College Counseling Advisory Board
It’s not uncommon for independent schools to invite admission representatives from colleges and universities to visit their campuses. These visits often are educational and serve as an opportunity to learn more about each school. This year, The Hill School’s College Counseling Office took a bold approach to this traditional concept. The Office invited representatives from seven universities and colleges to serve on an advisory board that not only provided the visitors with an in-depth view of a student’s Hill experience, but also provided feedback on how Hill’s College Counseling office can best represent Hill to colleges.
On Tuesday, January 29, 2019, representatives from Yale University, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Case Western Reserve University, Trinity College, Temple University, Franklin & Marshall College, and Johns Hopkins University traveled to Hill to serve on the first-ever College Counseling Advisory Board.
“We wanted a breadth of representation among colleges and universities,” noted Ellen O’Neill Deitrich, Hill’s director of college counseling, who organized this innovative program.
The goal, according to Deitrich, is for these individuals to get to know Hill better. “These are the people who are reading our students’ applications,” she said. “I want them to visit so they can really get to know The Hill School.
“We also want feedback on how we – as an office – can best represent Hill to colleges.”
Their first stop during their two-day sojourn was the Hobart’s Run Office, where the group met with Senior Director of Institutional Public Relations and Hobart’s Run Communications Cathy Skitko, who offered a presentation about Hill’s distinctive neighborhood improvement initiative; the Pottstown community; and – importantly – the School’s commitment to the town and related options for involvement by our students. Hill students are engaged with Pottstown’s revitalization in a variety of ways, Skitko noted, from helping to beautify the historic Edgewood Cemetery located near campus, to participating in the Pottstown Area Social Innovations Lab run by Hobart’s Run as well as numerous service projects benefitting local nonprofits.
“Living and learning in a town like Pottstown creates opportunities that students who attend other schools might not encounter,” Skitko said. “We believe students’ experiences as part of a community that is reinventing itself can help shape who they are when they head off to college, and we were eager to share these insights with the advisory board.”
The next day, the representatives were fully immersed in life at Hill. They attended classes; spoke candidly with students during an hour-long panel discussion; enjoyed a traditional seated lunch; and even had a special “hard hat” tour of Hill’s Dining Hall, which currently is undergoing renovations and due to reopen in March.
They spent most of the afternoon learning about other initiatives also distinctive to Hill: the GUTS (Girls Understanding Their Strengths) organization; student well-being programs, Eudemonia and Flourishing at School; and the Student Philanthropy Council. In addition, they heard from Director of Learning Research and Development Jason Coady about place-based learning initiatives, and from Associate Headmaster Len Miller, who led a session about Hill’s ongoing Strategic Design process. That evening, during a dinner reception with faculty members, the group was treated to a performance by Hilltones and Hilltrebles, Hill’s select a cappella groups.
"There is clearly a commitment to activities Hill students choose to pursue outside of the classroom,” observed John Young, vice president for enrollment and dean of admissions at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. “They make a conscious choice about choosing two or three things they're really passionate about, which can have an impact on their future."
Lindsay Acevedo, associate director of admissions at Yale University, also was impressed with what she heard from Hill School students and faculty.
“You're doing really great things here at Hill, especially in regards to a student's well-being,” noted Acevedo. “We (admission reps) know that academic preparation is always strong at Hill. However, with this holistic approach students can't help but leave here more self-aware. That will serve them well in college."
Changes Made in College Counseling Upon Deitrich's Arrival to The Hill
Deitrich arrived at The Hill in 2016, bringing with her many years of college counseling experience. Her previous roles include associate director of college counseling and grade dean at The Shipley School in Bryn Mawr; director of college counseling at Woodlynde School in Strafford; and assistant director of college counseling and history teacher at the William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia. She also is a member of the advisory boards at several different colleges.
Since her arrival, she has made some significant changes in the College Counseling Office. Students now are assigned a college counselor during their fourth form (sophomore) year, giving the staff more time to get to know students. Also, fourth and fifth formers (juniors) now meet with their college counselors before selecting their courses for the coming year. Deitrich contributed to the decision of Hill adopting the use of a weighted GPA, which reflects greater rigor in a student’s curriculum.
“Our office now works more closely with the Academic Office,” stated Deitrich. “We work with them at the beginning and end of the course selection process, especially focusing on the appropriate level of rigor in an individual student’s curriculum to allow for the best learning experience because this, in turn, creates the strongest foundation for future academic success.”
She felt the College Counseling Advisory Board was a great opportunity for schools to get to know Hill and learn more about the changes in the office, as well as an opportunity to learn from college admission reps about what Hill is doing well and how we can improve.
"It's a bold decision, but a confident one,” remarked Young. “By inviting us here you're opening yourself up, but you're also getting seven raving fans. That's the neat part about it."
Audit of College Counseling Office
On Thursday morning, the representatives conducted a comprehensive audit of Hill’s College Counseling Office. In addition to meeting with the rest of the office staff (Hill has a total of six college counselors and an administrative assistant), the representatives were given examples of letters of recommendation along with transcripts and grade distribution reports.
According to Deitrich, the initial feedback the office received was positive, and she hopes to have a full report by the end of February.
At the conclusion of the visit, Deitrich was overwhelmed by its success. “Our kids and our faculty were so generous with their time and they conveyed so much positive energy,” she remarked.
While Deitrich originally thought each school would serve on the advisory board for three years, the process now is being reimagined after the successful first visit: Deitrich may involve more new schools sooner than expected.
“I was told we have something unique here at Hill and other schools need to experience it,” remarked Deitrich.
z “We’re going to be flexible. After we receive the feedback from this first group, we’ll reassess and determine what we need to do next year. The feedback will drive the agenda and the experience for the future.”
While the same college admission representatives may not return to campus next year, one thing is for certain: They want our students to be successful.
"This is more like a partnership between the role of Hill's College Counseling Office and us as college admission representatives,” noted Acevedo. “It's about how we can both help Hill students be better prepared for success in college."