Director of College CounselingLycée Français de New YorkMember since 1987
Lycée Français de New York is an independent French-English college prep day school for students based in Manhattan.
Her name is Alice “Tish” Emerson. She was the president of Wheaton College (MA). She was probably the toughest boss I had in my entire life. She challenged me to be my best self. I continue to learn from her today. She has been my North Star for my entire career. She is the person I called, talked, and wrote to when I thought about making a career change. She has provided wisdom, guidance, and support when I needed it the most. And she is still my mentor and friend today. How lucky am I! One of the most important things we can do is develop and mentor others who will carry on the work we do.
At its core, this profession is about students and we should never lose sight of that. In our current climate, it’s easy to be distracted by talk about metrics on both sides of the desk. Whether you are an admission professional who is worrying about making your enrollment target at the right discount rate with students whose average test scores or grade point average will improve the visibility of your institution or you are a college counselor making sure your list of matriculations are impressive to trustees and prospective parents, it’s all about the students. It is utterly important not to lose sight of the significance of the student experience and to work as hard as we can to do our best by our students.
My second piece of advice is this: Never say no to a job you haven’t been offered. Regardless of whether you stay for years at your school or university, it can be useful to have other possibilities on your horizon. I recommend that people take a look at options; you always learn things when you put yourself in a position of taking a risk. At the same time, recognize that life happens in the most unexpected ways. You won’t always have a roadmap to clearly mark the way. Life is long; there will be choices. Take the risk.
Over my career, I have volunteered for Western ACAC, The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), The College Board, and, most recently, for World Leading Schools Association (WSLA), where I am helping to create a college counseling curriculum for counselors in China. I have also served as president of the Bowdoin Alumni Council. I have tried very hard over the years to find in each period of my career an organization right for me to be able to give back and pay it forward. Volunteering keeps you grounded. It’s important to have outside interests to which you can contribute—whether it’s board service to your alma mater, an organization which speaks to your interests, or to a professional organization. We tell our students about the importance of not just checking the box and we need to model that behavior ourselves.
School CounselorWeston High School (CT)Member since 2002
Weston High School is a public high school in Fairfield County, Connecticut. About 97 percent of students go on to attend four-year colleges.
I am the proud product of public schools from kindergarten through graduate school. At Central Connecticut State University, I majored in both political science and psychology with a specialization in child development. To be honest, like many freshmen in college, I was undecided and took a wide variety of classes. I majored in political science because of genuine interest and some very charismatic professors who took the time to connect with me and help me make sense of a very confusing world. It was the ‘70s and a wonderfully confusing time. I picked up a second major in psychology based on the complexity of the courses in human behavior. I was a student-athlete who played tennis throughout college and pursued professional athletics after graduation. Four years later, I was back in graduate school getting my master’s in counseling.
I had the very rewarding experience of being an adjunct professor while working full-time in secondary education. It is such a luxury to teach classes where the students are motivated to join the profession. While at Daniel Hand High School (CT), I supervised several interns and hired some of my former students as fulltime counselors. That experience highlighted the value of mentoring and bridging the gap between theory and the operational definition of what secondary school counseling looks like on a daily basis.
Weston High School is a resource-rich school in an affluent community. I have the tools and support I need to do my job and understand that most others in the profession don’t share those conditions. That said, it is a very demanding clientele. If there is anything that has changed over the years in my current role, it would be the escalating pressure parents are putting on their kids in every aspect of the college admission process and the resulting anxiety it promotes in students. The new term is “curling parents.” Picture the sport of curling and imagine a student with a set of parents, tutors, and therapists gliding alongside the student removing even the smallest obstacle along the way—just like curling.
Time. I can’t remember the last time I was actually caught up. Every time I think I have a few minutes to make a phone call or answer an email, a student appears at the door. Students come first. Despite the relentless pace, I love my job. Kids keep you on your toes; they keep you young. The rewards of working with young people and helping them navigate all that is high school in 2019, for me, are exceptional. The satisfaction of helping students believe in themselves, whether it is simply graduating or reaching their full potential, makes all the craziness, worry, advocacy, and heartbreak worthwhile.
When things get really crazy, I tend to come back to pragmatic, realistic outcomes with a focus on balance and well-being. Listening may be the most critical skill. In the most serious situations (self-destruction, depression, hospitalization, etc.), I try not to go it alone. I pull in our school social worker or another colleague for a second look or opinion. It is a far more complex time for students and parents than even 10 years ago. The necessity of counselors, advisers, and all the professionals in the building to be referral agents and support systems for students has never been greater. We are a couple towns away from Sandy Hook; teachers in our building lost family members. The resulting lock-down drills, awareness exercises, and security add another layer of stress that contributes to increased student anxiety.
The example I have set within my building, the relationships I have with my students, and my deep involvement in the profession. It goes without saying that I could not accomplish any of this without the support of the school systems I have worked for. I have been validated and flattered by the support my colleagues have shown me regionally and nationally. I have tried to elevate the conversation about the good work of school counselors, the passion of admission folks, and the miracles that financial aid professionals perform annually across this nation. I have tried to do this from the perspective of someone who works with students every day on the ground level. This is an extraordinary profession. I could not be more proud to have spent a career advocating on behalf of the students I serve, and I am proud of the leadership and example I have set with my extensive involvement within the profession.
Professional involvement, regionally and nationally, has been the foundation of my success in school counseling and has been as valuable as any of my graduate degrees. NACAC, for me, is a vital connection between secondary education and higher education that sets the standards and protocols for the profession that ultimately allows us to create opportunities for all students.
In response to the recent events and scandals in our profession, I hope there will be a renewed interest in integrity. My hope is that the irrational focus of a few parents does not cloud the perspective of the majority of students across the country who have kept finding the right fit as the first priority in their college search, rather than the sticker they will put on the back of their car.