Breadcrumbs

Life Beyond ASL

Dealing with the Unexpected; Embracing the Unknown

By Anne Richardson

May 2022
Are you ready?


Dear professors, bosses and drill sergeants:

Are you ready for the Class of 2022? They are finishing up their AP’s, papers and projects, making their final decisions about where they will go next year and getting ready to graduate – in a year that finally, this semester, seems almost back to normal. 

Halfway through G10 the Class of 2022 went into lockdown, and the rest of their high school has been coated by COVID. But unlike the previous two classes, they have managed to regain certain rites of passage as prom, team sports, clubs and activities this year. They have come together in-person as a class and are excited to graduate together with their entire families and faculty in attendance in ways that we have not been able to do since 2019.
 
The Class of 2022 that arrives on your doorsteps in August is a strong one, and they have accomplished much despite the travails of a global pandemic. They have catapulted back into clubs, activities, councils and service: while they may not all know the term “carpe diem,” they have lived it this year. They are tech-savvy entrepreneurs, human rights scholars, musicians, poets, astronomers, gritty film-makers, computer game-designers and programmers, ambitious leaders, multi-media artists, ardent philosophers, budding politicians, physicists and engineers, aspiring doctors, athletes, composers, award-winning journalists, environmental scientists and climate activists, researchers, novelists, actors, crypto aficionados and investment strategists.  

More importantly, they have learned, in the crucible of the last two and a half years, that they can adapt, learn, pivot, clamor to be heard, think for themselves, learn independently and question everything. They understand the isolation that engenders deep soul-searching and self-examination, and they are embracing this new reality with eager caution. They are impatient to learn more and spread their wings wide and far. I suspect that they will challenge you to think, explore, innovate and adapt, as they face and contemplate this world of change, uncertainty, war and division. While the adults remain fearful, they face what is coming with ambition and optimism.

I hope you are ready and prepared for the talented, strong, curious and motivated Class of 2022.
 


 
1 April 2022
Roller Coaster Living


I have been living in Roller Coaster Land this week – chaperoning 4 Alternatives trips to Thorpe Park with each high school grade – and I feel right at home.  Roller Coaster Land seems an apt metaphor for this year in university advising. 

Rides titled “Tidal Wave” and “Storm Surge” remind me of the rush to October 15th and November 1st, while “The Swarm” and “Colossus” seem aptly to describe the swirls and size of the anxieties that accompany this process, particularly in December and March. 

Certainly, the “Vortex” paints an appropriate picture of yet another yearly swell of applications to the most selective US institutions, thanks to test optional in the US. There is a similar squeeze at well-known elite UK institutions as well, as secondary school numbers here rise. The resulting squeeze in selectivity during the regular decision process has been shockingly dramatic this year, with admit rates drastically down.  

I am reminded that the Class of 2022 are another class that have had their world turned upside down for most of their high school experience, certainly a feature of many rides and experiences this week. 

As one leaves the park, there are a series of checkpoints that remind riders that they leave the park having had their limits tested and having overcome their fears. As one student wrote: Yesterday was one of the best days of my life for a couple reasons, I faced my fears of going onto looping rides and did it, I had an amazing time with my friends, and I had a well needed break from the usual school day. 

Thinking about life beyond ASL, planning for it and making it through senior year is like a visit to Thorpe Park. It’s about testing limits, facing fears, dealing with surges and waves, spinning around like teacups and dealing with some bumper car hard knocks. But you are with your friends and family who support you, and your class are all going through various iterations of this process. And you also have your chaperones who are ever-present with advice, first aid kits and solutions. 


1 March 2022
Life After ASL: Not a Pandemic, but an Annual Infection: Senioritis
 

Symptoms: Chronic irritability and/or moodiness, apathy and lethargy, missing classes and commitments, arguments and break-ups with friends, dismissing beloved institutions: all exacerbated by outside circumstances and weather.

Cure: Commencement

COVID-19 may be on the way out, according to the government, but that other annual infection – Senioritis – is just beginning.

Seniors—this is a time of a TON of mixed emotions.  Some of you are elated, and ready to start your next great adventure tomorrow – “I’m outta here, ASL!”. Others of you are still waiting anxiously for news, and this is so hard (and your parent/guardian(s) may also be very anxious about this as well – which makes you even more anxious.)  Still others are making different plans that are wonderful, but there can be a feeling that these plans “don’t measure up” to those of your peers. 
Senioritis is about playing the waiting game gracefully and learning how to say goodbye graciously. For most of you, decisions continue to land in your inbox.  Some of them will be happy decisions, others will extend the waiting game or firmly close a door. This really hurts. But again, remember, that this process does not define who you are or your self-worth. And again, things will work out. There are all kinds of cliches about when one door closes another one opens... but the bottom line is, things happen for a reason, and this will work out. But the bumps and bruises along the way are tough.

