The Purpose Behind Grads Return

grads return

Getting a chance to hear information directly from the source is a great way to gain understanding of something.

Take for example, Overlake's Grads Return program, where Upper School students hear about college life from current college students. This year 18 Overlake graduates led grade-level panels on their college experience. The attendees ranged from college freshmen to university grads and included several students who chose alternate post secondary decisions, including gap years or attending an arts college. 

"Colleges are marketing organizations so they’re going to show you the nicest dorm during that campus visit day," says Director of College Counseling Kate Asgari who appreciates the honesty our recent alums bring to the conversation. "We welcome these grads because of who they decided to be, the risks they’ve taken, and the courage they’ve shown in their college experience."

We wanted to share some stories from each of the three panels below and click here to see photos from this year's Grads Return program. 

Senior Experience

For Overlake Seniors, the college applications have been submitted and the decisions have to be made. Many of the panelists spoke candidly about college application rejections. Asgari encourages seniors to not dwell on a dream school especially if they’ve just been denied. “No college, no brand, no university makes you anything,” she told the Class of 2019. “You are going to be ‘that’ person wherever you go. You will be successful based on your mindset and what you decide to do in your life.”

With that new adult independence comes many pitfalls. Garrett Dawson enrolled at Tulane University. “New Orleans isn’t an easy place to study,” says Garrett. “It can be really hard to focus when all of your friends are out on the town, and you’re the only one on the entire dorm floor to stay behind and study.” In addition to the party scene, Overlake seniors heard stories from the panel about changing majors, dealing with professors and teaching assistants, extracurriculars, and roommate relationships. 

Even with the advice, college freshmen will make mistakes. Tyler Strafford (’18) who attends Wesleyan University in Connecticut says that it’s those experiences outside the classroom that can be just as important. “Overlake prepares you very well academically, but college is hard,” says Strafford. “I’m happy because I’ve gotten to the point where I can learn from my failures and know that I can do better. I believe everybody has the ability and potential to find happiness.” 

Junior Experience

11th grade is an important year in preparation for the college admissions process. Many of the grades and decisions made in the junior year can determine where a student will attend college. It’s for that reason that Overlake’s College Counseling Office urges juniors to focus on their high school life. “We want them to know that we all go through this, and you’ll be fine,” says Associate Director Tanya Cummings who led a question and answer session with the grads and Overlake’s Class of 2020. “Junior year is hard and can be overwhelming, but we’ll be here to help them navigate through the process of college applications, college searches, and AP classes. We’ll be able to give them lots of feedback as to how to manage all of that.”

The grads leading the 11th grade panel answered questions about preparing for that process and managed to learn a little bit about college life at the same time. “I really miss home cooking,” says Nicholas Waalkes (’18) who is back on break from Pomona College in California. “Take advantage of that and being to get anything you want from the refrigerator!”

The Sophomore and Freshman Experience

Freshmen and sophomore students also had the opportunity to hear from recent Overlake graduates. Graduates are involved in all stages of life after high school. Some grads were in their first couple years at college and some were taking a gap year. All had great advice for students on how to make the most out of your experience at Overlake. They encouraged students to step outside their comfort zone, talked about how to avoid burnout, and how to explore your passions in high school. 

The grads encouraged students to try new things in high school and explore all the opportunities Overlake has. Most importantly they told students to learn how to deal well with failure. 

“Go try something and fail. Nobody cares (that you failed) after you graduate.” 

“It’s not only what you know, but how you handle tough situations.”

“Do what you love. I did a lot of things. But I didn’t know I was passionate about theater until my senior year.”

Current Overlake students also had the opportunity to ask questions of the grads including how to avoid burning out. Some answers included:

“Go to sleep. It’s not worth losing sleep over. If you’re healthy and get enough sleep you will do better on everything. If you are well slept, you will get your work done faster and have more free time.”

“Don’t do all the clubs…even if they’re temping.”

“Choose clubs you love and are passionate about. Don’t overextend yourself.”

Students asked the grads to reflect on their Overlake experience and what was most helpful or what they would do differently if they could go back. Grads also reflected on which resources Overlake has that are particularly helpful in preparing for life beyond high school. 

“I would immediately point to Kate…They (the college counseling department) are amazing. Definitely use them. They’re incredibly good at what they do.”

“Utilize them (the college counselors) for more than just applying for college. They’re there for more than just getting you into a school. They are there to make sure you’ll be happy there too.”

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”

“Have good relationships with your coaches and teachers. They’re great for recommendations later in life.”

“I wish I had considered other options earlier. Like taking a gap year. College isn’t the only option. Take a year to get your energy back…I’m so excited for college next year (as a result of taking a gap year)!”

Gerald Buhaly, Head of Upper School, added on about gap years saying, “Success is not a linear path.”

Regarding taking and studying for the SAT and ACT one grad commented: “…I would’ve studied…I took it multiple times and eventually did well on it. But (taking the test) it’s a whole day of your life that you’ll never get back.”