Paton Retires From College Counseling After Thirty Years
For thirty years, hundreds of students have walked up the steps of Hopkins House into Director of College Counseling Sue Paton’s office.
On one side of the room awaits a bowl of enticing chocolates, on the other, a smiling face. A glass paperweight reminiscent of a crystal ball lies surreptitiously on the center table and invites students to come in and experience their future.
It is rare for a figure as integral and crucial to the future of so many students to pass through a school. But that is exactly who Director of College Counseling Sue Paton has been for the Hopkins community. Paton will retire on June 9, 2017, after thirty years of service to the school.
Paton’s first introduction to college admissions was from the opposite side of the table, where she worked as an admissions officer for a college in New York City. Her time as an admissions officer led her to embark on her path to The Hill. Paton said, “While I was dashing around for admissions, I realized I really didn’t want to be doing this admissions thing and that I’d rather be working with the students. I realized that I’d rather have sustained relationships with students, rather than brief encounters with them. College counseling appealed to me, and I was able to get a job at Choate Rosemary Hall.”
After working at Choate for five years as codirector of college counseling, Paton arrived at Hopkins in the fall of 1987 as Director of College Counseling. Paton described college counseling as “a big puzzle.” She went on to say: “College counseling is an amazing intersection of getting to know students and their lives, interests, and dreams and getting to know their parents and their subsequent dreams for their children. I love traveling to and getting to know colleges and making connections with college admissions, as well as being a part of a school community at high school.”
During her tenure as Director of College Counseling, Paton made many additions and changes to the department. She expanded the size of the office by adding a new college counselor and introduced the community to the college fairs that have become so integral to upperclass students’ decisions. Paton also implemented the website Naviance and supervised the transition to online applications, indicating that “technology has really made a huge difference in the efficiency and ease of the application process.”
College Counselor Erika Chapin described Paton’s crucial role in the context of the school: “She’s the consummate professional. She is the face of Hopkins School to so many college representatives. No one knows the ins and outs of this world better than she.”
Other than college counseling, Paton has also performed many other roles at Hopkins. She advised seventh grade for six years and taught History 7 in her first year at Hopkins, as well as serving on the Hopkins Admissions Committee.
However, above all, Paton has been appraised for her commitment to the students as individuals, not just as college applicants.
Matt Fiedler ’17 explained: “When I told [Paton] about where I was going, her face lit up... I think this just showed how invested she was in my personal success and how great she is, not only as a college counselor, but also as a person.” Paton consistently proved her passion for her students. Andrew Baxter ’17 said, “Ms. Paton has acted doubly as my college counselor and my therapist. She is always there to meet with you whenever you are stressed and is there to help guide you through this scary but exciting process.”
College Counseling Administrator Elizabeth Edwards said, “She is genuinely interested in every single one of the students. She puts her heart and soul into every job.”
Part of Paton’s role as a college counselor includes writing student recommendations. Paton explained, “Thinking of only the good in a student and writing recommendations of a student’s’ best attributes is really great.
Paton noted that college admissions is not a science. “You can look at historical data, but every year things change very dramatically.”
Despite the complexity of the process, Paton has gained a reputation for being a calm and honest professional. Jack Atkins ’18 said, “[Paton] has helped me lay out a clear path for college. She challenges you to understand what you are actually looking for instead of what you initially thought you were trying to find and helps you develop your idea of what
you actually want from the process.”
After retiring in June, Paton is hoping to do some traveling with her husband and spend time visiting her children. She is also hoping to join a start-up consulting business that audits and evaluates college counseling offices with her friend.
Assistant Head of School John Roberts said, “It is hard to overstate the magnitude of the loss because [Paton’s] word has been gospel truth when it comes to college admissions. She knows the process, the people, the colleges, and our kids so well that I, for one, have had one hundred percent implicit trust in anything and everything she says. This school, our kids, and I have relied on her completely to help put this vital part of our school life together. To have confidence like that in the person who runs that office in the school has been really vital for all these decades.”