At the same time, you are facing a big ending. All of you are going to have to say goodbye to ASL in June, not forever (you will always be Eagles!), but it is time to move on to your next great adventure. This is hard, too. In these scary moments, sometimes it is so much easier to shove things and especially people far away first, and not have to deal with the feelings, fears and tears of goodbyes. Often, we hurt the people we love the most. But, in the end, this will end up hurting you more.

Treatment:
Be kind, be kind, be kind (thank you, Ms. Hester) to each other: You are the amazing Class of 2022. You have survived 24 months of a global pandemic spanning most of high school. You have coped with immense turmoil with energy and grace. 
So.
Wrap your arms around each other, support your peers through these months, empathize and don't compare, don't put down, don’t push away. 
Don't blast news - good and bad - over social media. Don't ask each other publicly, "Where are you going?"  
Wait, instead, for those who want to share to do so, quietly and privately, and if it is sad news, empathize; if it is happy news, congratulate. 

Grades, commitments, AP exams, and obligations matter: Second semester is important, and it is hard to focus second semester senior year.  Yet, those AP exams matter, as many institutions will give you advanced credit for good scores, transcripts still have to be sent, and there are many institutions who will take a hard look at your academic performance in second semester.  Use the supports that you have at home and at school to help you maintain your focus and motivation through until Commencement.  Ask for help if and when you need it to make it through. It will make a difference as to how you exit.
The Cure: Remember: the best cure for senioritis is not to shove people and things away, but to come together, so that at Commencement, you can truly celebrate yourselves and your class: that you made it through these unprecedented times - together. 
You can do this, oh wonderful Class of 2022. Onwards to Commencement!
 


 
26 January 2022
New Beginnings
 

As we approached 2022, it began to look a lot like 2021 – a COVID surge, beloved celebrities and heroes lost, weather catastrophes, travel restrictions and more – and yet, I felt a surge of optimism and excitement as January 2022 arrived.  

I feel like this every January because this is when I inherit a whole new group of students to work with – my juniors.  

Don’t get me wrong – I have loved working with my seniors, every single one of them, despite a new crop of grey hairs and procrastination-producing emergencies. They have made me laugh and cry joyfully with their final essays and have soldiered on in masks, through illness and isolations, all while embracing academic challenges and relishing the rebirth of sports and activities. But they have almost outgrown us - their university advisors – now looking firmly beyond us and beyond ASL as their dreams and plans come into focus. 

And so, while I am certainly not entirely letting go of my seniors – and experience has taught me that they come back after graduation (and that is another blog post) – in January, I turn to my juniors and the wide-eyed wonder and apprehension that comes with them into this new part of their ASL journey.

“Excited but nervous” is the refrain as I meet with them for the first time, loving to listen intently to their stories and dreams, while reassuring them that we’ve got them through this process. They are dreaming big - and so, often are their parent/guardian(s) – and while sometimes wildly impractical, this is the time to embrace and empower them to get as close to achieving their dreams as possible. I love taking all the puzzle pieces and helping them begin to fit them together into a cohesive whole, adding new pieces and reshaping others to fill holes.  How about some outside reading in this area? Have you thought about this course for senior year?  Look at this great summer program and that volunteer opportunity! Did you find this WorkX internship on the list? We explore senior schedules and offer programming on the many possibilities beyond ASL. Have you thought about studying in this country? Or that program? Have you heard of this amazing institution that has everything you are looking for? 

So while Januarys may not look so different from Decembers, for me they are always new and exciting, filled with hopes and dreams – and lots of juniors. 


1 December 2021
Being Rejected: A Letter to our Seniors (an annual letter)


Dear Seniors, 

I had a terrible university advisor.

It was my father, and while he was great at many, many things, he was terrible at university advising. Because there was no-one at my British boarding school who knew anything about US colleges, he ended up picking out 6 colleges for me, by prestige and name only, and then added a 7th, because he had had a girlfriend who went there. Neither of these is a recommended way to pick a college. But what did I know? I dutifully applied, took my SAT at the nearest US army base in the UK, and waited.

