A Step Forward in College Counseling: An Interview with Ms. Kait Long


In collaboration with RadiOC, OCHS’s podcast on the Saturday Light Brigade (to listen to other podcast episodes: https://soundcloud.com/youthexpress/sets/oakland-catholic), two reporters from the OC Eagle Eye had the opportunity to interview Oakland’s new college counselor, Ms. Kait Long. So without further ado, our interview:

Caroline: We have some questions for you, but let’s start with an ice-breaker. So, what is your favorite hotspot around Oakland, your favorite Craig St. restaurant?

Ms. Long: My favorite Craig St. restaurant? Well, I really like Legume and Butterjoint, right here on Craig St. But I have to say that the place I most frequent is Starbucks because I’m surviving on caffeine these days.

Caroline: Well, you’re fitting in with the OC community very well then. So our first more serious question to you is: if you could tell us a little bit about yourself, you’re an alumna of Boston College, right?

Ms. Long: So I did my Masters at BC; I went there and I got my Masters in Higher Education Administration. So that’s a focus on all things higher ed, student affairs and missions, really all the different components that you might find at a college.

Caroline: And you worked in college counseling at Shadyside Academy?

Ms. Long: Yes, I did. I worked there for two years.

Caroline: How has that compared to your experience here at Oakland so far?

Ms. Long: They’re two very different schools. You know, I loved my time at Shadyside, but I have to say that I just sort of found my place right away here. I find Oakland to be really warm and welcoming, and I’m loving the community feel, so it’s a great fit for me.

Caroline: Do you like the all girls’ aspect of it?

Ms. Long: You know what, I really do. I didn’t know what to expect coming in; I didn’t go to an all-girls’ school, I’ve never worked at an all-girls’ school, but what I love is that every single leadership position is given to a girl, that every girl has an equal voice, and I really find that pretty amazing. I have a young daughter, and so I think about these things a lot more than I used to.

Caroline: Maybe we’ll see her at Oakland someday.

Ms. Long (laughs): Maybe, yeah. She’s almost three, so we have a few years, but yes, maybe someday.

Maura: Next question: What brought you to work here at Oakland Catholic?

Ms. Long: So, again, I really enjoyed my time at Shadyside, but I was looking to grow within my own career, and a colleague actually told me about the opening here, and I grew up in Pittsburgh, so I actually know, I knew, the school pretty well, the reputation, and it seemed like a really great opportunity to come to a school and really build a college counseling program from scratch. So that was really interesting for me, and once I sat down with Mrs. Kasunic and Mrs. Greco, I kind of knew this was the right place for me.

Caroline: We’re glad you’re here and we’re happy to have a college counselor to help us seniors out on our way through the applications process.

Maura: It’s a really, really good change. So what is the biggest difference that you’ve found between here and working at other schools?

Ms. Long: Do mean in terms of college? The college process? Or school in general?

Caroline: In general, but also specifically pertaining to how what Oakland students want from their college career differs from other students you’ve talked to.

Ms. Long: Sure. Well, I have to say in general, the one big difference I’ve found out about this school that I love and have found so refreshing and great is that I’ve never worked at a school with so much school spirit. I love that. One of my first days here was the school picnic, which was pretty amazing; I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many loud cheers in my life. So that was really great, I just love how so many people here just rally around the school, so I really liked that a lot.

In terms of the college process, I don’t like to compare schools, because every school is different, but I think with Oakland students, at least with the people I’ve met so far, is that they are tending to look more regionally. They really want to stay in Pittsburgh, Ohio, the East Coast, which I think is not uncommon to this area. A lot of people who grew up in this area really love it here. It’s a nice family oriented place, so I think people want to stay close by—closer to their families, which I don’t see as a negative thing at all. It’s just the sort of environment where we’re in. And another thing I’ve noticed, because OC is situated in a more urban environment, in the Oakland part of Pittsburgh, they’re looking for a more urban college environment. I think they’re more used to high school—walk outside, walk around, go to coffee shops—and want that same vibe in a college.

Caroline: That’s true, I’ve found for myself.

Ms. Long: Have you? (laughs)

Muara: If you had the chance to go to college again, knowing all that you do from working as a college counselor, what would be your top choices and why?

Ms. Long: Wow. Well, you know, teenage me is a lot different, from, I won’t say my age me, but you know, I think, when I was applying to college, I focused on large universities in the South. My father was a college counselor for thirty-five years, so he really helped me in this process. And he was the one who sort of guided me—he did not work at the school where I was at, but those were the schools I tended to look at and visit, I thought that was what I really wanted to do. It turned out that that large-school environment wasn’t really the best fit for me and knowing what I do now about myself, I probably should have focused on a smaller school where I had more access to teachers and faculty and a slightly smaller student body. There are two schools now that I recently fell in love with in the mindset of a student. I recently visited Davidson, it’s in North Carolina, on the banks of Lake Norman, which I really loved. I visited as a counselor and found myself thinking as a student, “Oh, I would love to go here.” And also the same about the University of Richmond. I felt that same way when I was there as well.

Caroline: Do you think it’s better, specifically for OC students, to focus on more academic colleges, or to have safety schools?

