by Tom Campbell, college counselor
As amazing as “Encanto” is, Disney’s “Beauty and The Beast” will likely remain my favorite animated film of all time. Toddler Tom felt a kindred connection to Belle: a free-spirited bibliophile who craved adventure outside of her little town. I even frolicked around the house in Belle’s signature blue dress, stolen from my older sister.
Belle speaks that desire that we hear from so many students: that there must be more. More than what they’ve heard of. More than what they may have envisioned for themselves. In so many areas of life, the more paths you consider, the more opportunities you’re likely to stumble upon. And finding a path where you can be your authentic self — and feel affirmed by that identity — can lead to a beautiful destination.
When it comes to life after Lakeside, the sheer number of paths can seem daunting. There are 3,982 degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the United States and 40,000 institutions worldwide. While Lakeside boasts an impressive, diverse matriculation list of 134 institutions, the college counseling office is committed to exposing students to the wide spectrum of roads ahead.
Women’s colleges are a great example of a less-traveled path. While women’s college alumni are 2% of the U.S. population, they’re 20% of women in Congress and 33% of the women on Fortune 1000 boards. These institutions are blazing new trails, making up the majority of the nation’s most diverse selective colleges and adjusting admissions policies to be more inclusive of transgender and gender-nonbinary students. This path is gaining traction here at Lakeside: 17% of seniors applied to women’s colleges in 2021, compared to 10% in 2019.
Minority-serving institutions, or MSIs, tell a similar tale (...as old as time). According to Congresswoman Alma Adams (NC-12), “HBCUs [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] produce 42% of Black engineers, 47% of Black women engineers, and 40% of the Congressional Black Caucus.” Paul Quinn College, a selective HBCU in Dallas, recently made headlines for their revolutionary new initiative: offering admissions acceptances to family members of admitted students to help combat intergenerational poverty. Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs) are also making waves in higher education: Public four-year AANAPISIs boast a graduation rate of 87.9%, far surpassing the national average of 66.2%.
Another path? Making a splash as a big fish in a small pond. A 2018 Stanford Graduate School of Education study found that a student’s self-confidence soars when they’re surrounded by a spectrum of academic achievement. Our office recently heard from one such Lakesider, who chose a school that allows ample opportunity for intellectual growth, but dials back the stress and academic pressure that characterizes some institutions: “I vividly remember you telling me a story about how some Lakeside graduate went to a ‘likely’ type school and for the first time in a long [time] felt like she was able to really ‘succeed’ in the classroom... I can say that I have had a very similar experience and have learned that I learn more confidently and push myself more in this environment.”
The last road I’ll share is perhaps the most open-ended: gap years. A small but steady number of Lakeside students have chosen to take time to explore their options and the world before committing to college. In the last few years, Lakeside students have used gap years to pursue careers in music, acting, and sports; to focus on developing the not-for-profit organizations and start-ups they founded while at Lakeside; students who travelled, worked to save money for college, and volunteered through foundations like City Year and Global Citizen Year. Through time — and sometimes lots of space — students have an opportunity to find themselves and their purpose. And that’s what I want most for my students as their college counselor.
Lakeside’s college counselors start working with students during their junior year, learning as much about them as we can before we start suggesting paths that match their goals and interests. But we know the exploration process — the wondering about the “more” that is out there — starts much earlier for some families. Which is one of the reasons we launched the @LifeAfterLakeside Instagram account this year. It’s a fun way for students to see the paths that Lakeside alumni — and their teachers! — have taken in their lives. Make sure to watch the alumni’s stories to get the inside scoop on their experiences; and, if you’re an Instagram newbie, ask your student to help you figure it out.
New paths can seem risky. Who can forget the “Beauty and the Beast” scene where Belle’s eccentric inventor father, Maurice, takes the scary “shortcut” path and ends up being attacked by wolves (eek)! But don’t forget: that very same fork in the road helped Belle (eventually) find true love and an affirming community.
If you’re ever wondering if your student is headed in the “right direction,” just remember how relative “right” really is. The next time your student pulls a “crazy old Maurice” and wants to explore an unfamiliar idea or path, I challenge parents and guardians to reply: “Be my guest.” And let them strut in their best blue dress. It could lead to a happily ever after.
Tom Campbell is a college counselor at Lakeside School. Reach him and other members of the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.