I ended up being rejected from the 6 name schools and admitted for the second semester at the 7th. I wanted to crawl into a dark corner and stay there each time I opened the letter (the slim envelope of yesteryears.)

I was … well … rejected.

While others around me were getting offers and happy news, I was not. It hurt. And when that final envelope came, and I found out that one place wanted me … but not until second semester, I felt more relief than joy.

Those feelings, however, were fleeting and temporary. Yes, it definitely hurts to be rejected, and it is definitely a time to crawl under the duvet with Netflix and Ben & Jerry’s or whatever comforts you.  But then you emerge, and you figure out the next step.

For me, life went on, the sun came up every day, and as I researched (finally) my college, I began to be really excited about my next great adventure. And, who knew, I now had half a gap year to design. I could earn some money in the summer, and then travel in the fall – which I did. I ended up working and living in Paris for four months.  Amazing. And when I finally arrived at college, I loved it. It turned out to be a turning point in my life; I wouldn’t be who or where I am today, without that defining college experience at that particular institution.

There are three important things to remember this month:

  1. You are not defined by the university process: do not allow yourself to be defined by it. You are the same wonderful senior that you were before you opened that email.
  2. We all get rejected at some point in our lives. It stings terribly at the time, but you can, should and will move on from it.
  3. I truly believe that things will work out for the best for each and every one of you.

I ended up being rejected from the 6 name schools and admitted for the second semester at the 7th.

It was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

All the best,
Mrs. R.


26 October 2021
Leaving Kansas: The Testing Tsunami

“Toto, I have a feeling we are not in Kansas, anymore.” 

An apt phrase, perhaps, to describe the testing landscape in college/university applications, most specifically in the US, in 2021. 

Over the past two years, the world of SAT and ACT, so long a benchmark and “must have” for college/university admissions, has been upended in ways unimaginable just a few short years ago. The tsunami of a  move in the US to “test-optional” or “test-flexible” has changed the admissions world, and must change the way in which we—university advisors, parents and students—approach the admissions process. 

A tsunami is “a series of waves in a water body caused by the displacement of a large volume of water …. Rather than appearing as a breaking wave, a tsunami may instead initially resemble a rapidly rising tide.” (Wikipedia) The test optional movement has a rising tide for years—Bowdoin College went test-optional in 1969—and prior to 2020 the numbers were growing steadily, albeit slowly. 

Then came the earthquake that was COVID. “Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and other underwater explosions (including detonations, landslides, glacier calvings, meteorite impacts and other disturbances) above or below water all have the potential to generate a tsunami.” (Wikipedia) The resulting cancellation of test administrations globally forced colleges to pivot almost overnight into a test-optional world. Even non-US institutions reeled as other important high school tests and benchmarks were left by the wayside in this COVID moment.   

“Tsunamis generally consist of a series of waves, with periods ranging from minutes to hours, arriving in a so-called ‘wave train.’ Wave heights of tens of metres can be generated by large events… [and their] power can be enormous …” (Wikipedia) Since COVID, the “wave train” of test-optional has continued. The University of California system is now test blind, and this week announced that the SAT/ACT will not be replaced by another test. Other large university systems have followed. Still yet another wave came from the NCAA this week, with a task force recommending that the SAT/ACT testing requirement be removed for aspiring D1 and D2 athletes. Even as the tsunami wave of COVID recedes, I strongly suspect that we will remain in a test-optional world when it comes to US college/university admissions.

So what does this mean? This means that we all need to rethink testing.

  1. Test Optional is REALLY Test Optional and is here to stay.  The question now to ask is: will testing add value to an application?
  2. Students (and their parent/guardian(s)) should not rush into testing without a clear plan. Taking the SAT or ACT should no longer be automatic or started early. Testing needs to be planned with a university advisor and timed carefully.
  • FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)
    • We are in new territory here, and it is really important not to be swept away by friends, co-workers, online chats and “I heard that...” 
    • What parents did when applying to college or even what a sibling did a few years ago can no longer be a guide for a Grade 11 student. The landscape has changed. 
    • Do not feel that your student is behind. They are not. We will not let that happen. What we will do is consider each student’s individual post-secondary goals and aspirations and tailor a plan to where that student is now and where they want to go. This is not a race. 
    • Do not allow your student to feel that they are behind. They are not. 
    • One size does not fit all. 
  • What is your student sacrificing for testing?  What is more important?
    • In a rush to testing and hours of test prep, inevitably something is sacrificed. 
    • What is your student giving up to devote to test preparation and testing?
    • If they are giving up homework time, family time or activities, this is not a good trade-off. Testing and test prep are not extra/super curricular activities!
    • The transcript, extracurricular and super curricular activities are more important parts of an application than ever. 

