GUEST BLOG: A High School Counselor’s Perspective

Hannah Wolff is a College Counselor at Langley High School in Northern Virginia.  She visited USC last fall for our annual High School Counselor Fly-In.  Here she shares her perspective on USC and some of the reasons her students choose to attend.  Also, she’s the best!





Why would students from northern Virginia venture all the way across the country to attend college, especially when there are so many fantastic options in their home state? Yes, some of my students have close ties to California; they may have resided there prior to heading east, having always dreamed of attending USC. For others, it is about venturing beyond their comfort zone – leaving the intensity and pressures of life in the DC metro area behind, and experiencing a more panoramic view of life. Frankly, for many, that may be just what they need. The aspiring film maker or the student athlete who can compete at the elite D1 level are also heading west if given the opportunity to do so.

An active and diverse student body, strong traditions, rigorous academics, major school spirit, and a private school education at a medium – large sized campus, all in sunny Southern California? I had to see it in technicolor for myself.

Now I must admit, I have been on many college counselor tours. I think that once you’ve attended a certain number of them, you start to develop some specific criteria that you hope is met during a visit. I explain to my high school families that my goal when visiting schools is to walk away with a better idea about what type of student would be the right fit. Who will thrive in this environment? The amenities available to students on a college campus are nothing less than impressive, and while I thought my own college was pretty wonderful, it is easy to get overwhelmed by all the extras that now encompass the college experience. I make it my job to help students cut through some of the white noise of higher education marketing; to help them find the schools that will allow them to tap into their best selves. So, without further ado, here are some highlights of my visit to USC, including some specific programs that my students have listed as top criteria when applying.

The Campus Tour.

I have high expectations for a tour guide. I assure you that I am not the one grilling the student with obscure questions, but I know this part of the visit can really make a huge impression. And Jonathan Horwitz will go down in history as one of my favorites of all time. Not only was enthusiasm infectious, his love of USC entirely apparent, and his stories genuine and well-timed, he was down to earth and completely approachable.

I could see his tour putting students and families immediately at ease. He didn’t run through the typical overachiever tour guide laundry list of all things he is involved in, but instead told us the story of attending his first ping pong club meeting, his own personal racquet in hand, only to realize that multiple members were literally world caliber level. Apparently having your very own ping pong paddle was not going to be enough to intimidate others during some lively matches. Did I mention that he is also a Presidential Merit Scholarship winner?

The Resident Honors Program.

I have a student in the Resident Honors Program this year at USC. What is unique about this program is that she was able to find her college fit a year before her high school peers. This early entrance program allowed her to enter college after her junior year of high school; the perfect opportunity for the student who has outgrown high school and possesses the academic and social maturity to tackle the opportunities of college. When I saw her on campus, I knew she had made the right decision. She loves it!

Studying Abroad Before Setting Foot on Campus.

Studying abroad during your first semester of freshman year. A few of my students decided to take this route to enter USC, and I was initially skeptical. Would they acclimate well upon their return, or would they have extreme cases of FOMO (fear of missing out)? Yet while on campus, I had the opportunity to speak with other students who had gone abroad during their first semester and the transition was quite seamless. When I recently caught up with one my students who just returned from her semester abroad, I realized that it was actually a nice transition from the grind of high school. She traveled all over Europe and did it with a new cohort of peers, and she doesn’t feel like she missed out on anything at USC.

A Major in World Business.

Imagine spending your first year at USC, your second year in Milan, your third year in Hong Kong, and then rounding out your fourth year on whichever of these campuses you chose, all while graduating with a degree in World Business from all three institutions? For the truly cosmopolitan student who wants a more global education, the Marshall School of Business is the first of its kind. This program was new to me, and I have several students that just might be a great fit.

The Iovine and Young Academy.

This truly niche program has enticed my students, and I will never forget the day a student walked into my office and said, “Check out this YouTube video, it is my acceptance letter from Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre.” When I walked past the Garage on the way to our next meeting spot, I couldn’t help but linger outside of the space, a circular building with collaborative spaces, access to the best technology, as well as the top educators and innovators in their respective fields. I didn’t see students when I ventured past, but various skateboards just inside the entrance confirmed that they were possibly in the classroom hatch or working in some other collaborative space. I was fortunate enough to have a student receive an interview this year, and when I asked him what he thought about the program and USC in general, he said, “Mrs. Wolff, I have never seen such life on a campus. As for the program, where else would I be able to combine the arts, technology, and business in such a collaborative experience? It is nothing short of an innovator’s heaven.”

I could go on and on about the faculty that I met, the new residential college experience, the USC village, and the free Uber rides available to students from 7pm – 2am, and I still would be missing more of what makes up the magic of USC. I felt safe during my visit, even when I ventured off campus on my own, but I must admit, I don’t really see much reason to head into LA when there is so much happening on campus. For my students on the east coast, USC is a wonderful change of scenery, and the Trojan Family will certainly help them accomplish everything they set out to achieve during their four years of college.