Stevenson Alums Step Up for Seniors in Lockdown

When the coronavirus shut down colleges—and therefore college events for seniors still deciding where they want to go to school—Pirate alums volunteered to help. 

Normally around this time, Stevenson seniors are starting to visit the colleges they’re considering, having received their acceptance letters in the mail. Up until now, most colleges put on exciting events for incoming freshmen, trying to persuade them to join their ranks in the fall. “I remember at Yale,” says Katie Bell, Stevenson’s College Center coordinator, “it was a big deal at the end of April when all the pre-frosh were invited to come. Basically, the entire college put on a big show, and it was a nice way to get the vibe of the community, even if it was on steroids.”

But this year, colleges are closed, travel restricted, and almost every senior in the country sheltering in place, unable to take a last look at schools before making their final decisions. Gunner McCormick ’20 got into 11 colleges, none of which he’d visited before applying. “We were planning on narrowing it down and then visiting the schools to make up my mind,” McCormick says, “but that’s out of the realm of possibility now. So I’ve made a big spreadsheet with all the pros and cons, and I’ve been figuring it out that way. I guess you could say I’ve been doing it digitally.” 

However enterprising a detailed spreadsheet might be, it can’t take the place of talking face-to-face, one-on-one, with current students. So Dr. Kevin Hicks ’85, thinking on his feet, asked the College Center to get in touch with Stevenson alumni currently enrolled in schools around the country to see if any of them would be willing to share their experiences with Stevenson’s seniors. Eighty alumni immediately responded. “Sometimes there were three people from one college who got in touch,” says Bell, “so I’d give the senior all three names.”

Though Ian Duffy ’20 was accepted into Harvey Mudd early decision, he still took the College Counselling Center up on their offer to connect him with alumni, and he emailed two who’d volunteered to speak to him. “They were helpful,” Duffy says. “They really advised me a lot on what programs I should join and what opportunities I could pursue depending on what I want to do after college.” Duffy’s still in touch with both alumni.

Holden Orias ’20 was trying to decide between UC Berkeley and Amherst. (“Go figure,” he says, “Nothing like variety.”) Bell introduced him to Andy Ki ’16 at Amherst, who is also spending his senior year in lockdown. “We were able to bond over the whole no ‘Senior Spring’ thing,” Orias says. “The more people you can actually get into direct contact with,” he continues, “the more helpful it is. So it’s been good having Andy as a source of information.” 

Stevenson’s College Counselling Center landed on its feet after Stevenson closed down, offering webinars to both juniors and seniors, and having one-on-one Zoom sessions. They’ve also been forwarding virtual tours sent from colleges, which, while helpful, are no substitute for the real thing. “Resources that have been shared with us from the colleges kind of help our students learn about the schools,” says Jon Burke, associate head of college counseling. “But, of course, those can be pretty heavily skewed in a marketing direction. Versus the more transparent, firsthand report that you’re going to get from a kid that’s actually an undergraduate student. The truth is, it’s particularly good to connect with students who had a similar high school experience.”

Orias agrees. “The more personal interactions you can have with the person you’re talking to,” he says, “the more fruitful the discussion is.” 

Orias ended up choosing Amherst over UC Berkeley after talking to Ki and weighing his options. “The elite professors/small class sizes, the open curriculum, and impressive pre-med advising (plus the new science center!) are a small section of opportunities that I couldn’t pass up,” he says.

– Trish Deitch