Defining Mediocrity: Then and Now

I wasn’t one of those high school students who excelled in a certain area of study, on the field, in the studio, or on the stage. I didn’t head into the college process with a clear direction, or even a sense of what type of school would best fit my needs. Sure, I dabbled in all of these areas and even experienced success, but it was nothing to write home about. My mother, a former college admissions director, liked to say I was “well-rounded.” That sounded good to me.

When I applied to college (more than three decades ago), the process was admittedly more forgiving. I was coming out of a competitive boarding school and I wasn’t concerned about where I would land. In fact, I put very little thought into my list of schools. This was the era of snail mail, and I remember showing up at my school mailbox one day and receiving multiple waitlist letters. I immediately called my mother. My fate was sealed. “I define mediocrity,” I told her. I’m happy to report that it all worked out in the end. I was accepted off the waitlist before long at one of my top choices. But that feeling of mediocrity was tough to shake.

What happens to “well-rounded” applicants in this day and age? What happens to the kids who don’t see a clear path forward? What happens to the students who feel that they don’t have a compelling story to tell? The truth is that every student has a story. Every applicant has a unique characteristic, narrative or “hook.”

My favorite part of the day is working with “my kids” to find their voice. I love to have them in my office, dressed in sweatpants and curled up on the couch, working on telling their story. (Throw in some snacks and a roving office dog, some students actually have fun writing their essays!) The process of finding one’s voice is what I admire most about McMillan Education’s approach to the application process. It is thoughtful, thorough and, in many cases, a thrilling experience. It is an introduction to self-discovery that serves them well as they head off to college.

“I have nothing to talk about,” John said as he sat in my office munching on a bag of Cheez-Its. “I play soccer, but not particularly well, and my grades are kinda average.” Crunch. “Oh, and I hate to write.” Another crunch. “Not a big fan of talking about myself either.” An hour later, I learned that John had plenty to share. He was a soccer player who had tried out for the school play on a whim (and landed a lead role). Raised Catholic, he was a scholar of Buddhist teachings. John wasn’t afraid to take risks or to challenge his understanding of who he was. John, an 18-year-old boy, wasn’t afraid of change or failure.

It’s all true: applying to college “isn’t what it used to be.” And parents, your alma maters might be a pipe dream today. The demands our children manage today are far greater than they were for our generation of applicants. But there is a place for your child, where he or she will be successful and happy, and the McMillan team is here to help you find that place. I love working with your kids. I love to hold up the proverbial mirror and ask, “does this look/sound/feel like you?” Most of all, I love the look on their faces when they recognize themselves in that mirror and a narrative is born.

After almost a decade of promoting early literacy at both the federal and state level (and before that, representing education policy clients at the Rhode Island State House), I decided I wanted to work with the kids I’d been fighting for. Most recently, I served as the Boarding School Resource Specialist for The Gordon School in Providence, RI. I’m thrilled to be a part of the McMillan team. My colleagues are experienced, engaging, and do not define mediocrity. And that is INSPIRING!

About The Author

Susanna Beckwith, MALS