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Boston College Director of Admission Visits Priory

John MahoneyOn Thursday, November 10, 2016, Saint Louis Priory School welcomed Mr. John Mahoney, Director of Admission from Boston College, to share his thoughts and observations regarding the state of college admissions. He also fielded prepared and impromptu questions from an audience of students and parents from Forms IV and V.

Mr. Mahoney has 32 years of college admission experience at Boston College, serving as the Director of Admission since 1990. During that time, he has overseen enormous change both in the BC office and in the profession and higher education overall.

Mr. Mahoney began his remarks by assuring Priory families of their good fortune to have both obtained an outstanding education at Priory as well as having the services of a comprehensive college counseling staff. He indicated that Priory is well-respected among the elite colleges and universities for the quality of its education and the professionalism and expertise of its college counseling.

Mr. Mahoney asked that each student approach this process by looking for a new home, without regard to rankings; to imagine the place where he will be that meets his vision for a college experience. He emphasized that this must be done by disconnecting from your busy life to think carefully about:

  • What you are seeking from your college experience
  • What learning environment will suit you best
  • What qualities (size, campus culture, location) of the school are most desirable

After considering these qualities, he charged each student to seek the counsel of trusted adults—parents, teachers, and counselors—about what he has discovered.

Mr. Mahoney advised families to examine selective schools with their “eyes wide open,” indicating that the 100+ most selective schools in the country receive far more qualified and deserving applicants than they can possibly admit. And, he emphasized that, with 2500+ four-year colleges and universities in the country, allowing the frenzy around these 100 or so schools to consume your attention can cause you to miss the point of the all the opportunities available.

Other thematic points Mr. Mahoney discussed:

  • You can do everything right and still be denied.
  • Grades, curriculum, and test scores are only part of this process.
  • The admission process does NOT measure your humanity or even the quality or kind of your academic achievement.
  • Give yourself the opportunity to explore your interests and talents – don’t focus too much on majors and careers to drive your process.
  • Be open to the liberal arts, where real learning and growth may occur.

The question and answer portion of the evening continued at this point.

The first question asked was about the role of the parent and the student in this process. Mr. Mahoney reiterated that students MUST drive the bus with the parent carefully assisting. He encouraged parents to allow students to develop the profile of the college he is seeking and to cooperate in determining the college choice. Parents must recognize that students need independence and that this process is fraught with anxiety. He also emphasized to the students that parents have invested a lot in getting them to the point of having so many opportunities and that they care deeply for their sons. He told students to be tolerant and empathetic.

The next question was about the appropriate number of applications to file. Mrs. Sams indicated that Priory students on average apply to six different schools. Priory policy is to strongly discourage any student filing more than nine applications. Mr. Mahoney indicated that eight or nine well-chosen applications was a good number of applications.

Another question touched on the many differing early application programs. Mr. Mahoney admitted that colleges contribute to the confusion surrounding early applications. He clarified that early decision is a binding program whereby a student applies to only one school under this policy and agrees to matriculate if admitted. Early action applications, however, are not binding. Students who apply under the early decision or action application programs may or may not be offered an advantage in the admission process, depending on the individual institution.

Mr. Mahoney indicated that testing continues to be a metric used in evaluating a student’s likely success at Boston College, although many schools have elected to allow students to apply without standardized test results, called “test optional” schools. ACT and SAT results are held in equal regard, and the new SAT, which was launched for the class of 2017, is and will continue to be evaluated for its validity.

There was then a question about rankings. Mr. Mahoney acknowledged the utility of rankings as a tool in understanding a college’s academic reputation. However, Mr. Mahoney emphasized that the key to understanding a school’s culture and academic experience was to visit campus. Taking your time, eating in a dining hall, and meeting with students not employed by the admission office are all good strategies for developing a complete understanding of a school. He also encouraged Priory students to meet with Priory alumni (and parents to connect with Priory alumni parents) at the schools they are visiting.

Mr. Mahoney and Mrs. Sams discussed managing the cost of higher education. Mr. Mahoney emphasized that with many selective schools hitting the $60,000+ a year total cost point, most families have to consider cost as a factor in college choice. He said that while Boston College is among the few schools fully committed to meeting a family’s financial need, many schools award moneys based on financial need and/or merit. Families should have a list of schools to which their son will apply that includes schools the family knows they can comfortably afford. Mrs. Sams encouraged families worried about paying for college to take advantage of the Net Price Calculator (NPC) tools now available on each college’s website. This tool will give a family a ballpark figure of what they can expect to pay at that institution. She emphasized that families should complete two or three different NPCs in order to see a range of what the real cost to the family might be.

The final question was in regard to the conversation so prevalent in the news these days about enrolling a broader array of students in terms of geographic, socio-economic, ethnic, talents, etc. Mr. Mahoney addressed why colleges want to have a diverse student population and the value that adds to the total college experience for all students. He emphasized that colleges think of diversity in many ways and that for them it is not a limiting factor but rather one that broadens the possibility of who might be a match for their school.