21 September 2021
They’re overwhelmed, stressed, but happy…

I have been polling my senior advisory lately.  We each pick three words that describe where we are at that particular moment.  We go around the room once, sharing our words, and then we go around again, explaining one of them.  This week it was mostly words that added up to: overwhelmed, stressed, happy.

How could this be? Words like “stressed’ and “overwhelmed” make any advisor’s ears go on the alert. As we went around the room again, two themes emerged.

The first theme is that while each senior has a lot on their plate, and while this is causing a certain amount of stress and feelings, at times, of being overwhelmed, they are handling it. Much has been written about good vs. bad stress, and we certainly talk about it in Student Advising because most of us in a setting like school deal with stress and stressors every day.

At the moment, it’s good stress, and I am encouraged.  “I feel like I’ve got this right now,” said one. “I’ve felt this before, and I know what to do,” said another. Even though they are three weeks into school; still masked; with assessments beginning to land in quantity; with sports, clubs, councils and other activities finally well underway; and with the applications elephant squarely in the room – the seniors expected to be this way and are prepared.  They know they are supported, they know how to access their resources, they feel positive; in other words, they are taking all of this in stride.

The second, and more joyful theme is that they are happy.  Happy to be back at school; happy to see their friends, even though they are behind masks; happy to be seniors with senior traditions such as senior sunrise, the senior Tube photo, and more underway; happy that things feel as if they are returning to normal. And the Class of 2022 has not seen normal since the middle of their sophomore year. While we have all survived bare bones in-person and remote school for the last 18 months - some better than others - we have all seen how much of school is about learning in all spaces. While academics remain the priority, the last 18 months have reminded us starkly that academics alone do not make a school experience.

I suspect that the words will change, and the balance will shift one way or the other as we move through the year, but I am heartened by current combination.  I look forward to this year, with everything crossed that “more normal” and the joy that this brings will continue.


10 May 2021
Are you ready for the Class of 2021?

Dear colleges and universities, bosses and drill sergeants:

I hope you are ready for the Class of 2021, for they are on their way. They are finishing up their exams and papers, making their final decisions about where they will go next year and getting ready to graduate – all the things that seniors normally do at this time of year - but this year is different.  

If we on the high school side have learned anything, we have learned that the Class of 2021 are a resilient bunch.  They have endured 18 months of loss – haven’t we all, you might ask?  But 18 months for a 17-year-old is almost 10% of their life. The Class of 2021 have never been to a prom, they haven’t played sports for months, they have missed essential rites of passage, they have been separated from or lost family members and friends, they have been out of school, they have quarantined, they have Zoomed, they have worn masks. The Class of 2021 while perhaps united on Zoom, have not been united in person for over a year.  And while we as faculty and staff have tried to carry on the business of school through distance learning, Zoom classes, online exams, no exams, socially distanced classes, masked meetings, virtual college visits, fairs, interviews and more, let’s face it: nothing has been normal. We are all fractious and frayed by loss.

However, the Class of 2021 that arrives on your doorsteps in August is a strong one.  These are the students who have not only dealt with all that is COVID, but also have been awakened by and perhaps have become climate change and Black Lives Matter activists.  They have been through Brexit, the Chauvin trial, the January 6 Capitol riot: they have watched, pondered, discussed, marched and protested. They have discussed the stumbling politics and controversies that have swirled around them; and many of them have become activists. This class cares about the state of the world, and they are ready to make a difference. They have learned, in the crucible of the last 18 months, that they can adapt, learn, protest, pivot, clamour to be heard, think for themselves and not believe everything they read and hear. They are adept with technology, savvy about social media, and unafraid to demand change. They have had time to think. They are eager.   

I suspect that you all will have to make adjustments for your Class of 2025. Many have not been in a classroom for months, many have experienced great loss, and many have not socialized for months; there will be academic gaps to fill, mental health needs, norms to re-introduce, and the social pendulum may swing wildly for some months. I suspect that they will give you some headaches.  But I also hope that they will challenge you to discuss, re-evaluate, pivot and think about change on a global scale, just as they have had to do. 

I hope you are ready and prepared for the strong, curious, different and amazing Class of 2021.


