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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, August 18, 2022
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The Road To College: A Parent’s-Eye View

Now that acceptances have started to arrive for seniors at Antilles School, I am pleased; but I am also thinking about the way the whole college process changed me when I experienced it not simply as a professional college counselor but as a parent.

The story of my daughter’s search may have some value for those trying to figure out how to manage the process, their feelings, and—above all—their relationship with their child.

The first thing I tried to do was honor the first thing I ever said to our eldest daughter: “Daddy loves you.” It was all I could get out of my mouth, over and over, as Julia screamed her lungs out in a bath of warm water in the maternity ward of Edith Cavell Hospital in Brussels, Belgium.

A first-time father, I had no clue what to do, so I just let Julia grip my pinkies with her little fists as she yelled her lungs out. She was the one yelling, but I think we were both scared to death by the reality of her birth.

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Shy by nature, reticent until fully ready to speak up, Julia’s schooling fascinated me from the start. Some memories come back clearly: First, the time her pre-school class had to measure the circumference of their pumpkins with string. While most of the boys cut first and measured later, Julia just sat there, examining the orb. Finally, last of all, she calmly wrapped the string and cut it precisely, at just the right length.

Her teacher said, in a subsequent parent conference, “Julia is always the last to start and the last to finish, but she always gets the answer right.” Another teacher told us of the day she was worried because Julia hadn’t started that day’s project long after her classmates had forged ahead. When she approached Julia to ask if she understood the assignment, Julia looked up at her and said, quite calmly, “I’m thinking.” Julia’s college process was a lot like that.

Trying to keep whatever sense you have of who your child really is at the core of the college process makes sense to me. Professionally, I try to get a sense of the internal reality, of the gyroscope if you will, that can guide each young adult through this process.

Parents, working in partnership with me, are crucial to this aspect of the search, because they all have stories, much like the ones that I’ve just told, that get at the fundamental nature of their child—long before the affectations of adolescence take hold.

The way Julia’s search played out began in that delivery room and in her pre-school, in the sense that it was clear she was better off in intimate settings, with caring teachers, and time to process what was going on around her.
From the get-go, in other words, she was going to be better off in a small, liberal arts college. Some of my students get so tired of my harping on that phrase that they mimic me. The truth, particularly for students from very small independent schools like Antilles, however, is that most really are better off tackling college for college, then saving the university for graduate school.

Such was Julia’s case. Graduating as one of 40 seniors, a small college of 1,600 students would have been 10 times her prior experience. Indeed, I tell my students that their schooling means that colleges will not come in “Small, Medium and Large,” but in “Large, Extra Large, and The-Entire-Population-Of-St.Thomas-Economy Size.”

If you are a young person who can feel like a number and revel in anonymity, please do go on to universities of 50,000 students. But if you’re a kid like mine, make sure someone is going to know your name, care what you think, and wait a while for you to say it.

With only small liberal arts colleges under consideration, the next factor was location. Living on St. Thomas, it made sense to Julia and me that she consider places near stateside family and major airports, providing nearby support when desirable and easy logistics for travel.

Thus her first list, developed in the spring of her junior year, became, alphabetically, Agnes Scott, Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Dickinson, Drew, Goucher, Haverford, St. Mary’s of Maryland, Swarthmore, Washington College, and Wellesley. Savvy readers will note the four women’s colleges on that first list, places where all of the institution’s resources are devoted solely to educating female undergraduates. That’s a concept that Julia and I found very appealing for someone with her way in the world.

With a good deal of vacation planning and driving, and the help of her aunt in two cases, Julia toured and interviewed at every place on her list. In the end, she applied to five: Agnes Scott, Dickinson, Goucher, Swarthmore and Wellesley.

She crossed the others off her list for various reasons, all of which I took seriously, first, because she spoke well, and second, because I reminded myself that I had been to college; this search was her turn to do what was right for her, not my chance to have a mulligan of my own.

The final lesson for this column, which I will continue next week, because it could be timely advice for seniors currently in the process, is that Julia did not get in everywhere she applied. A straight-A student with eight AP courses and SATs in the 700’s, she could have gotten in everywhere; however, she was waitlisted in one case, and fairly so, because, in the words of the application reader at that college, her application “lacked depth.”

The reality is that the student who had always liked to wait to figure things out had become something of a procrastinator through the years. Her main college essay showed it. Written later than was good for her, Julia didn’t plumb the depths of her experience nearly the way she might have. And it cost her. In the end, we probably would not have been able to afford the one college that waitlisted her anyway, but I know she would have liked to have the offer of admission nonetheless.

Thus, my message to any senior reading this column: I’m done. It’s time to get back to your own writing, which may make or break your getting the offer that could be best for you. Tune in next week to learn more about how Julia’s search turned out.

Chris Teare is College Counselor at Antilles School on St. Thomas. His radio show, Making The College Choice, airs Wednesdays at 4 p.m. on AM 1000, WVWI-AM.

