Secondary School Counseling

A Conversation with Lauren Romeo, 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 Lauren Romeo’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. What’s amazing about students at this age is that they are becoming so self aware. They are beginning to understand themselves as learners, they are defining their interests and passions, and they are confidently expressing parameters for a next school experience. At the same time, they look toward the adults in their life for advice and counsel, most especially when it comes to making big decisions. When we first come together, I ask lots of questions and help them reflect as a family about the type of environment at which their child would thrive. From there, I suggest schools that might be a good fit. 
Q. How do you get to know the students?
A. By the time I meet with ninth graders and their families, I’ve had the benefit of having observed them as students and citizens since they were in seventh grade. I’ve participated in weekly teacher meetings in which they have been discussed as learners, and I have cheered them on from the sidelines all three seasons. Mostly, I marvel at the evolution and maturation displayed by them all throughout their time in Stevens. As we embark on the secondary school process, I send students and parents a questionnaire that helps identify their interests. However, it’s in our individual meetings that I truly begin to understand their hopes and goals for their next school experience.  I work closely with families and students together throughout a child’s ninth grade year, and I speak regularly with teachers and coaches to ensure I can provide a well rounded picture of each student.
Q. What’s it like to watch ninth graders go through the process?
A. Our ninth graders are motivated and hardworking, and that work ethic is on full display during this process. They are also confident and poised, and they present themselves as such during school interviews. The process can sometimes be punctuated by stress, however, and it is often the first time in their young lives where they realize they have little control of the outcome. 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 applicants throughout our nation and beyond. Ultimately, the process of applying to schools, identifying a goal and working hard toward reaching that goal, is a healthy one. At the end of the process, decisions can sometimes be harder than anticipated, but the recognition that a rewarding and happy experience might exist at vastly different schools can be comforting indeed.  
Q. How do you prepare students for the interview process?
A. We provide students with mock interviews to ease their nerves and to give them a chance to practice forming responses to the most commonly asked questions. 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 their many years at Country School, and their many moments behind the podium, on the stage, and leading class discussions.
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, timely newsletters, as well as monthly coffees to help review each step of the admissions 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 maintain a resource page on the website that is regularly updated with pertinent information.
Q. What is your first piece of advice as families begin the process?
A. Our advice is consistent: cast a wide net, keep an open mind, and empower your child so that he/she/they can take an active role in this process. A child grows exponentially throughout their time in the Upper School, and families are often surprised at how one’s path evolves from what might have been envisioned just a few years ago. I encourage students and families to pursue a full process, consider all possibilities, and to avoid allowing others to form one’s opinions about specific schools. 
Q. What are schools really looking for? What stands out on the application or in the interview?
A. While a strong academic foundation is paramount, schools are looking for students of strong character. Courage, curiosity, kindness, and community minded individuals – our own school’s values – are characteristics that they are actively seeking in their applicants. They want students who are active citizens, who have strong and singular voices, and who have a reputation of displaying kindness in all its forms. Additionally, students who interview well and are strong public speakers will excel, which just so happens to be a skill that Country School teaches particularly well. 
Q. What trends are you seeing?
A. While the pandemic has introduced newer trends that might resolve within the next year or so, longer term trends signify a shift away from more traditional quantitative methods of evaluating students and towards a more comprehensive, qualitative evaluation of students. While academic readiness is expected, they are looking for students who offer diverse perspectives, skills and personal stories. Schools appreciate students who serve as champions for social justice, and are looking for students who think beyond themselves and inspire change in their communities. Boarding schools, in particular, have experienced an increase in competition, most especially because of their global appeal and their success at maintaining a rich, in-person learning experience during the pandemic. NCCS is also situated in a county that is filled with amazing public high school programs, so in many cases, students needn’t look beyond their own towns to find a program that is rife with opportunity and rigor. 
Q. What is the best part of your job?
A. I’ve been at Country School for almost 20 years, and it’s our students who have kept me here so long. Our students grow into confident and passionate individuals, and I can’t help but feel proud when I see Upper Schoolers engage in spirited debates with teachers and then, moments later, tenderly hug their Beginners buddies who they happen to encounter on their walk to sports. These are the kindest and most optimistic of young people, and I feel so grateful when I can offer guidance in support of their next school experience. Beyond our campus, I partner with admissions colleagues at schools throughout the nation; it’s an incredibly collaborative and collegial group who truly care about supporting students.
Q. What do you hear from graduates?
A. Our graduates always impress me, most especially in terms of their outreach. They share their hugely successful high school experiences, the clubs that they launched, the sports teams that they captained, the colleges they’ve recently been accepted to, and the jobs that they are starting. They often share that their transitions into secondary schools were seamless, most especially in terms of their academic and social experiences. If you look even further out, you see that they continue to grow, excel, and become the “happy, healthy 30-year-olds” that we want them to be.

New Canaan Country School admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin and are afforded all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, age, sex, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry, or disability in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, financial aid policies or any other school-administered programs.