‘Tis the (College Admission) Season

After nearly two months surviving on five hours of sleep a night or less, Mrs. Sarah Murphy, TMI’s Director of College Placement, can finally breathe a sigh of relief…at least for a week or two until the next flurry of college placement workshops, application deadlines, and letters of recommendation are due.

I sat down with Mrs. Murphy a week after she and the Department of College Placement hosted the second annual College Admissions Symposium Night at TMI on November 1. The program provided Upper School students and their parents a unique opportunity to hear directly from college admissions representatives and how each school looks at applications and considers students in their admission process. Mrs. Murphy described it as a real “eye-opener” for parents and students alike. Last year, representatives from Southern Methodist University, Southwestern University, University of Rochester, and Rhodes College were on the panel. This year, Emory University and Hendrix College joined Southern Methodist University to comprise the panel and represent a variety of university sizes and processes.

College Admission Symposium

The evening was interactive. Students and parents were presented with case studies of mock student applications and then given a chance to vote and share their opinions on which students they thought would be accepted to each university and which wouldn’t. Often, the decision given by the college representatives was not what parents or students expected. The whole process is designed to help illustrate the complexities in the college admission process and encourages students to think beyond only numbers when it comes to their college choices and applications. As the representatives on the panel discussed, a student’s narrative and demonstrated interest are also critical components of the application.

Navigating the college admission process can be tricky and the application review process by the colleges can vary widely. Having a knowledgeable college counselor, such as Mrs. Murphy and her team at TMI, can help in narrowing down school choices, applying for merit scholarships, identifying why certain schools may be a good fit, and working through the admission process for each. Often, the college-search process can become quite stressful, quite rapidly. Below are a few tips and a general timeline from Mrs. Murphy to help students ace the college-admissions process:

  • Freshmen: This is a time for self-discovery. Mrs. Murphy reminded that, “colleges will be looking for the breadth and depth of your involvement,” so students should use this year as an opportunity to try new activities, participate in various teams, and find out what they enjoy. Your college application resume tracks from 9th grade on, so begin keeping a record of your achievements and student involvement. Parents and students at TMI are provided access to Naviance Family Connection, a tool that helps guide and organize the college admission process. Once logged in, this is a beneficial tool where students can begin tracking activities for their resume. In the spring, TMI’s Department of College Placement hosts an evening for students and their parents designed specifically for freshmen.
  • Sophomores: This is a time to continue adding experiences, positions, and activities to your student resume. In the spring of the sophomore year, TMI’s Department of College Placement hosts a special night just for sophomores to give them a head start on what to focus on during their upcoming junior year.
  • Juniors: This is a college-focused year that kicks off at TMI in the fall, usually November, with events such as the College Admissions Symposium and an evening kickoff designed just for juniors. During advisory, students are given an orientation for using Naviance Family Connection and are then asked to complete two surveys and create a good working copy of their resume. After completing these two tasks, students and their parents are invited to sit down with their designated college counselor to discuss in greater detail what lies ahead. Conversations typically include the process for selecting schools, expectations, Q&A, and a general timeline they’ll follow. In the spring, the Department of College Placement hosts another meeting for juniors to plan and prepare for their upcoming senior year. The counselors cover the process of requesting letters of recommendation, completing standardized tests and reviewing results, and discussing the necessary work to complete on their essays over the summer. A workshop on writing the college application essay is led by the Department of College Placement in the spring, in addition to a field trip for the entire junior class to visit two diverse campuses.
  • Seniors: For seniors, this year is all about applications. The year kicks off in August, before school starts, with a college application workshop during the faculty in-service week that is designed to help students get started on or finish their Texas Common Application and Coalition Application. Seniors and their parents will then attend the traditional College Kick Off event, which takes place in the evening of the first day of school. During the Senior Class Retreat at the end of the first week, the Department of College Placement hosts an Application Bootcamp to discuss application etiquette and provide dedicated assistance with application essays. Seniors will be in constant communication with their college advisors throughout the year and Mrs. Murphy encourages students to “be organized, and be open minded to all types of schools,” during the application process, stressing to students that, “your right fit might not be what you initially think.”

Overall, the college-application process is very individual and most people do not share the same experience. Mrs. Murphy encourages parents and students who want to stay active in the college process to participate in the College 101 Club at TMI that has grown and evolved over the last year to give parents and students a forum for sharing experiences, knowledge, and guidance. They meet every other month under the direction of the Department of College Placement.

Mrs. Murphy also recommends taking advantage of the other resources offered by TMI, such as the Method Test Prep software, which is available for all 8th-12th grade students and prepares students for the SAT, ACT, or PSAT (for 8th graders), and college-specific events such as the financial aid night and college fairs.

Private Schools of San Antonio College Fair

Finally, if you’re looking to gain an even deeper insight into the college admission process, Mrs. Murphy recommends the following three books:

  • The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College by Jacques Steinberg
  • Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be by Frank Bruni
  • Colleges That Change Lives by Loren Pope

As Mrs. Murphy quickly described the books to me, she warned that while The Gatekeepers may raise your blood pressure, Frank Bruni’s book will lower it! Her third recommendation provides an insightful look at less commonly known colleges that offer an environment of engaging faculty who are focused on students to provide a unique fit for many who are looking for something different.

Recommended Reading


Sarah Murphy is a Licensed Specialist in School Psychology and is in her second year at TMI as the Director of College Placement. She came to TMI after having spent 9.5 years at Trinity University as an Admissions Counselor and later the Assistant Director, working in a variety of capacities in the Office of Admissions. Prior to that, she spent 1.5 years at Incarnate Word High School as a guidance counselor.

Comment below to tell us about your alma mater and what you were looking for in a school when you selected your college!

Contributed by Stephanie Livsey
Director of Community Relations, TMI

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