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Now that acceptances have started to arrive for seniors at Antilles School, I am pleased; but I am also thinking about the way the whole college process changed me when I experienced it not simply as a professional college counselor but as a parent.

The story of my daughter’s search may have some value for those trying to figure out how to manage the process, their feelings, and—above all—their relationship with their child.

The first thing I tried to do was honor the first thing I ever said to our eldest daughter: “Daddy loves you.” It was all I could get out of my mouth, over and over, as Julia screamed her lungs out in a bath of warm water in the maternity ward of Edith Cavell Hospital in Brussels, Belgium.

A first-time father, I had no clue what to do, so I just let Julia grip my pinkies with her little fists as she yelled her lungs out. She was the one yelling, but I think we were both scared to death by the reality of her birth.

Shy by nature, reticent until fully ready to speak up, Julia’s schooling fascinated me from the start. Some memories come back clearly: First, the time her pre-school class had to measure the circumference of their pumpkins with string. While most of the boys cut first and measured later, Julia just sat there, examining the orb. Finally, last of all, she calmly wrapped the string and cut it precisely, at just the right length.

Her teacher said, in a subsequent parent conference, “Julia is always the last to start and the last to finish, but she always gets the answer right.” Another teacher told us of the day she was worried because Julia hadn’t started that day’s project long after her classmates had forged ahead. When she approached Julia to ask if she understood the assignment, Julia looked up at her and said, quite calmly, “I’m thinking.” Julia’s college process was a lot like that.


Trying to keep whatever sense you have of who your child really is at the core of the college process makes sense to me. Professionally, I try to get a sense of the internal reality, of the gyroscope if you will, that can guide each young adult through this process.

Parents, working in partnership with me, are crucial to this aspect of the search, because they all have stories, much like the ones that I’ve just told, that get at the fundamental nature of their child—long before the affectations of adolescence take hold.

The way Julia’s search played out began in that delivery room and in her pre-school, in the sense that it was clear she was better off in intimate settings, with caring teachers, and time to process what was going on around her.
From the get-go, in other words, she was going to be better off in a small, liberal arts college. Some of my students get so tired of my harping on that phrase that they mimic me. The truth, particularly for students from very small independent schools like Antilles, however, is that most really are better off tackling college for college, then saving the university for graduate school.

Such was Julia’s case. Graduating as one of 40 seniors, a small college of 1,600 students would have been 10 times her prior experience. Indeed, I tell my students that their schooling means that colleges will not come in “Small, Medium and Large,” but in “Large, Extra Large, and The-Entire-Population-Of-St.Thomas-Economy Size.”

If you are a young person who can feel like a number and revel in anonymity, please do go on to universities of 50,000 students. But if you’re a kid like mine, make sure someone is going to know your name, care what you think, and wait a while for you to say it.

With only small liberal arts colleges under consideration, the next factor was location. Living on St. Thomas, it made sense to Julia and me that she consider places near stateside family and major airports, providing nearby support when desirable and easy logistics for travel.

Thus her first list, developed in the spring of her junior year, became, alphabetically, Agnes Scott, Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Dickinson, Drew, Goucher, Haverford, St. Mary’s of Maryland, Swarthmore, Washington College, and Wellesley. Savvy readers will note the four women’s colleges on that first list, places where all of the institution’s resources are devoted solely to educating female undergraduates. That’s a concept that Julia and I found very appealing for someone with her way in the world.

With a good deal of vacation planning and driving, and the help of her aunt in two cases, Julia toured and interviewed at every place on her list. In the end, she applied to five: Agnes Scott, Dickinson, Goucher, Swarthmore and Wellesley.

She crossed the others off her list for various reasons, all of which I took seriously, first, because she spoke well, and second, because I reminded myself that I had been to college; this search was her turn to do what was right for her, not my chance to have a mulligan of my own.

The final lesson for this column, which I will continue next week, because it could be timely advice for seniors currently in the process, is that Julia did not get in everywhere she applied. A straight-A student with eight AP courses and SATs in the 700’s, she could have gotten in everywhere; however, she was waitlisted in one case, and fairly so, because, in the words of the application reader at that college, her application “lacked depth.”

The reality is that the student who had always liked to wait to figure things out had become something of a procrastinator through the years. Her main college essay showed it. Written later than was good for her, Julia didn’t plumb the depths of her experience nearly the way she might have. And it cost her. In the end, we probably would not have been able to afford the one college that waitlisted her anyway, but I know she would have liked to have the offer of admission nonetheless.

Thus, my message to any senior reading this column: I’m done. It’s time to get back to your own writing, which may make or break your getting the offer that could be best for you. Tune in next week to learn more about how Julia’s search turned out.

Chris Teare is College Counselor at Antilles School on St. Thomas. His radio show, Making The College Choice, airs Wednesdays at 4 p.m. on AM 1000, WVWI-AM.