he’s stroking at top speed during a championship meet where everything is on the line, or shaking off pre-exam nerves. He finds the same sort of calm in Pingry’s College Counseling Office. “The counselors guide you through the process so you don’t feel as stressed. Their message is ‘We’ll help you get through it, you’re not on your own,’” he explains. “It definitely takes some of the burden off.” As a sophomore, he applied to a summer program at Wharton and remembers his counselor, Mrs. Reynolds, helping him step-by-step through the application process. “It was a great preview to the college application process. Any questions I had, she was always there to answer them,” he recalls.
With his senior year—and senior swim season—looming, Kevin admits to feeling a little nervous about the college process, and is undecided about what field most interests him. But, as with his senior swim campaign, he’s also very excited. He just returned from a month-long internship doing artificial intelligence work in China; up for grabs next winter is a twelfth straight state title for his team; and Mrs. Reynolds will be at his side throughout the year. Oh, and his mother was right. His asthma is cured.
Solape, a Big Blue basketball player and track & field athlete, is also wise to the bigger picture. It’s a mindset, she says, that her college counselor, Sue Kinney, who also happens to be her advisor, has helped to cultivate. “I’m always panicking, but Mrs. Kinney has this calming effect on me, like a mom. Sometimes I go in to her office just to say hello because I haven’t seen her in a week. The college application process has a big impact on your life. Where do I see myself for the next four years?! But she has helped me to know that I shouldn’t get too stressed.”
Also helpful, she says, are two annual events hosted by Pingry’s College Counseling Department and designed specifically for juniors. The first, a Case Study Night, has mock student/parent admission committees meet with actual college admission representatives to learn the inside scoop. The second, a College Jumpstart day shortly after the end of junior year, brings eight college admission representatives to campus to chat with students. “That was a huge help,” recalls Solape. “I got to understand what they’re thinking, I got a view on what to do and what not to do in the admission process. For example, don’t be a ‘try hard’—just be yourself and do what interests you.” It’s advice, one might argue, that Solape has already taken to heart.
An avid climber, Gabe had long wanted to visit Everest Base Camp in Nepal and El Chaltén in Argentina. Using those two destinations as focal points, he proceeded to design a year of remarkable travel and experience. Climbing Aconcagua (the tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere); visiting Patagonia; working for two months at a hotel in El Chaltén, Argentina; volunteering for six weeks at Heaven Hill Academy, a school in a rural Nepalese village; and trekking the Annapurna Circuit were just a few of the experiences that followed (he ended up spending three months in Nepal and four in Argentina). From there, he visited Israel—Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, the Negev Desert, and the Dead Sea—and London, Amsterdam, Cophenhagen, Berlin, and Budapest, are on his itinerary this summer, all before he settles into college life as a freshman at Dartmouth. When his travels are complete, he estimates he will have spent 108 hours on planes, visited four continents and each of the four hemispheres, and eaten 124 meals during which he conversed only in Spanish.
"Over the past year, I’ve sacrificed chickens, eaten hallucinogenic honey, surfed the Chilean coast, and drank some of the world's finest wines. Even more memorable than those experiences are the countless friends I made from every corner of the globe," he says. "I list all of these experiences not to say, 'look at how interesting and well traveled I am,' but hopefully to demonstrate how many possibilities there are if you decide to take a gap year. For the first time in my life, I can honestly say that I have absolute confidence in my ability to adapt to, and even thrive in, almost every situation imaginable. I’d also like to add that, for the first time in a long time, I’m actually excited to go to school."
Her interests are numerous, to say the least. This fact is a boon at Pingry, which offers a club or experience to satisfy any curiosity, academic or otherwise. But, Ally admits, eclectic interests can be a bit of hindrance when trying to settle on a college. “I was having a hard time deciding whether or not to apply early and where to do so. I had a couple of schools that I liked and could envision myself at, and Mrs. Finegan really helped me by explaining that my chances at one school—where I looked more like a regular applicant—wouldn’t be hurt if I applied early elsewhere. It’s hard to juggle all the different application options, but she definitely helped me to understand them and make strategic choices.”
Her college counselor also provides necessary doses of reality from time to time, she says, like encouraging her to identify a few more safety schools. “She strikes a really good balance between honesty and compassion,” says Ally. “Mrs. Finegan is very focused on giving me all the facts about the schools I’m looking at and the trends in admission, but then she can also step back and see how all of the information is making me feel. That’s really hard to accomplish in college counseling.”
The ambitious senior is quick to point out that in their frequent meetings, conversation isn’t always just about college. And that, she says, is what makes Pingry’s College Counseling Office feel like a second home.
