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Table of Contents

Choosing a College: Where Do I Start?

Navigating the Funnel

Perfect Fit

They Beg to Differ

What to Ask About Study Abroad on Campus

What's it Worth to You?

Surviving the Empty Nest: A Guide for Parents

Alumni Accomplishments

The Kenya Connection

Laurentian Reviews

Table of Contents

Navigating the Funnel
Advice from some experts on the college search process.

By Lisa M. Cania M’82 and Rachel B. Peterson ’04

First-year students at St. Lawrence likely began their college search two or three years earlier. Many were in contact with St. Lawrence for much of that period, with visits, calls, e-mails exchanged to gather information. Others complete their search process in relative anonymity, revealing their interest only with a last-minute application. Approximately 3,000 students apply to St. Lawrence every year; about 60% are considered well matched and receive an offer to attend and of these, 30%-35% comprise a first-year class of about 550. Admissions professionals describe the process as something like navigating a funnel; prospective students may feel they’re looking at the broad end of the funnel, too, as they consider their hundreds of options.

Behind this process are many people. The admissions staff visit schools nationwide and interview and correspond with prospective students to help them best understand St. Lawrence; college counselors in high schools and secondary schools help students sort through their goals and complete their applications; parents share ideas and concerns, sometimes setting such parameters as distance from home, cost and size.

When the students arrive in August, they seem to be a perfect fit. In fact, most of them will determine that St. Lawrence is the right place for them. It’s not by serendipity that students select their college, as this issue of the University’s magazine will reveal.

We asked Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Terry Cowdrey, as well as alumni and parents who counsel prospective students, to offer advice about the college search process. Joining Cowdrey in a virtual conversation are Susan Boyle ’90, assistant vice president for admissions and marketing, Naropa University; Joanne Rotella Honeywell ’80, guidance counselor, Bethlehem Central High School, Delmar, N.Y.; Jackie Pinover’75, guidance counselor, Colton-Pierrepont School, Colton, N.Y.; Jamyn Moore Sheff, college counselor and language department chair, Lawrence Academy, Groton, Mass., and parent of Dan’00; and Susan Kastner Tree ’74, director of college counseling, Westtown School, Westtown, Pa.

What is your favorite advice for students preparing to begin the college search process, or for parents?

Boyle: Communication between parents and students is the most important part of the process. I encourage a heart-to-heart conversation about what the student is looking for in a school. Parents are often surprised to hear what their children are interested in. Establish ground rules, setting up regular conversations so everyone feels informed. This is about the student’s development, so it is very important that parents communicate that they will be supportive of whatever decision their child makes. The choice of college is not about what bumper sticker to put on their car. It is finding out where their child’s passions will be nurtured and supported.

 Cowdrey: A very practical piece of advice for parents: consider having college search discussions by e-mail. Because it’s more impersonal than face-to-face communications, e-mail can eliminate the sometimes difficult relationship issues that parents and students can experience with the college search. With e-mail, it’s harder to “hear” tone of voice and even harder to see facial expressions that can discourage communication. Plus, the writers get the chance to complete their thoughts, so they can learn more about and from each other.

Sheff: My advice is the same for both students and parents: 1) Open your mind! There are so many excellent colleges out there and many students and parents confine their investigations to only a few. 2) Don’t judge how “good” a college is by how selective it is. How good a college is depends on how that college suits the student’s needs and desires. It is a place where that student is comfortable, is appropriately challenged, and can continue to develop the confidence to become the best student and person he or she can be.

  How do you advise students to begin to search for colleges?

Tree: Students need to think long and hard about what kind of environment will empower them. What do they need to do with their non-academic time in order to feel happy, accomplished, rewarded? College should not be about being in a safe cocoon where everything is comfortable and predictable. College should be a springboard for a life of risk-taking, adventure and growth. No one can rank colleges according to the potential quality of your experience there. You have to create your own list of important factors, do the research, and come up with your own rankings. I recommend that a family invest in one encyclopedia (like Barron’s) and one of the better-researched “underground” guides such as Fiske. Students who dig deep into Web sites and make connections with current students and faculty involved in fields of study and activities in which they are interested really strike gold.