12 April 2021
Yes – And 

Those of you theatre buffs will know that “Yes-And” is a classic improv theatre technique:  “It’s the acceptance principle — when someone in a scene states something, accept it as truth. The “and” part of this principle means to build on that reality that has been set.”

I have been thinking about this a lot this week, as ASL high school students finalize course scheduling, as the OSA office begins to welcome G8 students into the high school course scheduling process, and as seniors continue to receive decisions from universities, colleges and programs.

There’s always good news and bad news:  yes, you’ve been recommended for this course, and no, you cannot take that course; yes, you’ve been accepted here, and no, you’ve been denied there.  

I have been there (rejected from 6 universities and a spring admit at the 7th).  The “no” part really stings.  

But I was heartened this week to read a couple of emails from seniors, one which I share: “Honestly, at first I was heartbroken, but I started really looking into [X] university and my sadness for [Y] university has kind of been overshadowed with my excitement for other schools … [this] is becoming more and more exciting the more I look into it.”

This is the “Yes – And” of student and university advising.  

The rejection or deny undeniably hurts, but it is not the end. Often it is a new beginning. There are still many opportunities to carve a pathway through high school, through university, through life, and if you say “Yes – And,” you step into a new and often exciting space and place.  That 7th spring admit was one of the best things to happen to me and changed my life. 

Jane Lynch, of Glee fame as well as being an Emmy and Golden Globe winning actress said it the best when she spoke at Smith College's 134th commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 20, 2012. In her speech she advocates for the “Yes-And” principle:  

As you travel through life, in these many years ahead, I guarantee that you will come upon countless times in which the last thing you’re gonna want to say is “YES AND.” …The trick isn’t to avoid these times or pretend they’re not happening; you can’t. What you’ll need to do is step up to them courageously and embrace them. Allow these experiences to permeate your being and weave them all into the fabric of your life. They will not only soften you and strengthen you, and you will open your heart to compassion. You will not be powerless in this. If you embrace what is happening, instead of denying it, you can make it your own. …

Whatever it is, the good, the bad, the thrilling, the heartbreaking, every emotion, occurrence, event, person, place or thing, you will experience them all. That’s the “YES” I’m talking about. And the acceptance and embrace of it with all your heart and doing something with it, that’s the “AND.” You accept influence and then you exert influence. You can’t make a cloudy day a sunny day, but can embrace it and decide it’s going to be a good day after all.“Yes – And” - let’s do this.


8 March 2021
Compasses Not Maps

And so it begins once more …

It is always exciting to turn the corner with seniors at the end of January, and turn much of our attention to the juniors. There is a heady mixture of excitement, possibilities and anxiety as they begin the final leg of their high school journey -  together - with each other, and with their families.

At the same time, we are journeying with grades 9 and 10, each of whom are reaching various forks in the road as they start thinking about courses for next year. Teachers, advisors, deans, university advisors, mentors, support staff and, of course, families are stationed along the way, cheering and steering students on this amazing adventure.

Spring, journeys, roadmaps, forks in the road – all of this leads me to one of my favourite quotes which I turn to every year at this time.

We believe students should follow compasses over maps, pursuing points of direction rather than specific destinations and trusting they will end up where they belong. As such, we always encourage students to undertake whatever course of action in life is most meaningful to, and consistent with, their own principles, and not prioritize how it might impact their college applications. 
Stuart Schmill, Dean of Admission, MIT

“Compasses over maps” speaks to everything that ASL believes about learning in all spaces, about pursuing interests over AP’s, about fit over names and rankings.  As students start to think about courses for next year, about summer activities, and as ASL gets back into the building with sports, clubs and activities opening back up, we are committed to supporting students in expanding and developing their interests and stories, exploring new directions and ideas, and deepening current involvements. To this end, check out our new section of Enrichment Opportunities.

For juniors this is both an exciting and anxious time to be exploring, locally and globally. COVID has had an impact on university admissions all over the world, but perhaps most spectacularly in the US, with the test-optional movement exploding onto the scene in the last year. At the same time, the proliferation of virtual admissions sessions, chats, classes and one-on-ones with admissions officers has opened up a much wider world of exciting global possibilities for juniors.  Again, thankfully, there is a cheering and steering section of all kinds of advisors and families running along beside each junior with suggestions, water, high fives and tissues.