What would they discuss? Everything from his SAT, ACT, and AP scores to the Common Application to what Pingry class selections would be most beneficial to his desired field of study in college (economics). Mr. Lear also drew up a list of colleges and universities, tailored to Michael’s strengths and interests, that he might wish to visit. Perhaps most appreciated, Michael says, was Mr. Lear’s help with his college essays. “He suggested many edits and corrections and made my essays more personal, more me.”
Michael also cites as very helpful the College Jump Start Program that the College Counseling Office held for rising seniors the week after Commencement. For a full day, 100 students from the Class of 2018 had at their disposal college admissions deans, directors, and representatives from six different schools, all of whom offered insider tips on a variety of topics, from how to write an effective college essay to how to prepare for an admissions interview.
“I don’t know how you can not visit the College Counseling Office,” says Michael, circling back to his mention of visiting Mr. Lear on multiple occasions his junior year. "He has always been so available and provided me so much guidance. I was interested in a particular school and he helped connect me to a Pingry senior who had recently been admitted, as well as an alumnus who graduated from the school.”
Does he envision leaning on the College Counseling Office while he’s in college? “I’ll definitely come back,” he smiles, “if only to thank Mr. Lear for all he has done for me.”
Which is why, when Maddie expressed an interest in public policy (she spent 10 weeks the summer before her senior year interning at the Union County Prosecutor’s Child Advocacy Center), Mrs. Kinney was wholly supportive of the schools she had researched. The veteran college counselor then promptly suggested a handful of others, which she knew had strong programs in the field. In fact, reports Maddie, one of Mrs. Kinney’s suggestions, which she was wary of at first, is now her top choice.
Nervous anticipation is inevitable heading into senior year, especially as the oldest of three children who is paving the way through a seemingly murky endeavor, says Maddie. “My parents and I didn’t know how to navigate the process, but Mrs. Kinney has been there to answer all my questions. Last year, even my dad would email her with the most trivial questions and she would always get back to him! It’s really reassuring to know that someone with so much professional experience is there beside me.”
“I know she had to read about 35 senior autobiographies,” says John (Jake) Patterson ’18, “but she was able to remember and pinpoint random facts about me. She genuinely cares.”
Jake is referring to his college counselor, Mrs. Amy Cooperman. Thanks to that exercise, and talking through his answers with her—in addition to a lengthy discussion about his recent service trip to Costa Rica—Jake says he identified the topic of his Common App essay. What’s more, six pages flowed easily when he returned home that night, so excited and eager was he to start writing.
A thoughtful read of his autobiography isn’t his only compliment of Mrs. Cooperman. “She is the easiest person to talk to. I go into her office for five-minute meeting and we end up sitting and talking for an hour, about all kinds of things,” he adds. “It’s not a relationship that’s solely focused on the college counseling process. It’s a friendship. I always leave her office feeling like I should give her a hug.”
With Mrs. Cooperman’s help, the four-year varsity lacrosse player hopes to pursue an undergraduate program in Business upon graduation from Pingry. Will he be back to visit her? “Definitely,” he smiles.
Holly poured herself into an entirely new sport: crew. And she loved it. “To align boats is to equalize the teams on the starting line before a race. To row is to use your quads, back, shoulders, and hands, leaving the ACL untouched, and unscathed. It is one of the few sports that require no lateral movement. Alignment took on a whole new meaning for me,” she said.
With just two years of competitive club rowing under her belt, and with the support of Pingry’s college counseling department, Holly’s Vanderbilt lacrosse ambitions were seemingly effortlessly transferred to UPenn, where she attends the Wharton School (not surprising, given her role as Student Body President her senior year), and, of course, rows for their women’s crew team.
“Decommiting from Vanderbilt and rediscovering a new sport, one she had no prior experience with, is testament to Holly’s internal drive. That she was offered a spot on the Penn team with such limited experience is amazing, but she more than earned it,” said Pingry’s Director of College Counseling, Mr. Tim Lear.
“Reflecting back on my whole experience, I learned that hard work pays off,” said Holly. “I learned that I am capable of anything I put my mind to, no matter how difficult the situation may seem at first. I learned that I could not have survived the entire college application process without Mr. Lear. I would not trade a single day when I was in the leg brace for another, as I ended up exactly where I am supposed to be. And truthfully, I couldn’t be happier.”
UPDATE: "My freshman year was absolutely amazing! Pingry definitely helped prepare me for the school work, as I felt I knew how to manage my time well. I was also comfortable approaching my professors and reaching out for help when needed. Philly is beautiful, the students and professors are great, and I love being close to home. Over the past year, I rowed on the Penn Women’s Crew Team (and won the Freshman Award and the Most Inspirational Award), I was selected as the Freshmen Representative for Cohort Peso at Wharton, and I joined a sorority. My college counselor, Mr. Lear, and the other staff in the College Counseling Office made the college selection process as easy and as stress-free as possible. I could not thank them enough for their support, patience, and dedication to helping me find the perfect fit."
