A Conversation with Lisa Schultz, Director of Secondary School Counseling

Country School graduates often have their pick of top schools when it comes to secondary education, and it is Director of Secondary School Counseling Lisa Schultz’s job to make sure they have fully explored their options before making that final decision. Because of their combination of exceptional academic preparation, strong sense of community and leadership skills, NCCS graduates attend some of the best secondary schools in the country — independent day and boarding, as well as local public schools.

Q You often talk about your work as partnering with students and families to find the “right fit.” How exactly do you go about that?
 
A It’s so exciting to work with kids this age. It’s one thing I love about working in a school of our configuration. Students in eighth and ninth grade have gotten to know themselves as learners, have practiced being citizens in our school community and in the community at large, and have uncovered some of their passions and interests. They are building a strong sense of self-identity. At the same time, 15-year-olds developmentally are not ready to make an educational decision solely by themselves, and still need and value guidance from their families and teachers. So we work collaboratively. I ask them a lot of questions, get to know them and their families on a personal level, and then suggest schools that might be a good fit.
Q How do you get to know the students?
 
A I send them a questionnaire early in the year that helps identify their interests, but I really find out a lot through our face-to-face meetings. I ask a lot of questions. I ask them about their passions. I ask them questions like: What do you like to do in your free time? Do you do any chores around the house? What do you like to read? Have you gone to sleep-away camp? Those kids who love sleep-away camp generally do well at boarding school. I also get to know the students through the eyes of their teachers and coaches as well as their parents.
 
Q What’s it like to watch ninth-graders go through the process?
 
A You watch them struggle and work hard and then have some failures and successes, and that is the model of our lives. It is often their first exposure to having something out of their control. In the end, secondary schools see Country School graduates as academically prepared and very desirable, and yet they still have to compare our students to other very capable kids. I think it is good for them to work diligently and experience the feeling of wanting something very much and then eventually achieving their goal. I also get to witness them face a fork in the road as they discover that sometimes there is no one perfect choice, that they might have equally rewarding, but different experiences at different schools.
 
Q How do you prepare students for the interview process?

A Practice, practice, practice. We run them through mock interviews to shake out the nerves and to give them a chance to hear themselves answer some common questions out loud. In many ways we have been preparing them for this moment their entire time at NCCS. How they present themselves in their interviews is the cumulative effect of all of the years of collaboration, critical thinking and presentation that they have done, many since Beginners.
 
Q What about the parents? How do you support them?

A My goal is to offer them a very personalized experience. We provide one-on-one counseling as well as monthly coffees to go over the next step of the process. Each fall, we host a panel of secondary school admission directors so that parents can hear directly from the people who will be meeting with them and their children as they undertake this next step of their journey. We also keep a resource page on the website chock full of pertinent information.
 
Q What is your first piece of advice as families begin the process?
 
A I encourage them to cast a wide net and stay open-minded. You would be surprised how much a child grows during ninth grade and how a family’s ideas shift as they visit schools. My goal is always to create as many options for each student as possible. Then it becomes a family decision.
 
Q What are schools really looking for? What stands out on the application or in the interview?
 
A Of course academic performance is the underpinning, but communication skills are still paramount. Students who interview well and are strong public speakers will excel, and that is something we stress here at Country School. They are looking for relevant skills, for problem solvers who can be entrepreneurial, creative thinkers. They are looking for confidence, which our students gain through a variety of experiences and leadership roles. And finally, they want students who are community-minded.
 
Q What trends are you seeing?
 
A The biggest changes I have seen are in the ways students are being evaluated during the admission process. On most school campuses, there is an emphasis on character skills, social justice, diversity and cultural competence. It’s an exciting time. They want kids who are collaborative, open-minded and aim to be catalysts for positive change in our world. In terms of the landscape, boarding schools have become more competitive because they are more
globally accessible and our local public high schools have only gotten stronger. Whether it be at boarding, day or public school, the core curriculum is rich and relevant, and our kids have the confidence to take advantage of all there is to offer.
 
Q What is the best part of your job?
 
A The kids, of course! I love getting to know them and watching them grow into young adulthood. I also admire the colleagues I work within the admission offices. We may seem like a serious bunch, but we really have a great time together and there is a great sense of collegiality.
 
Q What do you hear from graduates?
 
A They have the most amazing stories about the classes they are taking, the clubs they started, the jobs they’ve accepted. They seem to do very well academically, socially and athletically in secondary school, and if you look even further out you see that they continue to grow and excel and become the “happy, healthy 30-year-olds” that we want them to be.
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