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IWA Enhances its College Counseling Program

The week before school started, a dozen IWA rising seniors were clustered in the library, hunched over laptops. They were looking up colleges, working on their essays and planning how to navigate the busy fall admissions season. 

A student brought her iPad over to college counselor Lesley Watkins.

"I changed up my essay," she said hesitantly. 

Watkins skimmed it. 

The pair discussed potential revisions and the student went back to her seat to revise.

Watkins set up the advising session to give students a communal place to work on their college applications. She hosted another during the first week of school, this one specifically about crafting college essays and personal statements, and other writing assignments colleges ask for on their applications.

Nearly 30 students showed up.

"This is a way for them to see that they are all going through the same thing," said Watkins, who moved from student to student, offering advice, answering questions about everything from grammar to subject matter, and helping students focus on how best to showcase themselves. "They may be at different stages — some might be just starting, others may be polishing a draft — but they are all somewhere in this process."

"This process" can be daunting, for students and parents alike. There's so much to consider: which schools have great programs, how to apply for financial aid, do you pick a school close to home or far away, how can a student stand out to a competitive school? 

Watkins hopes sessions like these can demystify the college application process. Throughout the fall, she's set up several workshops for students and parents. She sends out a weekly, emailed newsletter to seniors and their families, and in September launches a monthly send-out for juniors and theirs. The newsletters offer advice on how to prioritize college applications, proper procedures for requesting recommendation letters and transcripts, and other necessary steps in applying to college. She's also in the process of meeting one-on-one with every member of the senior class. She said she'll continue hosting workshops and advising sessions for students to come together and work on their applications. 

The sessions are proving valuable.

"I really appreciated the support we have gotten from Mrs. Watkins by sending multiple essay links, scholarship opportunities, and how she's hosted multiple college advising sessions," said Lauren Trahan '22, who attended the essay writing workshop. "It is so special to know that we have someone in our corner during what can be a stressful and overwhelming time."

Lauren said that seeing Watkins pause to give each student individual advice was helpful, not only for the tips she gave, but also to help the students feel they're weren't entirely on their own. 

"These sessions allow all of those summer questions and final application questions to be answered and make us more prepared for college," she said.

Elizabeth Hatten '22 has already applied to several schools, but she attended the writing session anyway. 

"It gave me the opportunity to ask questions about more competitive colleges and allowed me to become a more competitive applicant," she said. "Mrs. Watkins has helped me thoroughly through the college application process and submitting early applications for schools I am very interested in."

Watkins knows that providing assistance like this is part of her role at IWA. Since she became college counselor last year, she's worked to enhance her department's ability to prepare every IWA student to apply to, be accepted at, and select the best colleges for her individual needs and interests. IWA's small size means Watkins can know each senior individually, allowing her to provide tailored information and assistance. 

Students and families who want to know more are encouraged to reach out to Watkins via email, as well as watch their inboxes for her Thursday newsletter. 

One thing is certain: as the clock counts down to college application deadlines, Watkins will be there with her Falcons, every step of the way.


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