Ms. Long: I think it’s really important, and I think you both have heard me say this, but it’s really important for everybody to have a comprehensive college list. So think of it in three categories: you have your reach schools, your “I’m going to dream big” schools, the “if I could get in here I’d love it,” and they’re reach really in terms of your GPA and your test scores, but I really believe in putting yourself out there and trying, because if you don’t you won’t know what can happen. And then the next category would be your target schools; these are the ones that would fall within your profile, they are often accepting students similar to you. And then what you call a safety school, I’m going to call a “likely” school, because you know there’s nothing safe in college admissions anymore, but a likely school where we feel pretty confident you’re going to be accepted to the college. I like to see a well-rounded list just to give you options.

Caroline: Very helpful advice. Talking about colleges a little more, how important do you think it is for students to visit the campuses of the colleges they’re thinking of applying to, or once they’ve applied and been accepted, to visit then?

Ms. Long: I think if the opportunity is there, it’s always great to visit the campus because there’s always a lot you can’t get from a website or info session. I think getting on campus and talking to students, faculty, admission people, and just seeing how you feel once you set foot on campus instead of being able to trust your intuition. That being said, getting to college campuses is not always easy, it’s not always feasible for a lot of people, and it takes up a lot of time, and so in an ideal world you would visit all the campuses you are applying to, but in reality most people are not at all. I know a lot of students wait until they see where they are accepted, then they sort of narrow it down to the schools they may really think they’d go to. I must say, I would be really hesitant to enroll in a college when you’ve never stepped foot on their campus, that makes me a little bit nervous.

Caroline: So you wouldn’t advise that I enroll at Macalester, which is in Minnesota, without ever having visited.

Ms. Long: I would strongly recommend that you visit, but that being said, I’m sure there are many people out there who’ve enrolled in a college, sight unseen, and done really well. I’m sure if you’re an adaptable, flexible person, then you can be happy anywhere, then you can be happy too.

Caroline: So speaking about flexibility, what advice do you have for students who are completely undecided in what they’d like to do and aren’t sure what to do about college yet?

Ms. Long: I love undecided, I think it’s really underrated. I don’t think seventeen or eighteen year old young men or women should know what they want to do, and that’s totally ok. There’s been a really big push in recent years, I think because of the job market and sort of our economic climate, that you need to know what you want to do now, and you major in that in college and you go out and get a job. But I think that’s not always the way things are, not always the way things work and I think colleges need to meet students where they are sometimes, and that means going to somewhere where they’ll let you explore different classes and majors, and again talking about liberal arts colleges, if you have a student who’s interested in so many different things, or someone who just really doesn’t know what they want to do, that type of environment that allows you to explore is really great.

Caroline: Do have any advice for freshmen or sophomores? Should they start looking now or wait a few years first?

Ms. Long: Please don’t start looking at colleges now. Freshmen and sophomores should focus on getting acclimated to high school, and focusing on their classes and academics or other activities that they enjoy, clubs, and sports, and things that they find meaningful. I really don’t like the question, “should I do this activity or this activity? Which looks better on a college application?” I really don’t like that question and colleges don’t like that question because they want you to do what you enjoy and find meaningful. They don’t want a laundry list of the activities you do they want you to do one thing and enjoy it, no matter what it is. I mean it could be knitting, they really don’t care. They just want you to do something that you love, and I feel the same way.

Caroline: I think that’s something very important for freshmen and sophomores to hear. I know for me, having an older sister, it helped a little bit to see how high stress junior and senior year were and how much you really have to enjoy your first years. Moving on to our next question:

Maura: Do remember your own college application process, if so—

Ms. Long: I’m not that old. (laughs)

Maura: Well, I mean, the very distant past. If so, could you describe it for us and compare it to what you think seniors are facing today.

Ms. Long: Sure. In general, what I think you seniors go through and teenagers in general is a lot harder and more difficult than what I went through. I wasn’t applying online; there were paper applications. This makes me sound really old, but it wasn’t all that long ago that y’know, you’re filling out a paper application, that’s just how things were sent in and how you applied to college. Everything happens much earlier now. There’s been a real push in the last decade or so, for college admissions for students to apply earlier, for colleges to release their decisions earlier, and that’s a real difference. Y’know most students here have already applied or know exactly where they’re applying in the summer or in September, and that just wasn’t the case when I was in high school. It’s also very school specific. I went to a very large public high school, and I think depending on where you go to high school that also makes a difference too. But the technology piece, and the interactions you can have with colleges, information that you can receive and you can send out to them, it’s so instant, so I think that’s great, you have a lot more access; the internet was around, but it just wasn’t the same.

Maura: Lastly, is there any advice you’d like to offer seniors and their parents in the midst of the application process today, or any information you’d like to offer about yourself?

Ms. Long: The one thing I would encourage parents and students to do, and I know this is easier said than done, is to try to maintain some perspective in this process. It can be extremely overwhelming, very stressful, so just remember that where you go to college does not determine who you’ll be for the rest of your life. Sometimes it feels that way, but I truly believe you can go to many different places and still do exactly what you want to do and have a great experience. Try not to focus on one particular reach school, because if that doesn’t work out, you run the risk of feeling very disappointed, and that’s very hard for me to see and for others to see, so just try to maintaining the perspective that things will work out, even if it’s not exactly the way you’d hoped. And for students to be understanding of your parents, that this is stressful for them and they want what’s best for you and even though it seems like all they want to do’s talk about college, they want the best for you. And for parents to understand that it’s also extremely stressful for students and to just be supportive of each other and not let the entire fall of senior year revolve around college conversation, go out, do something fun, enjoy your friends and family, and y’know just try to enjoy what you can of your senior year because it really does go by so fast.

Caroline: Thank you for letting us interview you, Ms. Long!

Ms. Long: Thank you so much!