By Sandy Stack, Director of Enrollment, Financial Aid, & Institutional Research
At one of our Open House events earlier this month, I looked out over the crowd of students and parents as they huddled over the packs of cards we distribute to each group. The cards are printed with phrases like, “be accepted for who you are,” “encouraged to take healthy risks,” and “inspiring teachers,” and they are designed to spark conversation about what the family is looking for in a high school experience. Each group was having an animated discussion about what is important to them, and each group’s answer was a little different. Some were looking for something familiar to latch onto in order to feel more comfortable, while others were eager to venture out into something entirely new. Every year, this is one of those moments that I enjoy observing; you can see these young eighth graders lighting up as they consider all the possibilities laid out before them. And surprised parents light up, too, seeing the unexpected energy levels of their teens toward high school and learning.
Conversation is at the heart of our Admissions process; in fact, I often think of the admissions season as an ongoing conversation with prospective families. You start with small talk; then, as you establish more of a connection, you get to the headier stuff, and my favorite part: what is important to you and for your teen? What do you hope for from the high school experience? What will your teen need in order to thrive? As we enter into the time of year when these conversations get deeper, I am curious, excited, and extremely full of pride in our school.
Throughout the fall, we have been visiting many middle schools around the region. Our All-Star student represpresentives come along to speak about the everyday experience at Sonoma Academy, answering questions and sharing the things they love about their school. Their enthusiasm and passion for their school is the best advertising, and it is extremely valuable for prospective applicants to hear directly from current students themselves.
Our Early Decision deadline is right around the corner, and this is where we really get to know the first round of our applicants. The admissions committee looks carefully at the whole picture —not just grades and test scores (although those are important, too), but activities, recommendations, and attitude. This year, we have added a new element to our application process, the SSAT Character Assessment. This survey of social and emotional temperament will provide another fascinating data point, painting a more detailed picture of each applicant.
It’s impossible to say exactly what kind of applicant is the ideal fit for Sonoma Academy, because our students are such wonderful mashups of skills, passions, and abilities. Essentially, the ideal applicant is interested, motivated, curious, and eager to be a part of an inclusive learning community, and those characteristics come in many guises. Just as it is in a great conversation where the participants are on the same wavelength, understanding and engaging one another, sometimes there is an intangible “click.” That is what we are looking for, above all.
In a few weeks, I will have another one of those moments that I look forward to during admissions season, when I sit with visiting families in the bleachers during Community Meeting on Visit Day. I am always filled with pride as I see the talent, confidence, and capacities on display, and prospective parents are often in awe of what our students can do. Community Meeting always reminds me of how inspired I am by our collaborative, supportive culture, where students are encouraged to develop deep self-knowledge and to maintain a healthy balance, even as they take risks and stretch themselves. As I watch prospective families begin to understand our unique and special community, I feel fortunate and honored to be involved in introducing them to our school for the 12th year!