Pinover: I like to have my students think about what they want in a college—size, competitiveness, region, cost, etc.—and then once they’ve figured out what categories are most important, use online search engines to find colleges that match their criteria. Also, I encourage students to look for schools with a strong alumni network.

How do you advise students who are really indecisive? Cowdrey: I’d try to understand the reasons. I’m concerned that high school is losing its inherent worth. Students should be using high school to develop their interests and goals, and then finding colleges that meet their aspirations and value their attributes. Instead, I see students establishing a goal for a particular college and then shaping themselves to be attractive to that school.  

Tree: Do something else between high school and college! If indecision is a commitment or confidence issue, grow up some before spending all that time and money and potentially racking up a low GPA that will follow you. Take some time to work with your hands, do community service, live in another culture. Don't stay in your comfort zone — get out and experience life and grow your confidence, judgment and communication skills. Go through the college application process while you have the support of your guidance or college counselor; then defer and buy time. Colleges are happy to grant admitted students a semester or year's deferral; they know that the student they enroll a year later will be more ready to take advantage of opportunities and more likely to contribute in positive ways.

Pinover: I really encourage a strong liberal arts background because that’s how to make leaps in the job market. Liberal arts schools teach communication

Once a student has made a decision, how do you know it was a good decision? Honeywell: Beyond my "gut feeling," I try to identify factors. Is the school the student's choice, or the parents'? Was the decision based solely on financial aid? Is the distance appropriate for this student and his or her circumstances? (Some students thrive on the independence that distance can offer, while others need the security and continued support of being closer to home.) Was the decision based on academics or athletics? These factors help me "feel" whether the school is a good match for the student.  

Tree: I always tell my seniors that they will change more in their college years than during any other four-year period in their lives. It is a time of accelerated growth because of newfound independence coupled with a richness of academic and social opportunities. Students often discover new talents and interests, so that the college they chose (for all the right reasons) is no longer a good fit. Students may find that they need to transfer after one or two years because they need more academic challenge, less academic pressure, different academic opportunities, a less competitive level of athletic competition — all valid and respectable reasons. Transferring is not a disaster; it may be the result of increased self-awareness.

  How do you know when a college succeeds with a student? Honeywell: Grades are just one measure of success. Surviving the first month living with a stranger or strangers in your room is a success. Learning to share a bathroom with many strangers is a success. Getting yourself to class on time with no mom or dad waking you is a success. But I guess I know a college is successful when a student tells me, "I love being home but I can't wait to go back!"  

Sheff: Confidence is key. A college succeeds with a student if the student comes out with the confidence to take the next steps in life. This comes from a college that provides a good balance of support and challenge, as well as stimulus to grow. High school is a time when students mature a lot, and college should continue that process. I consider our son Dan’s experience at St. Lawrence a wonderful example of how a college succeeds with a student. He connected with teachers there who truly cared about him and who convinced him that he was a good student and urged him on to greater accomplishment. They believed in him and that made him believe in himself.

St. Lawrence Admissions At a Glance


Early Decision: Apply by one of the following dates and be notified one month later: November 15 or January 15

Regular Decision: Apply by February 15 with notification in late March.

Financial Assistance

70% of students qualify for need-based assistance, including grants, loans and campus employment. The average St. Lawrence grant received by the Class of 2007 (most recent statistics) is $15,931.

Legacy Grants: St. Lawrence awards $10,000 grants ($2,500 a year for four years) to the children, grandchildren and siblings of alumni or current students, regardless of financial need.

Scholarships: Merit scholarships range from $7,500 to $15,000 annually and are awarded to students based on academic and co-curricular achievement. Categories: Augsbury/North Country, Community Service, Presidential Diversity, University, 1856, and Vilas (for those interested in business).

Contact Information

Phone: 800-285-1856
Fax: 315-229-5818

Lisa Cania is associate vice president for University relations; her own college search took her to Wells College. Rachel Peterson was Cania’s intern in summer 2004.