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St. Paul's 'boot camp' gives seniors a leg up on college applications

As he watched college application process grow more competitive and saw deadlines creeping up into the beginning of the school year, Jake Talmage, director of college counseling at St. Paul's School in Brooklandville, saw the effects on the school's seniors.

At St. Paul's, seniors are student government leaders, team captains and club presidents, but most of their free time was spent stressing over applications.

"We saw that happen, and we worried that guys were losing their senior year," Talmage said. "We need them to be seniors."

To help allow that to happen, Talmage developed a "college application boot camp" for the school's rising seniors that takes them step-by-step through the process and removes what's become a huge burden from them before their academic, social and extracurricular responsibilities ramp up.

"When they come back officially in two weeks, they can be seniors, because most of the application is out of the way," Talmage said.

The first of two one-week sessions ran during the week of Aug. 6; the second session runs the week of Aug. 13. Talmage said 74 of the 92 rising seniors took advantage of the program.

On the first day, they covered the common college application, which 488 colleges and universities nationwide accept.

Senior Teddy Plass, 17, of Bel Air, said they went through every page of the application, pointing out what's being specifically asked for in each section and giving tips on how to make it look better to admissions officers.

The second day was dedicated to essay workshops, in which students analyzed real essays and worked with teachers and peers on what they might write their own essay about.

"The essay is a big part of the application, and coming into this, I didn't really know what I was going to write about," said Alec White, 18 of Cedarcroft. "They've really guided us through that process of writing it, coming up with an idea, and they're helping us edit it as well."

Day three was a session on short answer questions, while day four was used to show the students where to find supplements to the common application and how to navigate admissions websites for schools that have their own application.

The final day of week one focused on the college interview, with Calvin Wise, assistant director of admissions at Johns Hopkins University, joining the class to run through some simulated interviews that show the young men some examples of how to present themselves in a college interview.

First, a teacher sat in and gave an example of a good interview. Then Wise — with sleeves rolled up, a backwards hat from another university and a loose tie — went through a brief interview with Talmage, showing a combination of academic indifference, bad posture and arrogance that drew chuckles from the students, but that Talmage insists he's seen before.

After the examples, students broke off into their own small interview sessions before Wise gave them advise on the interview and application process they were about to embark on.

"If you have a really good interview, it turns into a conversation," he said. He also encouraged the students to do their research and express interest in the school.

All told, the students said they feel the sessions give them a leg up. In some cases, it was a lesson passed down from the five classes of St. Paul's seniors since Talmage began the program. Jake Carbone, 17, of Lutherville, had two older brothers take part, and he said they told him it was really helpful in the process.

Ryan Heacox, 18, of Lutherville, was told the importance of the sessions by his sister's boyfriend.

Both Heacox and Carbone feel like they'll have the common application finished before school starts, and are grateful to the timeline provided to each student with application deadlines for each of their perspective schools.

With a chunk of the work done and the rest laid out in a schedule, Heacox and Carbone will be in good shape once hockey season rolls around. White will have time to write for the school paper and PressBox magazine, and though crew season isn't until the spring, Plass will enter the season worry-free.

"I think the best thing is that I'm going in with confidence, because this has helped a lot," Plass said. "I'm not as worried about the process. I feel like I have a good base on what I have to do and what I should be doing in the future."

See related items for a quiz to test your college application acumen.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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