Ask a counselor: the Cannon School

Vanessa Infanzon

Photo by the Cannon School

Kristin McClanahan is the associate director of college counseling at the Cannon School in Concord, which serves students in junior kindergarten through grade 12. McClanahan has been there since 2012, and previously worked in career services at Ferrum University, Baldwin-Wallace College and Miami University before working in college counseling

Kristin McClanahan, the Cannon School

McClanahan offers her advice to questions about the college search process:

How do I decide between attending a big school or a small school? How do I know which one is the right fit?

Compare what you learn about a college to what you know about yourself and ask, “Is this me?” To effectively answer this question, you must assess your strengths and weaknesses, as well as your goals academically, socially and financially.

College sizes range from under 1,000 students to over 60,000 students. Consider these questions:

  • What type of learner are you?
  • What teaching style – lectures or discussion-based classes – will best support your learning?
  • Do you want to interact with faculty outside of the classroom for mentorship?
  • Do the organizations you want to be involved in require auditions, tryouts, interviews or recommendations?  
  • What are the leadership opportunities on campus?
  • Have you explored departments such as career, learning support, study abroad, athletics, arts, student activities, residence life and facilities, or Greek life?
  • Are there ways for you to earn money on campus?
  • Are you clear on what your family can afford to pay for college for all four years of your attendance?

Being able to list co-curricular activities on college admission applications seems to be an important part of the process. What if I’m not a joiner – I don’t like to be a part of clubs and sports? How important is this to the application process?

Rather than ask students to “find their passion” or to be “well-rounded,” I encourage students to “be intentional.” Intentionality will allow you to effectively balance health, leisure, family, friends, service, academics and activities.  

Moving toward this balance will reveal what you value and enjoy and may lead to a job, internship or experience. Once these values are clear, it’s your counselor’s role to help you articulate them in the college admission process.  

The admissions process will enable you to share these types of experiences through essays, interviews, recommendation letters and additional information sections on applications. Being a “joiner” is not what makes you attractive in the admission process. Instead, it’s your ability to successfully share your experiences, values and impact with others.

My parents want me to go to a certain school, but I want to go somewhere else. How do I work through this?

Parents are and should be a part of your college decision making process. They have been on your journey from the beginning and have valuable insight to provide. Ideally, your goals should be leading the way.

Here are a few recommendations for students:

  • Set up an appointment with your college or school counselor to share your concerns and receive assistance with researching your options and articulating your goals.
  • Recognize why your parents are disagreeing with you. What are their apprehensions, and are they valid? Common fears of parents focus on distance, safety, future success, social behaviors and finances.
  • Set up time to meet (uninterrupted) with your parents. Ask them to share their thoughts about college and let them know you will do the same. Be prepared with research about why the colleges you wish to apply to are solid academic, social and financial fits for you.
  • Finally, know your parents love you and believe they are doing what is best for you. Reassure your parents you love them and that you will call home often!


Vanessa Infanzon is a freelance writer based in Charlotte. In her former life, she worked in Student Life at Davidson College, UNC Charlotte and Queens University of Charlotte. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @morethanVMI