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

Educational Counselor

Susanna most enjoys the close relationships with students and families she builds in her work in school and college planning. She relishes the privilege of helping parents of younger students just starting out on their independent school education understand the educational landscape; she derives a deep sense of fulfillment from...