All of which leads me to another favourite quote:  When you come to a fork in the road, take it. Yogi Berra


8 February 2021
Life After ASL: Not a Pandemic, but an Annual Infection: Senioritis
 


Symptoms: Chronic irritability and/or moodiness, apathy and lethargy, missing classes and commitments, arguments and break-ups with friends, dismissing beloved institutions: all exacerbated by outside circumstances and weather.

Cure: Commencement

We are in the middle of COVID-19… and Senioritis.

Seniors—it’s hard right now. In any year, this time is hard for seniors. In 2021, it’s unbelievably hard. It’s unbelievable that we have been in this pandemic for almost a year, that you have either been in school masked and socially distanced, or at home Zooming, locked away from your friends. It’s so unfair, and yet here we are. 

Senioritis is about playing the waiting game gracefully and learning how to say goodbye graciously. For most of you, decisions are beginning to land in your inbox.  Some of them will be happy decisions, others will extend the waiting game or firmly close a door. This really hurts. But again, remember, that this process does not define who you are or your self-worth. And again, things will work out. There are all kinds of cliches about when one door closes another one opens... but the bottom line is, things happen for a reason and this will work out. But the bumps and bruises along the way are tough.

At the same time, you are facing a big ending. All of you are going to have to say goodbye to ASL in June, not forever (you will always be Eagles!), but it is time to move on to your next great adventure.  This is hard, too. In these scary moments, sometimes it is so much easier to shove things and especially people far away first, and not have to deal with the feelings, fears and tears of goodbyes. Often, we hurt the people we love the most. But, in the end, this will end up hurting you more.

Treatment until the Cure:

Be kind, be kind, be kind (thank you, Ms. Hester) to each other: You are the amazing Class of 2021. You have survived 12+months of a global pandemic during your junior and senior years. You have coped with immense turmoil with energy and grace. Wrap your arms around each other, support your peers through these months, empathize and don't compare, don't put down, don’t push away. Don't blast news - good and bad - over social media. Don't ask each other publicly, "Where are you going?"  Wait, instead, for those who want to share to do so, quietly and privately, and if it is sad news, empathize; if it is happy news, congratulate. The best cure for senioritis is not to hole up at home, but to come together now virtually and, hopefully soon, in person, so that at Commencement, you can truly celebrate yourselves and your class: that you made it through these unprecedented times - together.

Grades, commitments, AP exams, and obligations matter: Second semester is important, and it is doubly hard to focus in lockdown. But, transcripts still have to be sent, and there are many institutions who will take note of your academic performance in second semester. It is not uncommon for seniors to struggle with focus and motivation in second semester at some point; 3 lockdowns and quarantines have made this harder.  Use the supports that you have at home and at school to help you maintain your focus and motivation through until Commencement.  Ask for help if and when you need it to make it through. It will make a difference as to how you exit.

You can do this, oh wonderful Class of 2021. Onwards to Commencement!


11 January 2021
Let’s Just Keep Talking…


If we learned anything the first week in January 2021, it is that COVID-19 is no respecter of calendars, and that 2021 looks a lot like 2020.  The UK plunged back into lockdown and other countries scrambled to cope with a new variant, ASL moved back into distance learning and the US was plunged violently into disarray. 

Instead of looking forward, we spent the first week going back and down. 

As Joe Wicks, one of the UK’s favourite fitness instructors and a lockdown hero, said on that early January Monday night, as the Prime Minister announced the third lockdown, it’s ok to be upset and sad, it’s ok not to be strong. He spoke eloquently of the many locked down all over the world in difficult and lonely situations. At the same time, he also reminded us that we must keep moving forward, taking care of our physical and mental health in these times. He reminded us that we all need to exercise in some way every day; and we need to keep communicating, keep chatting, keep talking.

Luckily, January is the month that I get to talk seriously and every day with juniors who are starting to think about and make plans for life beyond ASL, with all the possibilities and dreams this brings. I also continue to chat with my seniors, as news rolls in about their hopes and dreams for next year and they prepare, this final semester, to fly the ASL nest.  One of the reasons I love my job is that I get to spend every day with students who are excited about the possibilities that life holds.  Full of innovation, activism and vision, with a desire and drive to make positive change, these are the people I am pinning my hopes on for a better 2021. I have also taken note that Joe Wicks is starting up his lockdown fitness for everyone on January 11th, and that the New York Times has published a very doable 7-minute at home standing workout.  