At this point, questions from the audience were taken:

  • There seems to be conflicting information about what college admission officers are looking for in an applicant: do they want students who are well-rounded or focused on a definite area of interest? Mr. Mahoney said that some college admission offices are working to amp down the pressure to be all things – great student, amazing leader, generous community volunteer, etc. But, he said that it is true that there can be conflicting information given to a family in the process and he understands it is difficult. He emphasized working with your counselor to assist you in navigating the process.
  • How much rigor is enough? In other words, is it better to get an “A” in a regular course or a “B” in an honors or AP course? Mr. Mahoney urged students to take a reasoned approach to their choices. He stated that a student should not be making academic and educational decisions based on how a college might view the choice but rather on what is in the student’s best interest.
  • How can a student make himself “interesting” to selective colleges? Mr. Mahoney emphasized the importance of the essay in the application process.

Finally, Mr. Mahoney reiterated that no matter how much your parents may seem to be driving you crazy in the process, they do have much wisdom and experience to offer you and they only want the best for you.

“Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.”

Prologue, 1

“This is advice from a father who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice.”

Prologue, 1

“First of all, every time you begin a good work, you must pray to him most earnestly to bring it to perfection.”

Prologue, 4

“If you desire true and eternal life, keep your tongue free from vicious talk and your lips from all deceit; turn away from evil and do good; let peace be your quest and aim. (Ps 33[34]:13)”

Prologue, 17

“Clothed then with faith and the performance of good works, let us set out on this way, with the Gospel for our guide, that we may deserve to see him who has called us to his kingdom (1 Thess 2:12).”

Prologue, 21

“If we wish to dwell in the tent of this kingdom, we will never arrive unless we run there by doing good deeds.”

Prologue, 22

“What is not possible to us by nature, let us ask the Lord to supply by the help of his grace.”

Prologue, 41

“Therefore, we intend to establish a school for the Lord’s service.”

Prologue, 45

“The good of all concerned, however, may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and to safeguard love.”

Prologue, 47

“The reason why we have said all should be called for counsel is that the Lord often reveals what is better to the younger.”

Chapter 3, 3

“Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else.”

Chapter 4, 20-21

“Never give a hollow greeting of peace or turn away when someone needs your love.” –Chapter 4, 25-26

“Bind yourself to no oath lest it prove false, but speak the truth with heart and tongue.”

Chapter 4, 27-28

“Place your hope in God alone.”

Chapter 4, 41

“Respect the elders and love the young.”

Chapter 4, 70-71

“Pray for your enemies out of love for Christ. “

Chapter 4, 72

“If you have a dispute with someone, make peace with him before the sun goes down.”

Chapter 4, 73

“The first step of humility is unhesitating obedience, which comes naturally to those who cherish Christ above all.”

Chapter 5, 1-2

“Speaking and teaching are the master’s task; the disciple is to be silent and listen.”

Chapter 6, 6

“The first step of humility, then, is that a man keeps the fear of God always before his eyes (PS 35[36]:2) and never forgets it.”

Chapter 7, 10

“Let us consider, then, how we ought to behave in the presence of God and his angels, and let us stand to sing the psalms in such a way that our minds are in harmony with our voices.”

Chapter 19, 6-7

“On arising for the Work of God, they will quietly encourage each other, for the sleepy like to make excuses.”

Chapter 22, 8

“Every age and level of understanding should receive appropriate treatment.”

Chapter 30, 1

“Above all, let him be humble. If goods are not available to meet a request, he will offer a kind word in reply, for it is written: A kind word is better than the best gift (Sir 18:17).”

Chapter 31, 13-14

“Let all the rest serve one another in love.”

Chapter 35, 6

“Indeed, nothing is to be preferred to the Work of God.”

Chapter 43, 3

“Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore, the brothers should have specified periods for manual labor as well as for prayerful reading.”

Chapter 48, 1

“The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent.”

Chapter 49, 1

“All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35).”

Chapter 53, 1

“Proper honor must be shown to all, especially to those who share our faith (Gal 6:10) and to pilgrims.”

Chapter 53, 2

“(B)ecause wherever we may be, we are in the service of the same Lord and doing battle for the same King.”

Chapter 61, 10

They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10).”

Chapter 63, 17

“We wish this rule to be read often in the community, so that none of the brothers can offer the excuse of ignorance.”

Chapter 66, 8

“Trusting in God’s help, he must in love obey.”

Chapter 68, 5

Never to do another what you do not want done to yourself (Tob 4:16).”

Chapter 70, 7

“No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else.”

Chapter 72, 7

“Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life.”

Chapter 72, 11-12

“What page, what passage of the inspired books of the Old and New Testaments is not the truest of guides for human life?”

Chapter 73, 3

“What book of the holy catholic Fathers does not resoundingly summon us along the true way to reach the Creator?”

Chapter 73, 4


Saint Louis Abbey

Saint Louis Priory School

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