Senior Year Chronicles: Morgan
Senior Year Chronicles: MorganCrystal Barrick, Assistant Director, Communications
Throughout the 2016-2017 school year, four College Board staff members talked regularly with four students who were navigating their senior year of high school and preparing for their futures. This installment of the “Senior Year Chronicles” summarizes Crystal Barrick's conversations with Morgan from Georgia.
I can’t remember not playing violin,” Morgan told me during our first conversation. She started when she was three years old.
But three years ago, shortly after moving to John’s Creek, Georgia, from Chicago, she almost quit. “I was bored of it," she said.
Luckily, a serendipitous encounter with the John’s Creek High School orchestra teacher (and a quick glimpse of poster for the group’s upcoming trip to Italy) changed her mind.
Morgan has since traveled quite a bit, and she is now president of the orchestra club. She helps organize the “Bigs and Littles” program, in which upper class students mentor their younger peers. “You don’t just learn about bass or cello,” she said. “You talk about your classes, teachers, and clubs, too. There’s a lot of travel and rehearsals, and a lot of bonding.”
I spent the past year following Morgan’s senior year of high school as she navigated AP classes, college applications, prom, and plenty of other high school milestones. As a member of the College Board’s Youth Advisory Council, she was gracious enough to shed some light on the busy life of a current high school student.
In addition to the orchestra club, Morgan’s other social center is the debate team. She stumbled upon the club at an activities fair her freshman year. The deciding factor? “I like to talk!” she said.
Researching for the debate team has “opened [her] eyes to the world” through real policy issues, like domestic surveillance and the history of the NSA, and it has also allowed her to travel. Through tournaments and camps, she’s had the opportunity to visit a slew of college campuses in- and out-of-state since her freshman year. When I asked whether this helped with her college search process, she said yes, but not in the way I expected.
“Through social media, I’ve stayed connected to the friends I made,” she told me, and she’s called on them when she’s had questions about college social life, coursework, and faculty. “College websites can tell you anything,” she said, “but these students really know what it’s like.”
Morgan has a lot on her plate, but her voice rings with enthusiasm for the future, not stress. She took the SAT twice as a junior and feels good about her scores; she’s done extensive research on scholarships and financial aid; she’s found support in her AP class communities and clubs; and she’s kept herself organized through to-do lists and calendars.
By December of last year, Morgan had sent one batch of Early Action applications, but was waiting to hit "submit" on the rest until she heard from a few schools. Georgetown, Georgia Tech, University of Georgia, Harvard, University of Michigan, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Yale were in her sights; University of Georgia has accepted her, but she had her doubts about Harvard. "I know it’s impossible to get into," she told me. "Just had to see."
A few days later she emailed me with good news: she got into Harvard. While their admissions office had told students they’d share their decisions by “mid-December,” the ever-updating chatter on College Confidential message boards eventually homed in on December 14. From morning to sunset that day, Morgan refreshed her email inbox and the school’s Facebook and Twitter feeds; a glitch that broke the online portal at 1:00 p.m. heightened her uncertainty. By 5:00 p.m., she said, she had to hole up in the bathroom of the local library where she was volunteering.
“I had to look in the mirror and tell myself it was going to be okay,” she told me. “I wasn’t freaking out, but I was on edge.”
A few minutes later, a congratulatory email sealed the deal. Lots of happy crying ensued, and—unsurprisingly to me, after our previous conversations—lots and lots of research. (Full confession: even I teared up when she recounted her story.)
Applying for financial aid was a rockier experience, but Morgan was on top of it. "I completed the FAFSA on October 2, the day after it opened, because I had this fear of missing out on financial aid opportunities," she said. She had some trouble with other parts of the process because she hadn’t heard of the CSS Profile or the IDOC until October, and she was surprised by how much documentation she had to provide. Her peers have been most helpful with this step—her dad went to college in Canada, her mom attended "a smaller local school," and her school’s guidance department is "fairly weak when it comes to the college application process," she shared.
While financial aid packages from the schools she had been accepted to would play a big role in her college decision-making process, Morgan always had her heart set on Harvard. She fell in love after attending a Harvard-Yale football game last fall, and online sleuthing and conversations with current and admitted students solidified the feeling.
When I asked why the Big H was the right fit, she cited the unparalleled opportunities and resources she’ll have access to, starting her freshman year. While other schools seemed much more “siloed” and hands-off in their approach to business, economics, and public policy studies, Morgan told me, Harvard would let her combine her interests and develop her “think-on-your-feet skills.” The university has an undergraduate-run consulting firm that would not only allow her to travel, compete, and do research—things she’s grown to love through her high school debate team—but also support local nonprofits and startups in a meaningful, practical way.
By spring, Morgan had officially made her decision to join Harvard’s class of 2021. While she’s looking forward to life in Cambridge, in the month’s leading up to move-in day she’s soaking up as much of her George life as possible.
She attended her senior prom in a royal blue dress in lieu of visiting Boston for Harvard’s admitted students day. But, because it’s 2017, she wasn’t totally removed from the festivities—"I still watched some of it on a livestream while getting ready," she admitted.
AP Exams were among Morgan's final academic commitments in May. To prepare for her AP Comparative Government, Macroeconomics, Statistics, Spanish, and Literature Exams, she had a few different group.me chats going and some study sessions with friends and teachers. And, throughout the year, she kept meticulous outlines and notes. She seemed confident about her upcoming exams—compared to AP Bio and Calculus BC, which she took last year, she felt these wouldn’t require as much “out of school prep.”
Before graduation, Morgan otherwise kept busy with ceremonies, banquets, and parties. After a “dramatic Phantom of the Opera medley sendoff,” she gave a speech and received a yellow rose at her final orchestra concert; she then planned with her peers and some parent volunteers an end-of-year dinner for her fellow student-musicians. She most looked forward to the “senior carnival,” which fills the John’s Creek High football field with food trucks, games, and well-kept surprises each year.
On August 16 Morgan will fly solo to Boston and then embark on a pre-orientation trip with other Harvard freshman. Though she’s very outdoors-y, she chose a service-oriented trip over hiking or kayaking because it will give her an opportunity to explore Cambridge and help out in her new neighborhood. Her parents will join her a week later for move-in day and orientation.
When I asked if she was nervous about anything, Morgan told me how much she was going to miss her 14-year-old brother. She was heartened by the sentiment that many people (including me) had shared, which is that they eventually felt closer to their siblings after spending some time apart. As a planner, she’s already come up with a strategy for staving off homesickness: a huge photo collage in her dorm room, featuring her brother, her parents, and her orchestra and debate team friends.