I also get to talk with my advisees twice a week, and that is a true gift, too. Although Zoom is distancing, seeing and hearing them talk about the world – ASL and beyond – is a joy. And we have done this before, making our own fun, doing the NYT Spelling Bee together and more. In short, the New Year’s resolution I am absolutely going to keep is to keep communicating, to keep reaching out, to keep checking in (and maybe I will keep the fitness ones as well.)

I do believe Joe Wicks’ final words when he says: “We are going to get through this.” The fact that multiple scientists and volunteers throughout the world have brought vaccines to our doors so quickly is a sign of everything good in our world; the fact that our healthcare workers, our essential workers, our stay at home workers, our parents, our teachers and our students do their very best to get up every day, connect with people, do their work well and look to the future brings great, great hope.


7 December 2020
Being Rejected: A Letter to our Seniors


Dear Seniors:

I had a terrible university advisor.

It was my father, and while he was great at many, many things, he was terrible at university advising. Because there was no-one at my British boarding school who knew anything about US colleges, he ended up picking 6 colleges for me, by prestige and name only, and then added a 7th, because he had had a girlfriend who went there. Neither of these is a recommended way to pick a college. But what did I know? I dutifully applied, took my SAT at the nearest US army base in the UK, and waited.

I ended up being rejected from the 6 name schools, and admitted for the second semester at the 7th. I wanted to crawl into a dark corner and stay there each time I opened the letter (the slim envelope of yesteryears.) I was … well … rejected. While others around me were getting offers and happy news, I was not. And when that final envelope came, and I found out that one place wanted me … but not until second semester, I felt more relief than joy.

Those feelings, however, were fleeting and temporary.

After all, life went on, the sun came up every day, and as I researched (finally) my college, I began to be really excited about my next great adventure. And, who knew, I now had half a gap year to design. I could earn some money in the summer, and then travel in the fall – which I did. I ended up working and living in Paris for four months.  Amazing. And when I finally arrived at college, I loved it. It turned out to be a turning point in my life; I wouldn’t be who or where I am today, without that defining college experience at that particular institution.

There are three important things to remember this month:

  1. You are not defined by the university process: do not allow yourself to be defined by it. You are the same wonderful senior that you were before you opened that letter/email.
  2. We all get rejected at some point in our lives. It stings terribly at the time, but you can, should and will move on from it.
  3. I truly believe that things will work out for the best for each and every one of you.

I ended up being rejected from the 6 name schools, and admitted for the second semester at the 7th.

It was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

All the best,

Mrs. R.


2 November 2020
Checking In

It occurred to Pooh and Piglet that they hadn’t heard from Eeyore for several days, so they put on their hats and coats and trotted across the Hundred Acre Wood to Eeyore’s stick house. Inside the house was Eeyore.

‘Hello Eeyore,’ said Pooh.
‘Hello Pooh. Hello Piglet,’ said Eeyore, in a Glum Sounding voice.
‘We just thought we’d check in on you,’ said Piglet, ‘because we hadn’t heard from you, and so we wanted to know if you were okay.’

- A. A. MilneI’ll admit 2020 has not been a great year. Actually, it has been a truly awful year. 

This week we face a bitter, divisive election in the US; and the UK news this weekend has dealt further blows in the UK with a national lockdown until December 2nd, although schools and colleges will stay open. Thanksgiving over here looks a little lonely.  

At ASL we have been open since the beginning of the school year, wearing masks, walking on a one-way system, sitting in desks all facing one way (where are those Harkness tables?) and sanitising, sanitising, sanitising. We have been fortunate so far to have only a few cases, with cohorts and bubbles quarantining as necessary. Some students and faculty are on their second time around staying home, staying in for 14 days. And November is here, which means the seniors (and their university advisors) have survived the first big round of application deadlines, with all the accompanying angst as well as, this year, pandemic and test-optional angst.

Eeyore goes on in this excerpt to reveal that he feels really “rather Sad, and Alone, and not Much Fun to Be Around At All.” I suspect that we are all a little sad and feeling alone right now, and the next month does not look like much fun at all.

I suspect we all feel a little Eeyore-ish right now. Which is why we need to check in on each other. 

As the days grow darker, and we face what experts predict as a hard winter of illness, denials, separation and bitterness, checking in with our friends and families, our neighbors and our teams is essential. Even if there is not a lot to share – just the act of checking in brings necessary and welcome light to the darker moments.

Because “while Pooh and Piglet said nothing at all; somehow, almost imperceptibly, Eeyore started to feel a very tiny little bit better.

Because Pooh and Piglet were There.

No more; no less.”

Let’s be there too.


