The Right Fit, College Advisors Help Students Seek Their Own Paths

When Nick Carola ’16 walked into Director of College Advising Rick Hazelton’s office in the fall of his upper mid year, he had no idea where he wanted to go to college. At Hotchkiss, science had been Nick’s passion. But he also played varsity football and wrestled all four years, captaining both teams as a senior. His dream school would offer rigorous academics and also allow him to continue playing sports.

Finding a match felt like a challenge. Nick clearly remembers the moment Director of College Advising Rick Hazelton said to him, “Have you thought about the University of Chicago?”

Fast forward three years. In June of 2020, Nick graduated from Chicago having pursued a pre-med program and wrestled all four years. He found the school to be a perfect fit.

During his time there, Nick received an email from Rick once or twice a year saying that he would be visiting campus. During one of these visits, Nick joined other Hotchkiss alumni for a candid conversation about their experiences. Nick believes frequent visits like these to college campuses and maintaining close contacts with alumni give Hotchkiss’s college advising team an understanding of each school’s culture that goes well beyond the stats found in brochures.

The six advisors in the College Advising Office have developed a wealth of knowledge about colleges and universities across the United States and beyond. They bring this — together with a deep understanding of the intricacies of the application process — to the journey they take with each Hotchkiss student.

“Over the years, I have had the good fortune to work with an incredible college counseling office at Hotchkiss. On a number of occasions, we have had fruitful discussions about developments in our admissions policies, the ins-and-outs of athletic recruitment, and the questions the college advisors are fielding from interested students, among other issues. Rick and his associates ensure that our committees are fully informed about applicants from Hotchkiss. I believe that this uncommon academic approach to college counseling serves the students of Hotchkiss incredibly well,” said James M. Colman, senior associate director, Georgetown University, Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

The college process begins in the fall of upper mid year, when each student is assigned a college advisor. Hotchkiss’s student-to-college advisor ratio is 35:1, which is low across the School’s peer set. College advisors also live in dorms, coach sports, and participate in co-curriculars, allowing them to develop connections with students that go well beyond the College Advising Office. That’s something that Michael Zhang ’21 especially appreciated about his college advisor.

Whenever Michael published an article in The Hotchkiss Record or played piano in a performance, he’d get an email from Josh Smith. “Mr. Smith took the time to know who I was outside in the community,” says Michael. 

“He made me feel like a whole person and not just a name on a list.” 

This past year was a particularly challenging one for college admissions: acceptance rates at the most competitive colleges and universities were lower than they have ever been. According to the Wall Street Journal, Harvard accepted 3.4% of applicants. Yale, 4.6%. Columbia, 3.7%.

Test-optional policies led to increases in applicants at leading schools. At the same time, many schools began the year with spots for freshmen already allocated to students who had opted to defer in 2020.

 “I tried not to think about it!” Michael laughs about the increased competition.

What helped ease the process, he says, is that Josh served as a sounding board. “He helped me voice my thoughts about what I wanted in a school, he provided feedback, but then he allowed me the independence to figure it out on my own.”

Letting students take the lead is a key tenet of the College Advising Office and one that aligns with the School’s commitment to developing independence and critical thinking.

Michael’s discussions with Josh helped guide him to the Morehead-Cain scholarship, a four-year, merit-based scholarship at the University of North Carolina.

For many Hotchkiss students, college admissions involves navigating complicated financial aid programs on top of an incredibly competitive process. Hannah Lothian ’19

describes being “120 percent nervous” when she started on the admissions journey. She didn’t feel confident seeking advice from her parents, neither of whom had applied to college during high school, and without a family car (the family lives in the Bronx),visiting colleges felt impossible.

At Hotchkiss, Hannah’s passion was theater. She acted, directed, built sets, and took theater classes in the humanities. She wanted to pursue technical theater direction in college,but her number-one concern was financial aid.

“I had set my standards really low,” she says. “I told myself: ‘as long as I get into a school withgood financial aid, I’ll be happy.’”

Hannah was able to relay her concerns to college advisor Katherine “Katie” Boyd. Katie directed her to resources such as rankings of need-blind and need-based schools and websites listing scholarships, and she helped arrange rides for Hannah to visit colleges. 

When the College Scholarship Service requested financial forms from Hannah’s father, who no longer contributed to her family financially, Katie helped her navigate a complicated exemption. In Katie, Hannah found “a support system that I didn’t have at home, because my family didn’t have the experience.”

Desmond Teague ’20 wasn’t sure he wanted to attend college — he would be the first in his family to do so. That changed partway through his time at Hotchkiss when he developed a passion for the classics and for music (he plays four instruments).

Desmond realized he wanted to keep learning at a school with a well-rounded liberal arts program, an excellent music department, and generous financial aid — oh, and it had to be in a city with a good music scene. “I didn’t know if the thing I was looking for even existed!” he says.His advisor, Annie Hall, listened to his list of wants and suggested a number of schools.Most importantly, she told him about the“fly-in” program at Macalester College in Minneapolis and helped him meet the deadlines to apply. Fly-in programs provide opportunities to students who might not otherwise be able to afford a trip to campus.“It was a great experience that made me confident in my decision,” he says, “and it was Ms. Hall who encouraged me to doit.”

College admissions is changing faster than most people realize, according toAdam Sapp, assistant vice president and director of admissions, Pomona College“Any parent with a teenager knows firsthand how hard it is for students to balance everything that is expected of them during this time. It should be a great comfort to students and parents that there is an entire office of experts at Hotchkiss who stand ready to help with individualized advising and support,” he said.

“Over the years we have admitted many Hotchkiss students to Pomona.Their intellectual interests and diverse backgrounds have ranged as widely asPomona’s curriculum. But each Hotchkiss student has come to Pomona academically prepared and ready to make an impact.I know their success here is due in large part to the fact that the Hotchkiss college advising process has helped them engage the right issues, ask the most important questions, and focus on their priorities before they enroll. As an admissions director, I can’t ask for more than that.”

Desmond is now studying music and sociology at Macalester, playing first chair saxophone in the jazz band, and spending his free time jamming with musicians across the Twin Cities. Hannah, a sophomore at Yale, is studying mechanical engineering on full financial aid. Her goal is to get back to technical direction, eventually. “What if I could build a giant stage that can lift up and dance around?”she muses.

Reflecting back on the College Advising Office at Hotchkiss, Hannah says, “In such a vulnerable process, you want somebody to be kind, and Ms. Boyd is such a nice person. I had a great experience with the college process because of her. I am really happy with where I ended up and with the process that got me here.”

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