He tested his dramatic mettle by trying out—and landing a part—in the school musical, Cabaret. He also discovered a knack for throwing shotput, and joined the spring track & field team. Padding his transcript wasn’t necessary; Princeton had already accepted him. But in his 13 years at Pingry, he came to understand that leaving his comfort zone was ok, even smart. “I've learned that I like a lot more than I thought I did; my interests are more diverse than I could have imagined,” he says.
He credits his Pingry college counselor for helping to nurture those interests, giving him honest feedback and clear advice while allowing him to think for himself. He plans to pursue a major of mechanical engineering at Princeton (perhaps double-majoring in astrophysics, if time allows, he says), and a minor in East Asian studies.
With all of his interests, why Princeton?
“The Princeton info session I attended my sophomore year was a typical one. However, the woman who spoke—she graduated from Princeton the year before— stood on stage and gave a 1.5-hour talk without using notes or stuttering once. I was so absolutely floored and impressed by her eloquence, her persona, and her intelligence. I turned to my family and said, ‘If this school can shape me into a young adult like her, I need to go here.’”
UPDATE: "I was lucky to have a college counselor [Mr. Tim Lear] who attended Princeton, and so knew my experience from a first-hand perspective. Over the course of my freshman year, whenever I was in a rut, he offered support and encouragement that was really great to hear. Honestly, my freshman year was such a great experience. I 100% feel like Princeton was a great fit, and I know that I have met lifelong friends and will continue to do so for the next three years. For that reason I’m extremely grateful that Pingry's College Counseling Department, and Mr. Lear, took such care in the process. I really do feel at home here, and they all played a big role in helping me to find this home."
During his senior year, the month of November was tough, he recalled. He had applied early to Haverford, but continued to work on supplemental essays for close to a dozen other schools until he heard final word. “I was pretty stressed and having a bad day," Jamie recalled. “I went to Mr. Lear to talk about one of the essays I was struggling with. He reassured me that it was good, that he was confident in my chances at Haverford. He just helped to calm me down. As both my coach and my college counselor, I relied on him a lot. He was always there for me.”
And Mr. Lear will no doubt follow Jamie’s progress at Haverford, both in the classroom and in races. Like Pingry, Haverford is an honor code school (students reaffirm it annually), which, Jamie says, made it stand out. From his very first visit, he felt comfortable. “I really liked the notion of going to an honor code school, where the students all made a conscious choice to attend, and to stick to it.” When Jamie arrives on campus, he will bring with him all he learned at Pingry—lessons of honor, hard work, sport, and friendship.
UPDATE: "My first year at Haverford was great. A lot of the values and practices I learned at Pingry prepared me really well for college academic life (such as being comfortable approaching professors and going out of my way to ask for help if needed, just to name a couple). Looking back, I am so grateful for Mr. Lear's advising during my college process. Throughout the fall of my senior year, Mr. Lear was candid, open, and honest when we discussed schools, and did not hesitate to steer me towards schools he thought might be a good fit. He and I have stayed in contact since I graduated. It's always great to get an email from him, especially when we talk about running. I really appreciate the fact that he is legitimately interested in how my academic and athletic careers have been since leaving Pingry, and I always enjoy discussing both my classes and my training with him. Mr. Lear is the reason I first found out about Haverford, and I can't thank him enough for that."
Her instincts were right. The unedited version caught Dartmouth’s attention, and now, she’s a happy New Englander, pursuing a subject that has long been of interest to her: neuroscience. Helping to nurture that interest was Ms. Torres’s AP Anatomy and Physiology class, which, as a freshman, Nia had heard Pingry upperclassmen exclaim over. “I heard intriguing things about getting to sit in on surgeries and having the opportunity to participate in several dissections, and I knew it was the class for me. It was everything I expected!” she raved. “I definitely tried to take advantage of the opportunities that Pingry gives its students, doing my best to participate in anything having to do with biology or neuroscience, and Ms. Torres’s class was just one of those opportunities.” Thanks to the patient guidance of college counselor Mrs. Ananya Chatterji—“she helped me to stay as calm and organized as possible”—Nia is now diving deeper into the sciences at a college she feels is the perfect fit.
“Pingry’s college counseling office is amazing and so helpful. Their patience and firm guidance helped me keep a level head during some of the most stressful months of my life,” she said.
Her advice to seniors? Perhaps alluding to her penchant for human sciences, “Stay organized, hydrated, and well-rested. Those three things are key.”