14 October 2020
Time To Be Slow

My first day out of quarantine, and the last day of fall break, I was raring to go. Having not been further than the wheelie bins by the front door, I was ready for a long walk, a socially-distanced lunch with a friend, and a quick stop at the local shop for milk. 

Sitting on the Tube – thankfully, everyone masked and socially distanced – I found myself staring at Poems on the Underground, a wonderful innovation that provides a moment of calm and introspection on the rattling, noisy tracks.  And this is what I read:

I love this poem.

I am watching our seniors race through October, frantically finishing and polishing applications while keeping up with their classes. I am watching my colleagues teetering to balance advising and proofreading with writing and polishing recommendations. I am watching our faculty reeling and bracing under the weight of combining teaching, advising and Zooming in new distanced and masked ways. And we are all trying to find balance in the enormous sombre shadows of a pandemic and, for many here, a pivotal, bitter election.

When I meet my advisees today, we are going to talk about how we can reconcile our daily lives with “time to be slow.” We will tackle the “wire brush of doubt,” and encourage each other to burnish the “hesitant light” and “remain generous.” I do believe, I have to believe that there are “fresh pastures of promise … blushed with beginning.” When historians write about 2020, they will undoubtedly focus first on the terrible mistakes and costs of this year; I hope they also focus on the power of individual acts of generosity and kindness that help us all survive.

And I will remind myself to “be slow,” which means taking care of myself, slowing down, accepting that more weeks of self-isolation and lockdown probably lie ahead, along with dark winter days and curtailed holidays and celebrations. Life will continue to be difficult on so many fronts, but I remain buoyed by many individual and daily acts of generosity, kindness and light.

“This is a time to be slow … [but] Time will come good.”


14 September 2020
Reimagining the Admissions World

At ASL this year, our school-wide theme is “reimagining the world,” and in my small part of the world, re-imagining college and university admissions is happening astonishingly fast.

COVID-19 upended the world of college/university admissions, beginning with testing for US institutions. To be fair, admissions testing was already under scrutiny in multiple ways, from the Reuters series of articles on testing difficulties for international students, to the Varsity Blues scandal; from  the University of California review of testing to the NACAC Task Force on Testing for International and US Students. The test-optional movement was already growing, particularly amongst colleges with holistic review as the hallmark of their admissions policies, and Duolingo, with its on-demand, at-home testing at a significantly lower cost, was upsetting the applecart when it came to testing English language proficiency.

As COVID-19 gathered speed across the world, it became very clear that the Class of 2021 would simply have to be evaluated differently. Exams and admissions tests were cancelled, moved online or changed; grading changed to P/F for many schools; and curricula and teaching were completely upended by global distance learning. The massive list of clubs and activities is non-existent for the Class of 2021, summer jobs and opportunities vanished.

Reimagining the admissions process has begun.

Test-optional, and even test-blind, has become ubiquitous in the US, and universities outside of the US may also need to examine transcripts and honors courses as substitutes for AP’s and SAT/ACT tests. The traditional selling of the university experience through campus tours, visiting classes, interviews and open days has been forced online. Rep visits this fall are virtual, necessitating changes in timings of visits and webinars.  College fairs?  Virtual. Most importantly, colleges and universities are rapidly retraining their admissions staff to evaluate admissions files in completely different ways this year.

What does this mean for the Class of 2021 and beyond?

Crystal balls aside, we are encouraging the Class of 2021 to focus on classwork first, and to make sure that the quality of their essays is high, with their own voice clearly ringing throughout. Excellent research on each institution is more essential than ever. With more test cancellations occurring, testing needs to take a backseat, and this is a particularly hard switch to flip for parents and students. In July, the Harvard Graduate School of Education released a statement from more than 300 college admissions deans that clarifies what colleges value during these times: self-care, service to others, caring for families and meaningful learning. Clearly context matters, and it will be important to reflect this both in applications and in letters of reference, as well as encouraging students to take advantage of creative ways in which colleges are focusing on what really matters: short interviews, videos and more. The upside of all of this will be to see if the absence of SAT’s and ACT’s really makes a difference to enrolling a qualified class. The other silver lining in the midst of this pandemic, according to Frank Bruni, is a renewed focus on programs and teaching as the primary value of an institution. In other words, is it the right fit? Is this the place where I can be academically successful?

If reimagining the college and university admissions world brings us back to valuing teaching and learning over testing, and prioritizing fit over the glitz of new buildings and dining plans, then that looks pretty good to me.