On July 1, John Thurston began work as Waynflete School’s first full-time Director of College Counseling. He comes to Waynflete with 21 years of experience on both sides of the college admissions process, or as John puts it, “in shipping and receiving.” For the past six years, he served as the Associate Dean of Admission at Bowdoin College. Prior to working at Bowdoin, John served as a college counselor at Polytechnic School and Laguna Blanca School in California and was the Associate Director of Admission at Brown University. He also worked in the admission office of his alma mater, Carleton College. Following is a recent interview with USNOW staff writer, Kiera MacWhinnie ’17.
Kiera: How do you like it so far at Waynflete?
John: I am enjoying my time at Waynflete. My days have been full, meaning they go by quickly.
Kiera: Have people made you feel welcomed?
John: Yes, people have been warm and welcoming across the board. Faculty, staff, administrators, parents and students have all reached out to me at various times.
Kiera: How have you gotten to know the seniors?
John: Getting to know the seniors is an ongoing process. I am grateful that I was able to join the seniors during Outdoor Experience because I got to see folks having fun and just interacting with one another. Waynflete also provides the benefit of getting to connect with students weekly during college counseling meetings. In addition, I have met with students in one-on-one meetings and have had students provide some information via an online survey. I have also received helpful information from teachers and advisors who know the seniors quite well.
Kiera: How was your Outdoor Experience trip with them?
John: I really appreciated the chance to participate. I enjoy spending time outside and so on the one hand, the trip was fun for me. As I mentioned earlier, it was also helpful to see the seniors relaxing and interacting with one another. I think I was a bit of an unknown entity since it was so soon after I arrived, but I appreciated how so many of the students reached out to me and initiated conversations.
Kiera: Please describe your philosophy of college counseling.
John: First and foremost, I try to stay relaxed because I know that this process has the potential to be a source of significant anxiety for students and their parents. There is no need for me to panic. I like it when I see students using the college search process as an incentive to spend some time reflecting. I want students to think about how they learn, what is important to them, are there ways that they might be able to stretch themselves… I don’ t think that there is one “perfect” college out there, but I do think some places are far better fits than others for a particular student. We can’t know that, though, what schools make sense for an individual, unless the student has spent some time really thinking about his/her own priorities and values. I see my role as one where I provide support and information to students and families.
Kiera: What have you done so far with college counseling?
John: We have spent the bulk of our time meeting with students: helping them refine their college lists, giving them feedback on their essays, looking over completed applications, discussing standardized testing options… We invited Steve Joyce, former Dean of Student Aid at Bowdoin College, to do a presentation on financial aid. He also made time to meet one-on-one with some Waynflete families who had pretty specific questions. We also did a group meeting with junior parents to let them know a bit about the process and what to expect.
Kiera: I have heard you are becoming a Maine Guide. Tell me about that.
John: Going back to what I said earlier, I do enjoy spending time outdoors. My hope is to have a greater role in future Outdoor Experience trips. I also agreed to be the faculty advisor to the newly reconstituted Waynflete Outing Club (headed by seniors Nick Boulos and Haley Johnson) and having a foundation rooted in the Maine Guide training made sense to me.
Kiera: What do you look forward to in the future of your job at Waynflete?
John: I always look forward to getting to know individual students. I am also intrigued to see patterns regarding the types of schools that pique the interest of Waynflete students. One of my goals is to visit more college campuses to see how they might appeal to Waynflete graduates and to make sure that college admissions offices are familiar with Waynflete’s academic program and the culture of our school community. I also have some ideas regarding campus programming we can do, perhaps in collaboration with some other schools, to demystify some aspects of college admissions.
Kiera: In the last interview Waynflete did with you last spring, we asked about your workload compared to your previous college workload and you said to ask you in October. So how is the workload compared to college admissions?
John: October was, as I anticipated, pretty crazy. It meant for some long days and nights. I think next October will be a bit more manageable because I will have been here to start working with the Class of 2016 during their junior year. Still, September and October are just extremely busy months in college counseling and that is part of the job. I can say with confidence, though, that I will not miss application reading season.